What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?

Kobun Chino Otogawa, Steve Jobs' Zen teacher.

One reason I was looking forward to reading Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Steve Jobs was my hope that, as a sharp-eyed reporter, Isaacson would probe to the heart of what one of the few entrepreneurs who really deserved the term “visionary” learned from Buddhism.

By now, everyone knows the stories of how the future founder of Apple dropped acid, went to India on a quest for spiritual insight, met a laughing Hindu holy man who took a straight razor to his unkempt hair, and was married in a Zen ceremony to Laurene Powell in 1991. I was curious how Jobs’ 20-year friendship with the monk who performed his wedding — a wiry, swarthily handsome Japanese priest named Kobun Chino Otogawa — informed his ambitious vision for Apple, beyond his acquiring a lifetime supply of black, Zen-ish Issey Miyake turtlenecks.

Isaacson does a fine job of showing how Jobs’ engagement with Buddhism was more than just a lotus-scented footnote to a brilliant Silicon Valley career. As a young seeker in the ’70s, Jobs didn’t just dabble in Zen, appropriating its elliptical aesthetic as a kind of exotic cologne. He turns out to have been a serious, diligent practitioner who undertook lengthy meditation retreats at Tassajara — the first Zen monastery in America, located at the end of a twisting dirt road in the mountains above Carmel — spending weeks on end “facing the wall,” as Zen students say, to observe the activity of his own mind.

Why would a former phone phreak who perseverated over the design of motherboards be interested in doing that? Using the mind to watch the mind, and ultimately to change how the mind works, is known in cognitive psychology as metacognition. Beneath the poetic cultural trappings of Buddhism, what intensive meditation offers to long-term practitioners is a kind of metacognitive hack of the human operating system (a metaphor that probably crossed Jobs’ mind at some point.) Sitting zazen offered Jobs a practical technique for upgrading the motherboard in his head.

The classic Buddhist image of this hack is that thoughts are like clouds passing through a spacious blue sky. All your life, you’ve been convinced that this succession of clouds comprises a stable, enduring identity — a “self.” But Buddhists believe this self this is an illusion that causes unnecessary suffering as you inevitably face change, loss, disease, old age, and death. One aim of practice is to reveal the gaps or discontinuities — the glimpses of blue sky — between the thoughts, so you’re not so taken in by the illusion, but instead learn to identify with the panoramic awareness in which the clouds arise and disappear.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the early '70s

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the early '70s.

One of the books that inspired Jobs to become interested in this process was Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama who led a group of monks over the Himalayas in the 1950s to escape the invading Chinese army. Isaacson doesn’t do much more with Trungpa than name-check the title of his book, but he was a fascinating and controversial figure in his own right. After being recognized as the reincarnation of a great lama as a boy, Trungpa fled his home country and went to the British Isles, eventually graduating from Oxford. He began teaching in the traditional style at a meditation center in Scotland, complete with maroon robes, a shaved head, and vows of celibacy and sobriety; one of his early students went on to become the chameleonic pop star David Bowie.

After a nearly fatal car crash — driving into a joke shop after being distracted by a billboard, no less — Trungpa scrapped his old approach to teaching. He realized that the trappings of being a Tibetan lama were an unnecessary barrier to reaching the widest possible audience for Buddha’s revolutionary message. He jettisoned the robes, grew out his hair, eloped with the brilliant teenage daughter of a high-born British family, and emigrated to America, where he soon found legions of hippies who had reached the limits of psychedelic insight and were eager for teachings on the nature of mind from a deep-rooted contemplative tradition.

Trungpa became a hugely popular and influential teacher, praised (rightly) for his brilliant exposition of esoteric concepts in fresh, unsentimental, idiomatic English; and fiercely criticized (also rightly) for his heavy drinking and flamboyant womanizing. From his home base in Boulder, where he established a contemplative university called Naropa, Trungpa became the spiritual advisor to many counterculture luminaries, including poet Allen Ginsberg, author Ken Wilber, and singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, who portrayed him (accurately) in a song on her haunting Hejira album called “Refuge of the Roads.”

I suspect that one of the things that Jobs found inspiring about Trungpa’s writing — beyond its bracingly direct tone and surgical deconstruction of the lies that prevent us from seeing things as they are — was his profound respect for artists, poets, and musicians, whom he saw as fellow warriors against delusion (which he called “neurosis,” adopting the lexicon of Western psychology.) This passage of Trungpa’s, from an essay on “dharma art,” could have been a blueprint for Jobs’ uncompromising vision for Apple:

Our attitude and integrity as artists are very important. We need to encourage and nourish the notion that we are not going to yield to the neurotic world. Inch by inch, step-by-step, our effort should wake people up through the world of art rather than please everyone and go along with the current. It might be painful for your clients or your audience to take the splinter out of their system, so to speak. It probably will be quite painful for them to accommodate such pressure coming from the artist’s vision. However, that should be done, and it is necessary. Otherwise, the world will go downhill, and the artist will go downhill also.

Flowers at Tassajara. Photo by Perfecto Insecto.

Flowers at Tassajara. Photo by Perfecto Insecto.

Another influence on Apple’s young founder was the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, the founding teacher of San Francisco Zen Center. Assembled from Suzuki’s lectures by a young student named Trudy Dixon who died of cancer while the book was in production, it’s a graceful, welcoming, insightful guide to the spirit of Zen practice. Suzuki’s playful language — like the voice of a wise child — communicates profound and subtle insights about what Zen teachers call the Great Matter of life and death, dancing gracefully on the edge of the unsayable. It’s one of those rare books that can be read at many points in your life, and it always seems uncannily relevant.

