Nothing, absolutely nothing, is going with you

So, why cling on to stuff, why fight over them?

I was amused to note that the Times of India Group has served a legal notice on Arnab Goswami asking him to desist from using his now famous phrase – “the Nation wants to know” – on his TV shows in the future. While the TOI notice made quite a sensation on social media, it left me with several questions. Why do people cling on to stuff? Why do they want to fight over them? Why try to control the actions of other people in contexts that are best left alone?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not against protecting intellectual property or material wealth or physical property. But a large media group, a behemoth, wanting to restrain a former editor from using a ubiquitous phrase, that had come to be identified with him over the past decade, to me, personally, smacked of a certain lack of spiritual depth.

The truth about our lives is that we came empty-handed and we will leave empty-handed. In this time that we are here, everything that is with us, is given here, is taken from here. And everything that is with us, will be taken away from us. Either when you are alive. Or when you die, it will pass on to someone else. So, spiritual awareness demands that we stop clinging on to stuff. If you are spiritually aware, if you are awakened, you will understand the futility of fighting, of wanting to control, of desiring to possess.

I must confess I was never this way. Life’s experiences have changed me.


To be sure, I was pretty much in the Times of India thinking mold. Everything – and everyone – I reasoned, had to be controlled. And just when I thought I had arrived, by clawing my way through Life, by fighting and winning so many battles, everything I had created or acquired to cobble together my little empire, everything was taken away from me!

The bankruptcy hit us in end-2007. (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) But it was an episode in 2012 April that made me understand and awaken to the transient nature of Life.

We had long closed down all our offices, including the one in Chennai. We had taken up a small two-bedroom apartment, which primarily served as a holding area for all our files and documentation – that were statutorily required to be maintained. The premises also held our personal collection of over 1500 books, all of them dealing with management, self-help and spirituality, collected over 20 years. But soon, we were unable to meet the rental commitment for this space too. So, in April 2012, we worked on vacating the place. All month we sat, Vaani and I, on the ground, each day, sorting and shredding stuff that we couldn’t shift to our home. Among stuff that wasn’t going to make it with us were those books from the private library. We gave away 1300 of them to a friend who runs a training company in Bangalore. He drove down to pick up them up. I also personally shredded the wall-mountable props of the Vision and Mission statements of our erstwhile Firm. It was catharsis. It was as if I was completing the last rites for our dream child, our Firm that we had found 16 years ago with the Vision of being a global consulting Firm.

That night, over a drink, I cried. Literally and figuratively, I was presiding over the ruins of an empire that once was. And now there was nothing. As I soaked in the futility of my grief, I made peace with myself. I understood that Life is not only about dreaming, striving, achieving, owning and controlling. Life is also about losing – what you have owned, what you have created – and about not getting what you want. It was a magical moment of awakening.

Ever since, I have found myself getting better dealing with denials, rejections and loss. So, while I still believe you must take adequate measures, living in a real world as we all do, to protect what is rightfully yours, you must avoid this urge to want to control, to fight and to possess stuff – things, people, opinions – and claim them as your own. Such a struggle will only take you away from living in the moment, from being happy. And, besides, without a shred of doubt it can be said that nothing, absolutely nothing, is going with you!  

You can’t apply intelligence to Life; yet it must be lived intelligently!

The truth is we know nothing about Life!

A very experienced business leader we know demanded that I tell him what plans I have to turn our business around. I gave him an outline. He then asked if I had a Plan B. I replied, “Sir, over the last 10 years, we have tried many plans. By some count this should be Plan ZA surely!” Which is true. We have been putting forth strategy after strategy, several new business plans – one after each other; so much so that we should be frustrated with our efforts because they have not yet yielded results! But we have chosen not to get bitter with the experience. In fact, we feel that trusting Life’s Master Plan, the process of Life, and choosing to remain unfrustrated with the outcome of our efforts, is a plan in itself.

But the business leader was insistent that we must have a more definitive plan of action: “You must know when all this will end. You must have the ability to forecast, to say that in such and such time, you will turn zero-debt.” Of course, none can be keener than Vaani and I to know when our crisis will end. But the truth is, we don’t know.

And this is not so much about our inscrutable situation alone. All Life is this way – impossible to predict, impossible to fit into one framework.


I rely a lot on a Zen allegory – of the apple. A man who claimed he knew everything was asked by a Zen Master how many seeds were there in an apple. The man sliced the apple, counted the seeds and reported his findings to the Master. The Master took one seed and placed it on the man’s hand and asked him how many apples there were in that seed. The man fell at the Master’s feet and sought forgiveness for his arrogance.

Such is Life. Just because we have Google, the fountainhead of all knowledge, on our fingertips, we think we know everything about everything. The truth is we know nothing about Life. We must realize that there is a huge difference between knowledge and awareness. Knowledge helps us to earn a living. Awareness helps us to live meaningfully. We can’t hope to through Life by arguing with it logically – expecting to apply our acquired intelligence to it. Even so, Life can – and must – be lived only intelligently. Living intelligently means knowing that Life cannot be deciphered, it cannot be defined, it cannot be predicted with certainty – yet it must be lived fully, without worrying, without getting frustrated when your efforts don’t add up to results and without suffering (by resisting) whatever’s happening to you!

15 years ago if you had met me, I would have told you that I have everything planned out and I knew exactly how my Life would be over time. Now, I have different take – I only know what efforts I am making, I have no idea of what results they will deliver or when. Even so, I am a lot happier and peaceful now than I ever was!