FF Life: Finding a purpose in a pandemic of sadness

November 5, 2022: Timeless wisdom from enduring works of literature, philosophy, and spiritual texts

Founding Fuel

[From Unsplash]

Some weeks ago, it occurred to me that I live in a bubble. All my ‘connections’ are on social media. That is where my ‘conversations’ happen. It is a place where everyone is ‘happy’. 

At some point, it was inevitable a voice in the head asked: Are they?

The voice then made a request: If they are, why don’t you find out what makes them happy?

This sounded reasonable because the pursuit of happiness is my stated mission in life. 

On stepping out of the bubble, meeting people, and listening deeply to their personal narratives over the last two years, I could hear a common narrative about how people really feel: Unmoored. Unhinged. Unhappy. I do not have any data to prove this. But I’ve come to believe that everyone around is dealing with a pandemic of sadness

I shared that in as many words with everyone on the team. It struck a chord. The next question was: In this moment of crisis, how does one find a purpose and meaning in life? 

To find out, we reached out to a few people whom we know of as thoughtful. No one had quick fix formulas to offer. Instead, everyone turned to the wisdom embedded in passages from enduring works of literature, philosophy, and spiritual texts to reflect on. 

I am truly grateful they generously shared these passages and the context in which it matters to them. 

Wish you a peaceful weekend!

Charles Assisi

For Team Founding Fuel


The power of one

Each of the three stanzas in Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekla Cholo Re speaks to me in different ways, for different kinds of testing times: The first for speaking up courageously and boldly even if mine is a lone voice. The second, for not letting the arduousness of a journey deter me, and to not stop moving forward. The third, for being my own light: “appa deepo bhava”. - Shruti Pandey, Professor of Legal Practice, Jindal Global Law School

Ekla Cholo Re

If they answer not to thy call walk alone,
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou unlucky one,
open thy mind and speak out alone.

If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou unlucky one,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.

If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou unlucky one,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it burn alone.

- Rabindranath Tagore


The gift of life

This short passage from my meditation teacher Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is very dear to me as it has always helped me to look at my life problems from a different lens and recalibrate the mission of my life and the impact that I can make. - Mandar Apte, Executive Director at Cities4Peace

Time is the gift of life, to you. When you consider time as a gift, your entire outlook towards life shifts. In the cycle of time, every event in life has something wonderful in it and something not so favourable. The good or favourable part makes you joyful, bringing peace and tranquillity. When unfavourable things happen, you need to have strength and courage for they bring a depth to life. Every challenge brings an opportunity to improve your skills and helps you to realise your potential.  

- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder Art of Living Foundation


The path of action

We live in times where we are all impatient to reap the rewards of what we do in real time. Has my post been retweeted and shared? How many likes do I have on Instagram? How many followers on LinkedIn? The daily things we spend time on, apart from obsessing with the successes of our colleagues and peers. This passage from the Gita is a constant reminder of the impermanence of life and how unpredictable it can be. It reminds us to focus on what we do with full commitment. The rewards will be our by-product. Good things come to you, without you hankering after them. - Chandra R Srikanth, Editor, Technology, Startups & New Economy, Moneycontrol

Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani

(You have the right to work only but never to its fruits.
Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction)

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse: 47


The wisdom of no escape

Each life has turbulences, some times are more intense than others, and some lives face more than others. One’s own health, the loss of a job or income, death of a close one; the situations are diverse, but the pain and anguish are common. Conflicts, social unrest and economic uncertainty in the larger outside environment add to our feeling helpless, and lacking control and direction. The Bhagavad Gita mentions the attributes of a sthitaprajna, a person who is “steady in their consciousness/wisdom” and who is not affected by gain or loss, fear, joy, distress, or disappointment. For most of us, this sounds idealistic and out-of-reach. Here’s an extract of a passage from Pema Chodron’s book The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving Kindness that contains a very deep and universal teaching that I have found useful over the years. It all comes down to just facing and embracing the moment. And then moving on to the next one. - Devangshu Dutta, Founder, Third Eyesight