At the same time, it was a subversive piece of work. Swimming against the tide of Zen writings of its era, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind downplayed the enticing concept of enlightenment in favor of slow, steady mindfulness practice “with no gaining idea” — that is, with no hope that your next session on the cushion would bring about a shattering, life-changing flash of satori. Suzuki-roshi didn’t even claim to be enlightened himself, which was a shocking thing for a renowned Zen teacher to admit at the time (laughingly confirmed by his mischievous wife, Mitsu). You didn’t sit zazen to become a Buddha, Suzuki-roshi used to say: “You’re perfect just as you are — and you could use a little improvement.”

Jobs’ celebrated motto for the original Mac team — “the journey is the reward” — could have been lifted from the pages of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. For Suzuki-roshi, the path was the goal.

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, founder of San Francisco Zen Center.

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, founder of San Francisco Zen Center.

The only regrettable aspect of Isaacson’s account is his clownish portrayal of Jobs’ teacher and friend for two decades, Kobun Chino Otogawa, as a hapless bore who spoke in needlessly cryptic “haiku.”

Isaacson quotes former Apple employee Daniel Kottke, the friend who accompanied Jobs on the India trip, as saying that he found Kobun “amusing” and little more: “Half the time we had no idea what he was going on about. I took the whole thing as a lighthearted interlude.” Describing the Jobs’ wedding ceremony at the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite, Isaacson says the Zen priest “shook a stick, struck a gong, lit incense, and chanted in a mumbling manner that most guests found incomprehensible.”

I’m tempted to blurt out, Yes, Mr. Isaacson — particularly the guests who didn’t understand Japanese, the language of much of the Buddhist liturgy that Jobs had been chanting at Zen centers for two decades. Imagine a description of Yom Kippur in a biography of a major Jewish historical figure that dispenses with the Kol Nidre as “incomprehensible wailing.” Adding to Isaacson’s awkward handling of Jobs’ teacher is his insertion of a comment from an Apple software engineer who “thought [Kobun] was drunk” at the wedding ceremony. Isaacson quickly interjects “he wasn’t” — which makes you wonder why the author felt compelled to include the remark at all.

Issacson loses interest in Kobun after that, leaving out one of the most poignant aspects of his life, which surely also had a profound impact on Jobs. In 2002, Kobun drowned in a shallow, icy pool at his student’s home in Switzerland, trying to save the life of his 5-year-old daughter Maya, who perished anyway. I imagine the loss of his longtime spiritual friend was particularly rough on Apple’s founder when he came face-to-face with his own mortality the following year after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Shed, Green Gulch Farm. Photo by Flickr user danasmith.

Farmer's shed, Green Gulch Farm. Photo by Flickr user danasmith.

If it sounds like I have a personal stake in this, I do. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, I was a student at San Francisco Zen Center, where Kobun frequently gave dharma talks. Like Jobs, I meditated at Tassajara, though not as often as he did. I spent most of my own time on the cushion at Zen Center’s headquarters in San Francisco, known informally as City Center, in a former home for single Jewish women designed by the Bay Area architect Julia Morgan.

In fact, when I decided to leave Zen Center because I felt I was too young (20) and unworldly (I’d had only one relationship) to become a monk, it was Kobun who encouraged me to plunge wholeheartedly into secular existence, advising me sensibly, “Your challenge will be to find a way of life that is as meaningful to you as Zen practice.” I eventually found it in writing.

Kobun was similarly encouraging to young Jobs, telling him, in Isaacson’s words, that he “could keep in touch with his spiritual side while running a business.”  It’s intriguing, if depressing, to imagine what the digital world would have been like if Kobun had given Jobs the opposite advice, along the lines of Jobs’ own now-infamous challenge to Pepsi CEO John Sculley: “Do you want to sell stylish electronic gadgets for the rest of your life, or come with me and vow to save all sentient beings from suffering?”

The Great Han at Tassajara

The Han at Tassajara.

Another thing that becomes clear in Issacson’s book is the crucial role of what Buddhists call mindfulness played in securing Apple’s success. When a 15th century poet named Ikkyu was asked, “What is the meaning of Zen?” he replied, “Attention.” Asked to explain further, he replied, “Attention means attention” — one of those cryptic, haiku-like utterances that can make people think you’re drunk. But attention, in Zen practice, means more than just being mindful of your breath in the zendo. It means investing moment-to-moment awareness in everything you do in the course of an ordinary day — whether running for the bus, cooking a pot of rice, talking to your in-laws, taking your blood-pressure pills, or making love.

Or, say, crafting a totally new kind of computer “for the rest of us.” The physical environments Jobs practiced in at Tassajara and other Zen centers offered breathtaking juxtapositions of highly cultivated traditional craftsmanship and wild, rugged California landscapes. I doubt that the Japanese joinery (no nails!) that held up the walls of the zendo was lost on the aspiring design geek, or that he was unmoved by the vibrant, airy layout of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, punctuated by an enormous, twisting redwood burl (rescued from a beach in Marin) that had been sculpted to sprout tables and chairs. Zen Center’s aesthetic was a harmonious fusion of East and West — as Apple’s would be.

Indeed, the senior teacher at Zen Center who oversaw all this construction — a charismatic Harvard graduate named Richard Baker-roshi — was known as both a supremely articulate exponent of Zen philosophy and a relentless, abrasive micromanager who would putter around the dining room at Greens in his robes, straightening napkins and fussing with flower arrangements on every table. Sound familiar?

Greens restaurant. Tapestry by Donald and Era Farnsworth of Magnolia Editions.

Greens restaurant. Tapestry by Donald and Era Farnsworth of Magnolia Editions.

