Dato Sri Vijay Eswaran has bite-sized life lessons for the gadget-rich, time-poor generation

The success of people who make their mark, who get ahead and stay ahead, always seems to be a mystery. The many self-help jargons dropping on our heads like confetti often just litter the mental landscape; creating a true path, therefore, needs moments of stillness amid all the distractions.

Dato Sri Vijay Eswaran aims to provide bite-size life lessons for the new generation. Photo: Connected to India.
Dato Sri Vijay Eswaran, who wrote Two Minutes from the Abyss, is the founder of QI Group. Photo: Connected to India

For the generation that’s overwhelmed by information and yet has few tools for using it right, Dato Sri Vijay Eswaran, business magnate and bestselling author with a rock-star appeal, offers bite-sized life lessons. He has very recently launched an audio version of his book Two Minutes from the Abyss, first published a decade ago.

Eswaran not only understands the gadget-rich, time-poor situation of today’s population, but he also urges people to turn that into an advantage.

The best way to absorb new learning is taking it “in bits and pieces”, and then pondering over each part of the learning, says the Indian-origin Malaysian businessman, who is founder of the multi-billion dollar QI Group.

“If you need information, it needs to be programmed into your mind. The only way that happens is it must somehow become experiential,” says Eswaran, whose book takes the reader through the ‘11 Pillars of Life Management’, speaking to Connected to India.

“That learning process, which is either reading or hearing, whichever way it may be, must be experiential,” adds the author. He relies on visualisation — widely considered to be one of the most powerful psychological tools of all — to bring his 11 pillars as close to an actual experience as possible.

“I use little stories that explain the moral or make one actually visualise the lesson. Why? Because that’s how it gets embedded into the mind; and if it gets embedded in that fashion, you tend to remember it in that fashion,” says Eswaran.

Seven levels of understanding

Two Minutes from the Abyss is the sequel to his previous bestseller The Sphere of Silence, in which Eswaran has spoken of the need to listen, to think before one speaks, to introspect. “Silence has all the answers,” he has said about the lessons in that book.

Discussing the current audiobook, he again emphasises on the power of quietude, of thinking and visualising, and of realising that there are several layers of understanding.

Eswaran recalls his experience of first reading the scriptures, under the guidance of a mentor who was “very candid”.

Dato Sri Vijay Eswaran. Photo: Connected to India.
Eswaran not only understands the gadget-rich, time-poor situation of today’s population, but he also urges people to turn that into an advantage. Photo: Connected to India.

“Don’t read it from cover to cover [said the mentor]. This is not a fiction novel. Read every sentence and remember, you have only understood one level. There’s another six [levels] to go for every bit of information that you have acquired and begun to understand, as there are seven levels of understanding. So you have understood one; wait for the other six to kick in.”

That’s where the advice on making lessons bite-sized comes in. “The best way is to absorb [information or learning] in bits and pieces. Ponder over it, because this is the single most powerful equipment, right?” he says.

Grit is the secret to success

Lessons imparted through his books must work really well, as Eswaran has a cult-like following in his organisation.

His entry into the ultra-modern Spice Arena in Penang, Malaysia, the city where he was born in October 1960, rivals that of a rock star. Video of the arena, where his company’s 2023 annual conference was held, shows 25,000 attendees eager for a greeting, a wave, or at least a glance from him.

“Grit simply means the X factor, something that’s beyond your hard work, something that’s beyond passion. Grit simply means perseverance, where pain starts to have a different meaning altogether. Grit is where you overcome, you supersede pain. And grit is the secret to success,” says Eswaran in the behind-the-scenes video of the 2023 conference.

Using ‘monkey see, monkey do’

As someone with a large following, Eswaran is in a great place to explain what today’s social media-fuelled milieu, where so-called ‘role models’ pop up every two days and ‘achievements’ go viral within hours, means in the quest for sustained success.

The phrase “monkey see, monkey do” refers to learning certain behaviours by observing them in others. This may sound like blind imitation, but this could actually be quite enlightening when one comes out at the other end.

Of course, Eswaran thinks that the frenzied fan love for Bollywood or K-Pop stars lead people to copy celebrity fashion and action “to a rather ludicrous degree”. But this, too, is not without some life lessons.

“In the Gurukul system, which I’m very familiar with — and I refer to it all the time — you first learn blindly and that’s the whole objective. You know, to learn it by rote. Once that’s embedded in the mind, that’s where you have access to it. [You have to] subsequently tear it down, piecemeal it, and rationalise it,” says the author.

‘Missionary Vs Mercenary’

This brings us to his personal favourite chapter in Two Minutes from the Abyss — the book title is inspired by Eswaran’s encounter with a young monk in the Himalayas, who was sitting at the edge of a cliff, just inches from an abyss. Asked by Eswaran why he had no fear, the monk answered, “Are we all not just two minutes from the abyss anyway?”

The chapter (or pillar) ‘Missionary Vs Mercenary’ tells the reader/listener what to do with the knowledge available to them, how to define and attain success. Citing the examples of Adolf Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi, the book says: “Clearly, they were both successful, yet by following very different paths and by being very different people. One chose to be successful via the path of the mercenary and the other via the path of the missionary.”

The chapter goes on to spell out that there’s a cost to success: “Before you begin your journey in whatever you want to do in your life you have to recognise that there is a price to pay in order to attain success in any form.” What separates the missionary from the mercenary is what kind of cost they’re ready to pay.

Wisdom, one point at a time

Self-awareness, the sort explained by Eswaran, is what today’s youth — the primary audience for the new audio book — could benefit from.

Looking at how those under the age of 30-35 process information, the author says, “We are referring to the current Millennial, Centennial and Gen Alpha. And, yes, they want a 60-second readout, but this book can be heard by them at any point. “It is stop, start, stop, start. You just need to pick up one point at a time.”

Indeed, Eswaran, would prefer that they consume the 11 pillars in the ‘start stop’ manner. He understands today’s audience: “It’s not that they’re less focused. They’re very hungry, but they have too much information, with very little access to the wisdom that should accompany it.

“So, they have this world of information in front of them; they just don’t know how to swim their way through it. They have no accompanying ideas or formative thought processes [to] help them implement what they’ve learned and [to] discern the good from the bad.”

His audiobook steps in to fill that gap, as “a very different take on that approach to learning”.