“If you are interested in these teachings, then you have to accept the fact that you’re never going to get it all together…You’re never going to get all the loose ends tied up. Life is so inconvenient…Wholeheartedness is a precious gift, but no one can actually give it to you. You have to find a path that has heart and then walk it impeccably. In doing that, you, again and again, encounter your own uptightness, your own headaches, your own falling flat on your face…this inconvenience is not an obstacle. It’s simply a certain texture of life, a certain energy of life. Not only that, sometimes you think, “This is it, this is the path that has heart,” [and] you suddenly fall flat on your face. Everyone is looking at you. You say to yourself, “What happened to the path that had heart? This feels like the path full of mud in my face.” Since you are wholeheartedly committed to the warrior’s journey, it pricks you, it pokes you. It’s like someone laughing in your ear, challenging you to figure out what to do when you don’t know what to do. It humbles you. It opens your heart.”

- From Pema Chodron’s book, The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving Kindness


The vision of men who see

I often turn to this poem, written by Kaniyan Punkunranar, in 6th century BCE (trans. A. K. Ramanujan), to remind myself about the nature of life itself (“rafts drifting in the rapids of a great river”, and still, “good and evil do not come from others”) and the attitude one must develop towards it (universal brotherhood, that sees all as equal—the first and the last two lines).  - NS Ramnath, Founding Fuel

Yadhum Oore

Every town our home town,
Every man a kinsman.
Good and evil do not come
from others.
Pain and relief of pain
come of themselves.
Dying is nothing new.
We do not rejoice
that life is sweet
nor in anger
call it bitter.
Our lives, however dear,
follow their own course,
rafts drifting
in the rapids of a great river
sounding and dashing over the rocks
after a downpour
from skies slashed by lightnings-
we know this
from the vision
of men who see.
we are not amazed by the great,
and we do not scorn the little.


The veil of illusion

For the last 30 years I’ve been going back to the Upanishads—particularly the Isa, Mandukya, Kena and the Katha Upanishads. The passage I am sharing is from Katha Upanishad where young Nachiketa goes to the God of Death, Yama, and is granted three boons. For the third boon, Nachiketa asks Yama to give him the ultimate knowledge beyond this world. Yama replies, ‘You are a young boy, why do you want this knowledge, instead you should ask for the pleasures.’ To which Nachiket replies, ‘I have realised that all these pleasures you are promising me are fleeting. You keep them! I only want to know the ultimate truth.’ This passage speaks to me because I started my journey of yoga in Banaras—it is said to be a city where the Goddess of Maya cannot enter, where materialistic thoughts cannot enter, because it is essentially a cremation ground and you see dead bodies all the time. After Banaras I experienced Mumbai, which is the other extreme—Maya Nagari, the city of materialistic temptations, where I worked very closely with the glamour industry. That was my experience of realising that all pleasures are indeed fleeting. - Abhishek Sharma, holistic fitness coach    

“These things endure only till the morrow, O Destroyer of Life, and the pleasures they give wear out the senses. Keep thou therefore horses and chariots, keep dance and song, for thyself! How shall he desire wealth, O Death, who once has seen thy face? Nay—only the boon I have chosen—that only do I ask. Having found out the society of the imperishable and the immortal, as in knowing thee I have done, how shall I, subject to decay and death, and knowing well the vanity of the flesh—how shall I wish for long life?"

- From The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal (translated from the original Sanskrit by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester)


Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

“I have found that Saint Francis’s words have an almost universal appeal. Through them pulses the spiritual wisdom this gentle friar drew upon when he undertook the most awesome task a human being is capable of: the total transformation of character, conduct, and consciousness.”  - Eknath Easwaran in Passage Meditation: A Complete Spiritual Practice. 

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

- Saint Francis of Assisi


One of the inspirations for this edition of FF Life is Eknath Easwaran’s Passage Meditation. You might find his technique useful to get the best out of these passages. You can read more about it on his website.

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About the author

Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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