Like a Zen fussbudget, Jobs paid precise, meticulous, uncompromising attention to every aspect of the user experience of Apple’s products — from the design of the fonts and icons in the operating system, to the metals used to cast the cases, to the colors on the boxes and in the magazine ads, to the rhyming proportions in the layout of Apple stores. He encouraged mindfulness in his customers too, by designing his computers so superbly that they faded into the background as creative imagination took over. Jobs thought of computers as “bicycles for the mind,” and Isaacson reports that, for one ill-considered month in 1981, Jobs even tried to rechristen the Mac “the Bicycle.” (For once, his team ignored him.) The point was to get where you wanted to go, and eventually the terrain available for exploration included the entire global network. By contrast, Windows machines are like heavy, clunky, training-wheel affairs that are always calling attention to themselves with hectoring dialog boxes and protocols that require hundreds of pages of tedious documentation to explain.

The Mac launched a democratizing revolution — for those who could afford it. And Jobs’ insistence that Apple create products that its customers would already know, intuitively, how to use is what transformed computing from a geeky oligarchy of Usenet wizards into a digital sandbox for the masses.

Original "Happy Mac" icon by Susan Kare, Kare.com

"Happy Mac" icon by Susan Kare, Kare.com

In his pursuit of intuitive computing, Jobs found a kindred spirit in Jonathan Ive, the sweet, self-effacing young British designer who helped him create the iMac, the iPod, the iPad, the MacBook Air, and the iPhone — all the gadgets that made your jaw drop when you first saw them, because they seemed so elemental, unfussy, and inevitable; as if they were platonic fusions of form and function that were already waiting somewhere in the universe when Ive and Jobs “discovered” them together.

To indulge in a little Buddhist jargon, the best Apple products seem like they suddenly appeared in emptiness (Śūnyatā), unencumbered by previous notions of what a “computer” or “phone” or “MP3 player” or “tablet device” should be. They were cosmically clean; avatars of the new.

One of the most memorable lines in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is Suzuki-roshi’s statement, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Suzuki didn’t want his senior students to take a seat on the cushion each morning feeling like Zen adepts who had been there and done that. He wanted them to approach meditation with the open-minded curiosity of an amateur trying it for the first time. Apple devices, you might say, are sophisticated tools for evoking, supporting, and sustaining shoshin, beginner’s mind.

Indeed, Jobs’ commitment to mindfully-crafted excellence extended even to aspects of his products that were invisible.  In Jony Ive’s smart and pointed eulogy for his best friend last week, the design chief reminisced about spending “months and months” with Jobs perfecting parts of Apple’s machines that most users would never see (“…with their eyes,” Ive then tellingly added.) “Steve believed that there was a gravity, almost a civic responsibility, to care way beyond any sense of functional imperative.” When Apple introduced one of the first products they designed together — the iMac with its transparent Bondi blue case, a design trope eventually echoed everywhere from kitchen appliances to running shoes — Jobs bragged that the back of the iMac looked better than the front of his competitors’ computers.

That was a lesson Jobs first learned from his adopted father, Paul, a skilled mechanic who told him, “‘You’ve got to make the back of the fence that nobody will see just as good-looking as the front of the fence. Even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you’re dedicated to making something perfect.”

In monasteries in Japan, the young monks (unsui, or “cloud-water” people) are encouraged to do good deeds for others, but anonymously. The back of your practice is as important as the front.

Bodhidharma.

Bodhidharma.

I suspect that Jobs’ chutzpah as the Valley’s most dramatic and effective showman was inspired, at least in part, by the mythical Zen rogues who drank sake, caroused with whores, shunned temples, mocked hollow rituals, sat zazen in caves, and turn out to be the only ones worthy of inheriting the old master’s robe and bowl by the end of the story. Zen flourishes in irreverence, subversion, inscrutability, and self-mockery — all words that describe Jobs’ style but the last.

Undertaking study of the Great Matter is serious business to Zen students, but it must be done with humor and a light touch. In addition to being a meditation teacher, Kobun Chino was a renowned master of kyūdō, Zen archery. He was once invited to give a demonstration of his skills at Esalen, the famed retreat center near Big Sur. Kobun placed his feet in the traditional, grounded ashibumi stance, straighted his spine, drew the bow, and let loose his arrow — which not only missed the target completely, but soared over the fence behind it, plummeting into the Pacific below. The spectators were aghast until they looked up at Kobun, who gleefully shouted, “Bullseye!”

Skeleton performing zazen on waves by Maruyama Okyo, 1787, Daijoji Temple, Hyogo, Japan.

Skeleton performing zazen on waves by Maruyama Okyo, 1787, Daijoji Temple, Hyogo, Japan.

Isaacson is admirably frank about the core tenet of Buddhism that Jobs seems to have bypassed: the importance of treating everyone around you, even perceived enemies, with basic respect and lovingkindness. It’s tempting now to cast Jobs’ tantrums, casual brutality, and constant berating of “shitheads” as the brave refusal to compromise his ideal of perfection — even as a kind of tough love that inspired his employees to transcend their own limitations. But a more skillful practitioner would have tried to find ways to bring out the genius in his employees without humiliating them — and certainly would have found ways of manufacturing products that didn’t cause so much suffering for impoverished workers in other countries. The moment in Isaacson’s book when Jobs tells the Mobile Me team after the project’s disastrous début, “You should hate each other for having let each other down,” shows that even near the end of his life, Jobs had more to learn from his teachers.

I suspect that the most powerful lesson Jobs took from his years with Kobun was to accept death as an inevitable part of life, which served him well when he learned that his own death was imminent. Jobs’ moving commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 was a classic dharma talk, made better by not mentioning Buddha:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart…

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

I would have loved to have asked Jobs himself what he learned from his years of Zen practice — but the one time I tried to do that, during an interview in Cupertino, an anxious PR handler cut me off by saying, “I thought you agreed not to ask Steve any personal questions!”

I’ve never forgotten something else Jobs told me that day: “If you want to know what I think, just look at our products.” At the time, it seemed like a crabby, dismissive, “bad Steve” response. But it was the most Zen thing he could have said.

Enso - the traditional Zen circle.

Enso - the traditional Zen circle.

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233 Responses to What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?

  1. Pingback: Searching for Integrity: The Politics of Mindfulness in the Digital Economy - Nomos Journal

  2. Fred says:

    The reason that Apple factories in mainland China operate with what is essentially slave labor is because Steve Jobs was a piece of shit. No more a Buddhist than Mao.

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  3. Pingback: The iPhone: the Zen smartphone choice | WordsByNowak

  4. boliviab says:

    interesting article. I came across it just searching for zen articles in general and enjoyed reading it. I havent read all the comments , just the first few and decided I didnt want to read through a series of negative attacking comments on your article or steve. Steve Jobs is a controversial character for sure but he is also human. Many people hold him up as a genius , he was certainly very successful and made a big mark on our world.
    People criticizing him for not being “zen buddist enough” is a bit ironic really as zen buddist is not meant to criticize but to look for the goodness in people. Who is to say if he was a zen buddist anyway, he might have just followed zen teachings and not considered himself a buddist. You can still live a zen life, or aspects of a zen life and not be a buddist – either way he would be considered perfect as he was. Those saying that he was just influence by japenese design and not zen I think are just looking at his products. Im sure he was influenced by zen. Just because he was not the perfect zen buddist and has many aspects of his life that contradict zen practice doesn’t mean he wasn’t influenced by zen.

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  5. mary r says:

    As a practicing Zen Buddhist I find it irritating, and humorous, that Jobs is continually being held up as a Zen Buddhist. The Buddha’s teachings did not involve conservation of line, clean design, and form following function.

    The ground of Zen Buddhism is one of selfless compassion. The grave precepts which every Buddhist practitioner accepts are to not speak ill of others, to be kind, not elevate oneself about others, not to kill (time, spirit or hope – as well as life). etc. In short, Zen Buddhist aspire to live a life of humility, patience, love, selflessness, generosity and kindness.

    Walter Isaacson’s superb authorized biography of Jobs reveals not one of this attributes. Time after time Jobs comes across as cruel, spiteful, egotistical, dismissive of others and mean. There simply are no manifestations of zen Buddhism in his life.

    Perhaps Mr. Isaacson and other should have differentiated between Japanese style and art and Zen Buddhism. Jobs was clearly a devotee of the former (which predates the arrival of Zen in Japan) but not the latter. In fact, if one goes to a Chinese Ch’an temple even today (where Zen Buddhism originated) one will see color, chaos, even gaudiness and none of the simple lines and design qualities which Jobs was so enamored of.

    He doesn’t ever appear to have been a Zen Buddhist just a devotee of Japanese Style. Big difference. Lest anyone think that it is possible to actually be a Zen Buddhist and manifest Buddhist practice and also be cruel and self-involved – it ain’t possible.

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      Mary:

      Dualistic much? I didn’t know that Zen practice emphasized “irritable” declarations of which style is really Zen and which is not, and whose practice is up to par and whose is not. Believe me, I know how nasty Steve could be, because he was nasty to me. I would not hold him up as an embodiment of compassion and metta in the Buddhist sense. But it’s not for me to excommunicate anybody from being worthy of practice.

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    • Saurabh says:

      Your statement is a strange loop. (GEB)

      I find it ironic that you claim to be a practicing zen Buddhist asserting that ” Buddhist practitioner accepts are to not speak ill of others”, while at the same time you speak ill of Jobs.

      I am not a practicing Buddhist, the day I claim to be one – I will be able to let go of your comment.

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  6. Brighid Wu says:

    Thanks for this perusal of Jobs’ religious life and possible effects of this on Apple culture. I’ve never been fascinated by the man. I find the cult of personality around him deeply distasteful. Having actually seen how workers such as those employed by Apple at Foxconn live (or rather, often don’t live), I have trouble considering Jobs’ manifest cruelty as deserving merely of the footnote often provided by his breathless press last year. Neitheir great art, nor religion, nor entrepreneurialism, absolve one of the crime of being a monumental ass. I’m glad you found room to call him out for his lack of compassion.

    But I can’t help feeling that is the final fruit in the matter of Jobs’ “spirituality” or supposed “Buddhism”. Design is fluff, Buddhist windowdressing. When you look at an Apple device, a pyramid of karma reaches back from the thing: Those clean, crisp lines of design are held up by the most retrograde corporate religion, the kind that IBM in its heyday only dreamed of, and founded at the base by the sweat, blood, and tears of poor workers who made that thing with their own suffering fists. No amount of soul-searching at overpriced, boutique, Orientalist, Buddhist resorts for white people can absolve Jobs for his manifest lack of engagement about that.

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    • Brighid Wu says:

      I have to underscore: No Apple device is a revelation of emptiness. They don’t come out of Nothing, ex nihilo. They were made by someone. People. To pretend otherwise is the worst kind of indulgence; a delusion of the powerful.

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      • Steve Silberman says:

        With all respect, Brigid, I’ve never heard Apple assert that any of its products are a “revelation of emptiness” or “come out of Nothing,” and I certainly never asserted that myself. Your last post is an elegant statement, but it’s a Zen straw man.

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    • Mary R says:

      I didn’t know that Zen Buddhism emphasized irritable declarations either. Nor did I know that you could excommunicate anyone from something which most people don’t even consider to be a religion. And who would not be worthy of practice???

      Not quite sure what your point is. My point is that if Isaacson’s book is accurate there was precious little of Zen practice actually manifest in Job’s life and work but a great deal of Japanese design and style was manifest to astonishing and beautiful result.

      Unless you believe that selfishness, arrogance and pettiness are laudable attributes.

      Everyone gets pissy and angry sometime or other. Everybody lies and everybody manipulates the truth, myself included. If we have a practice we work sincerely with these things over time and we change and even transform our lives. We certainly change our behavior over time if we work diligently with Zen principles.

      However, time after time in Isaacson’s book these attributes come up again and again in literally hundreds of anecdotes from numerous sources including his own close friends and family. It is scarcely possible to find an individual within the pages who has an unequivocally positive experience of him – including his own sister who lambasted him in a thinly disguised novel. And Job’s character and excesses don’t seem to mellow over time.

      Maybe the book is way off-base. But if it is not, I cannot see much evidence of Zen practice manifested in his life. This is an observation. I am quite sure that you understand the difference between an observation and a condemnation. As I would think that you experience a difference between your relationships with friends who may have a Buddhist practice and others who do not.

      I do agree with you that I was disappointed to see how little attention was given to Job’s relationship with his teacher and his teacher’s influence on him. Anyone who has the good fortune to have a teacher knows what a wonderful relationship this can be and I would love this to have been explored more.

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  11. Was Legion says:

    Although I do not feel the attraction towards Mr Jobs and his products that most contributors to this article clearly share (for me, the Apple Macintosh user interface is opaque and counter-intuitive, and I have neither need for nor interest in the later i-family of portable devices), I found the article both interesting and informative, as were the vast majority of the comments on it. But at the risk of going very off-topic, I also found interesting Mr Silberman’s use of the word “husband” to refer to his male partner by marriage. As what is now called a “straight” man, I had always (perhaps naively) thought that gay marriages were somehow on a basis of equality, with each partner fulfulling the roles both of husband and wife; it is clear from Mr Silberman’s careful choice of words that this is not necessarily (and perhaps even not commonly) the case, and I thank him for this revealing insight into what is, for me, effectively a parallel universe.

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    • Eric Zylstra says:

      Maybe a male spouse is referred properly to as a “husband”?

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    • Brighid Wu says:

      I can’t think what could possibly have led you to the notion that Mr. Silberman’s referal of his husband as his husband means that they have adopted the “traditional roles” of “husband and wife”. If one has married as a gay person, what else do you call your spouse? He’s a husband of his husband, QED. Some of us may fudge the terms to make straight people less nervous, and substitute “married partner” or “roommate”. Some others of us are more and more willing to just name names and let straight folks gnaw their anxiety over imagined parallel universes. (Seriously, dude. We are in fact fellow earthlings, believe it or not.)

      As a woman, I’m furthermore surprised (or rather, not surprised) that as a man you seem to imply that being a wife or in the “role” of a wife is inherently an unequal estate. As a lesbian woman, if I marry my partner, I’d be her wife, and we would manage egalitarianism according to the deeper truths of our relationship. Just like anyone else with an honest marriage in this or any other universe. It really is just that simple.

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  14. Amazing (and long!) blog post Steve! Never been to your blog before, but glad I ended up here – just followed you on Twitter as well.

    Didn’t know Steve was also into Shunryu Suzuki, the zen master I personally admire the most. His book (Zen Mind – Beginner’s Mind) is a classic.

    Oliver

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  15. Lizzie Woon says:

    Hello everyone
    Hmm.. so many minds, so many comments , so little time!
    I think everyone here has their perceptions from their inner worlds and beliefs and everyone seems to sound so right in their own ways….
    It is nice to share, listen to one another and learn about others’ inner worlds and what they think and how they view life with an open heart without judgements , without the need to prove something would be much more peaceful…. :)

    wishing everyone a peaceful heart
    Lizzie

    with metta
    Lizzie

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  16. Lizzie Woon says:

    Hello there,
    Hmm.. you had mentioned that who is qualified to evaluate and yet by your comments, it seemed that you have already judged and evaluated by what you have perceived as “proper” or “improper”?

    with metta
    Lizzie

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  17. Lama John Heaviside says:

    Being a Lama doesn’t make me an expert, but I do have some undersding of the path and it’s goal in spite of the myriad of approaches. Real meditation, like weight lifting has a system of applied methods with a sequence of steps leading to an end result. These sequences of graduated steps have pitfalls and terms of advance. I’m a Kagyu Vajrayana Ngakpa Lama…not a celibate monk. As far as Chogyum Trungpa Rimpoche….High level masters verify his attainment…….there are many degenerate lamas who mess around with disciples and indulge in worldly desirous activity fancying themselves expressions of ‘crazy wisdom masters’……..the list of Rhogues in this category is sadly extensive. The most important question is “what of his example are we to follow?”. Doesn’t sound like his behavior was all that great i’n many ways , but I’m in no position to evaluate. This has been an interesting discussion. He did, i’n all earnest ask a master how to proceed with his life….perhaps he was advised wisely or not. Truth be told a true pursuit of enlightenment does require serious and ongoing endeavor of practice. Zen is a different creature than my brand of Buddhism ….Vajrayana. I hear Jet Li does 6 hours of practice per day….yet to be Verified, behaves nobly with no temper tantrums….and although he makes movies about violence …seems to be a noble character. It gets down to practice, result….which requires the guidance of a proper master and how these manifest. None of us are fully qualified to evaluate…….what do his practice supervisors have to say? Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is quite a book. Trungpa entered the world of reckless hedonism self styled as spirituality and turned that lie on it’s head. Did Jobs enter the world of Capitalist greed and turn it around? I can’t answer that question for anyone……just encourage you to examine the life i’n context in
    relation to that question.

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  18. Thanks Steve.
    Going to link to this on cuke.com.
    Am going to look into Jobs at Tassajara and get back to you. Would appreciate any suggestions on this. I have to write a special forward for Chinese translation of Crooked Cucumber and they want the Jobs connection mentioned.
    Onward and take care.

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  25. BobM says:

    I’ve read about 150 pages of the book so far (Christmas gift) and I believe Jobs’ primary motivation was the pre-enlightenment, non-logical, intuitive thought process or intuitive life process he encountered in rural India. I see two conflicting motivations…..”the journey is the reward” and “the end justifies the means”. If Steve was true to his own purity of vision and sense of perfection in design simplicity then he believed he could attain perfect harmony. It didn’t matter if he was cruel or insenitive or incrediably demanding. His ultimate Will ruled.

    One story that really struck me regarding his non-pragmatic nature was the selection of the color for the beige case of the Apple II. There were 2000 beige Pantone colors to choose from and Steve did not find any of them acceptable and demanded a custom beige be created. This strikes me as mental illness, a grave lack of clarity and misunderstanding of simplicity and harmony.

    Job’s seemed to be extremely self absorbed and narcissistic. I know virtually nothing about Buddhism, but I can’t imagine it is about every person finding fulfillment by imposing their will on others. I thought spiritual enlightenment and harmony came from denying the self? My impression is that Steve seemed to be playing the wrathful god lording over his minions. He got results but at what cost and, ultimately, he made a pretty telephone that was better than what Sony produced…but what did it actually get him?

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  26. Olga says:

    Thank you for revealing Zen side of Steve’s life. An era of fusion and enlightenment is Humanity’s choice, as my enlightened teacher Ilchi Lee says.

    http://www.ilchi.com/tag/steve-jobs/

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  31. George says:

    Steve: Excellent piece. I have quoted and linked to it in a compilation I just did on Jobs the hippie. Too many people today fail to appreciate how deeply the echos of the hippie movement/counterculture reverberate today — for better or worse, with Jobs’ work being in the better category, IMHO.

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  32. Ron Gego says:

    What Jobs have left for the rest of us is and will alwaye be remarkable. His spiritual path and world views are also worthy of praise. His technology and inventions reflect his hidden insightfulness and ability to answer people’s needs.
    It is true that all his Apple products bear a touch of perfect zen-emptiness and completeness in them.

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  33. tony says:

    “Isaacson reports that, for one ill-considered month in 1981, Jobs even tried…˝

    I think you meant 1991.

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      Actually, I did not. The famous “1984″ Mac ad would have seemed pretty late in 1994.

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      • tony says:

        There was no macintosh in 1981, so trying to rename it the bicycle at that time could not have happened. Perhaps it was the Apple II you are referring to. No Mac in 1981.

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        • Steve Silberman says:

          Tony, I’m afraid you’re missing something important. This story is about the creation of the Macintosh, and Steve was trying to rename the project.

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          • tony says:

            Yes, I get that now after going back to the book. However, in your article, you mention “Mac,” not “Mac project.” Huge difference in context. Also, you use “team” but Isaacson refers to two people who went against Steve on this. One last thing, in that same sentence you make reference to what would become Internet. There was no thought of this at that time. You’re connecting two technologies that were years apart. Details are important.

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  34. Peter Clark says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article, having a keen interest in both the MacBook Pro upon which I write this, and the frame of mind which writes this, trying to let go of my concepts of being buddhist. Very well researched, I appreciate your pointing out the links to Trungpa, Susuki Roshi and Wilber.

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  37. Great article. I’m not sure if it’s a conscious/subconscious decision amongst the practitioners of Zen, but from my research and own individual identity within the Sangha, I’ve noticed that all of our brothers are considered “Revolutionaries”; and I’m wondering, was that a trait that was somehow passed along to the Sangha via the Indomitable Bodhidharma-the great revolutionary himself?

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  39. Fantastic Article! Thanks for writing it. I have recommended it on the WhatMeditionReallyIs.com blog and made some comments:

    http://whatmeditationreallyis.com/index.php/lang-en/home-blog/item/263-meditating-on-steve-jobs-technolgy-and-buddhism.html

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  43. Matt A. says:

    Great article. It’s the only article I’ve read – so far – that really discusses in-depth the influence of spirituality, especially Zen, in Steve Jobs’ life. Very insightful.

    I’m a fan of Steve Jobs, although the only Apple product I’ve used is the Apple II way back in the early 80′s. The Apple II was the first computer I ever used and introduced me to computers. After that I’ve been using Windows-based computers, mainly for practical reasons. (For one thing, it was what was used in the places that I worked. For another, Windows-based computers were not as expensive as Apple computers.)

    You can see the deep influence of Zen in the way his products were designed. I really like his simple and minimalist approach. Unfortunately, though, Zen didn’t influence him in the way he treated people. He could be manipulative, and even abusive and cruel with the people he dealt with. But, in my opinion, inspite of some of his character flaws he will go down as one of the most creative entrepreneurs of all time….

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  47. This is excellent. Thank you. I learned a lot, and many things I suspected have been confirmed. You have a wonderful way of making connections.

    I have speculated that Jobs was autistic, and I see nothing here to persuade me otherwise. I will link to this post from my own on that topic.

    http://www.mfw.us/blog/2011/10/12/was-steve-jobs-autistic/

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    • Mary R says:

      Very interesting. I also suspect maybe bi-polar. We are all somewhere on the bi-polar and autism spectrum. I was married to a bi-polar man for 16 years and I experienced many aha moments while reading Isaacson’s book. It’s also a fact that some of the most creative individuals throughout history experienced more intense polarity in their moods.

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  48. Nubo says:

    Thank you.

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  50. Bob says:

    Enjoyed your insightful article and many of the comments too. I noticed that the comment about Kobun passing away “three years after the wedding” should be more like 11 years. I think he died in 2002 and Steve was married in 1991 – hence about 11 years.

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  51. Mary Helen says:

    I am glad I found this article – I found it to be very interesting and well-written. I have found the comments to be surprising. How many people seem to feel entitled to judge Jobs and berate him! And on what basis? I believe I read elsewhere that he had studied and practiced Buddhism when he was younger and that he was less involved in his later years. One can speculate that his experiences influenced him – as this article does. But if Jobs never set himself up as being the poster child for spiritual perfection via Buddhism, why critique him for his behavior and choices in this regard.

    Frankly, I have been doing a lot of reading regarding mindfulness, Zen and Buddhism over the past year and developing my own practice. I found some of the comments above to reflect – in my opinion – an angry, hate-filled spirit by people who – unless they knew Jobs or are telepathic – really have no idea about the man’s true nature. If these spite-filled comments reflect the results of Buddhist spiritual development, then I am saddened.

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    • Mary R says:

      Mary Helen,

      I think your points are well taken.

      Certainly many creative people have been deeply attracted to Zen Buddhism including Jack Kerouac. I don’t find anywhere that Jobs ever referred to himself as Zen Buddhist but it seems that others just assumed that he was.

      It is clear that Jobs was deeply attracted to Buddhism and explored it early on in his life.

      I guess what you are picking up on is that many people who appreciate Zen Buddhism or who aspire to live by Zen principles consider themselves Zen Buddhist. Others formally take vows and become a member of a Zen Buddhist community.

      The world might be a very different place if everyone explored Zen Buddhism and walked around calling themselves Buddhists because it would show their aspiration to live a kinder, simpler life.

      My take (which may have been off-base) on the original post was a rumination as to whether or not he really actually attempted to live a Buddhist life and lived by the principles of the Eight-Fold Path and the 10 Grave Precepts.

      I find it hard put to find that he did because the book is really not very complimentary about Jobs at all in terms of him showing gratitude, appreciation and consideration of others. A practitioner who is intent on living by Buddhist principles takes vows to do so. Over time the combination of those vows, hard work and aspiration usually converge to bring about a transformation in the way the individual lives and treats others.

      I didn’t see that in the book. Before reading the book I just assumed that Jobs was a practicing Zen Buddhist. I don’t know that I think so now.

      But so what? He never claimed to be anything as far as I can tell.

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      • Steve Silberman says:

        > . I don’t find anywhere that Jobs ever referred to himself as Zen Buddhist but it seems that others just assumed that he was.

        There’s a false dichotomy embedded in this statement. Jobs made a point of not talking about his private life in general. He didn’t go around saying “I’m a heterosexual” either. But you don’t have to assume he was a Zen Buddhist to take note of the fact that he meditated, studied with a Zen teacher, and asked that teacher to officiate his wedding. I doubt most Zen teachers in history have gone around saying “I’m a Zen Buddhist” either. Zen is not another ID card to carry around; it’s an activity. It’s clear that Jobs participated in that activity from time to time, and that it meant something to him.

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        • Mary R says:

          Actually, Zen Buddhism is not an activity.

          And people who are on the Eightfold path, including teachers, generally do identify as Zen Buddhists. Why wouldn’t they?

          Yours was an interesting original post which posed the question “what kind of a Buddhist was Jobs? I think this question is just going to be inherently read differently by people who have a practice and people who do not. You may perceive this as dualism.

          To my perception, he appears to have been appreciative of Zen practice and possibly a Zen scholar.

          Each one of us can determine whether this makes him a student of Siddharta Gautama or not and a practitioner of his teachings or not.

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  53. I’m not an Apple fanboy, or a Jobs cultist. But I do appreciate his willingness to delve into various spiritual sources. For instance the only book he had downloaded to his iPad 2 was Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda which he reread every year since his teens. This book and its worldview is far removed from Buddhism, although it is spiritual.

    Source:
    http://www.businessinsider.com/steve-jobs-biography-summary-2011-10?op=1#ixzz1biC1XVwb

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  54. PayHimNoMind says:

    Steve Jobs’ greatest kindness was to die young and leave a compelling legend strongly resilient to his inconvenient humanness.

    On a personal basis, he was an unkind — even hostile — man, a kind of Dalai Lama turned on his head. On the world stage, he was the closest one could imagine to a hero of hyper-materialism, a uniter across distances, the origin of a cultural mediating principle unencumbered by mysticism, a self-made rich man, and a midwife for things that somehow, improbably light up a universal smile on the human face.

    He will be missed by the multitudes and wished good riddance by many who knew him well.

    He was a man.

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  55. Lisa says:

    One of the key learnings I love from the Diamond sutra is the understanding that things are composed of non-thing elements–flowers are made of non-flower elements, self is composed of non-self. As I heard Thich Nhat Hanh say in a Dharma talk: “Buddhism is comprised of non-Buddhist elements.” What does it mean to scrutinize Jobs’ Buddhist-ness, I wonder? At the end of the day, isn’t the practice of Buddhism the finger pointing at the moon, and not a thing to be judged by anyone other than each of us, being truthful to ourselves about our individual practice?

    I like to believe those of us who identify as Buddhists are necessarily perfect Buddhists, wherever we are in our individual practices. After all, if we were all in the truly “ideal” end of the spectrum, we’d all be celibate and humanity would cease!

    Thanks for writing this thoughtful article. Teachers are everywhere….I find myself being a bit of a Zen fussbudget (and downright bitch) at times too. Mirrors can be helpful. Everything is practice fodder….however imperfectly we may execute at a given time.

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    • Mary R says:

      Yes, I have heard Thay give probably the same Dharma talk.

      One time when I was on retreat with him he turned to his listeners and said, almost matter-of-factly, “we say the rain is falling; but if it’s not falling – it’s not rain”.

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  56. Richard says:

    Beautiful. Makes sense of Jobs.

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  57. halligator says:

    Buddha was a deadbeat dad.

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    • Thanks so much for your wonderful comment. I had the same thought when I first heard the story of the Buddha. I also thought that even Buddha was short of enlightenment in how he treated women. As he said, “We are born human and therefore imperfect… “

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  58. Laura Lockwood says:

    Wonderful writing, delightful, meaningful topic. An irritable Icon, one of the teachers who would burn away our imperfections rather than the kindly grandmother. All are needed.
    3 degrees from Steve Jobs-my father’s hands in Early Stan Brakhage film (dad delivered Mr Brakhage’s child). Mr Jobs & Mr Brakhage students of Boulder’s Rimpoche.

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  59. caroly says:

    Buddha is dead! Jesus Christ is alive!! All this talk about something that is dead is wrong and if you are on this wrong path, you need to take a good hard look into what is right and good! If you truly want success and joy in your life, look to Jesus! He is your SAVIOR! Ask Him and He will show you! He wants a relationship with you so much! He’se the one who loves you, not Buddah,,,,How can something that is dead love you!

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      I think that for all His talk about “wanting a relationship” with me, Christ just isn’t that into me. Some of his followers, for example, keep insisting that He has a problem with me loving my husband and partner of 16 years. Buddha, however, has been wooing me for decades, even if the original guy we call Buddha is indeed dead. Buddha doesn’t seem to have a problem with my being gay. He may even prefer that, since my gayness leads me to be even more loving and compassionate toward my husband. But everyone has to work these things out for themselves.

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      • Valmiki says:

        Steven, do you think that had you been born straight, that you would have otherwise not left Christianity? In other words – at the time you left Christianity, and not now in retrospect having been out of the mold and exposed to other philosophies – was its rejection of homosexuality the only thing that led to the severance of the relationship for you? I’ve always been interested in the answer to this question, and never had the opportunity to ask anyone.

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        • Steve Silberman says:

          Valmiki, I was raised by Marxist Jewish atheists — I didn’t have to “leave” anything. I was being humorous with the other commenter.

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          • Valmiki says:

            Oh, I see. I had asked, but I always wondered whether those who ultimately left a religion that excluded them, would have otherwise embraced had they not felt that specific exclusion.

            As athiests, did your folks discourage your spiritual search?

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            • Steve Silberman says:

              Not really. They basically ignored it and let me find my own path.

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            • Valmiki: I felt excluded only after years of trying to be a good Christian. If I’d had intelligent and sensitive teachers … who knows? Bottom line: this whole idea of comparing one religion with another is hopeless. All Christians do not believe and practice in the same way; neither do all Buddhists, all Jews nor every member of any other religious ‘type.’ There are only people, each with their own scars, their own motivations and their own propensities. The ‘Christians’ who tried to get me to church were thoroughly unconvincing. As I approached Buddhism I was blessed with teachers who made it sensible to me, and that sensibility has grown stronger over the years.

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    • Ben says:

      Jesus was a Buddha.

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      • Melayahm says:

        Mhm. He had all the hallmarks of one, or a Bodhisattva at the very least.

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        • Thank you for this thoughtful piece. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the moment I got the text on my iPhone that Steve had died, my journey down the path began an inexorable acceleration.

          I’m sorry that so many of the responses have been negative and angry without offering anything positive in return.

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  60. Jonathan says:

    I have been interested – was Steve Jobs’ lack of concern for the suffering of many of his employers (the workers living far below the poverty line who built most of his products) in line with his Buddhism or in opposition to it? In a rather long article about his religious beliefs, it was surprising to me that not one word about treatment of his employees was included.

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      That would indeed be surprising if it was true, but apparently you skimmed over the final section, which is entirely about that, including its link to a news story about suicides at Foxconn.

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    • Ron Miller says:

      I’ve always thought that the whole idea about “mistreatment” of employees in third world countries as being extremely misguided.

      Foxconn provides voluntary employment for its employees, and they are free to find a different way to make a living if they so choose. The harsh reality is that life is still very hard for a large number of people on this planet, and its sad to say, but employment at Foxconn is a step up for the people who live in these regions. If there were better choices, people would exercise that choice and find a different way to make a living.

      I suppose that you could argue that Apple could chose to be the one company to treat its employees better than the norm for those regions, although this would do very little to help in the grand scheme of things.

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      • Steve Silberman says:

        Wellll…

        > they are free to find a different way to make a living if they so choose

        >If there were better choices, people would exercise that choice and find a different way to make a living.

        The contradiction between these two statements makes the problem obvious, I think. And just because conditions may be worse elsewhere is certainly no valid excuse to employ people in an inhumane way.

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  61. Bri says:

    What kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs? The American kind where we select and reject what doesn’t work. Ethics travel better than beliefs. Where’s Sakyamuni in all this? Most indigenous Buddhists don’t even meditate. Not saying meditation is bad, because in Zen it is important but not the core of Buddhism. Buddhism is far more intricate of a system than the reductionist version we like to think is Buddhism in America.

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      Buddhism has changed and adapted to the culture of every country where it has taken root (like jazz) — not just America. Yes, “most indigenous Buddhists don’t even meditate” — but teachers like Chogyam Trungpa (and countless others, both inside and outside America) saw that as a bug, not a feature. In SE Asia, for example, intensive meditation was reserved for monks. But even before Buddhism came to America, a movement to bring meditation to the average practitioner (in fact, specifically to lay people and businessmen like Jobs) was underway in Burma and Thailand, known as the “Vipassana revolution.” See my in-depth profile of influential American teacher Jack Kornfield [PDF], founder of the Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock Meditation Center, for a deeper view of how the Vipassana revolution had a profound effect on the culture and practice of American Buddhism, with its emphasis on “mindfulness” that eventually became secular. I completely disagree that meditation is “not the core” of Buddhism in Zen communities. And I don’t really think that American Buddhism is particularly “reductionist.” Every culture picks and chooses from the vast ocean of practice and thought that is Buddhism. The American version, if you ask me, is notably vital and oriented toward practice rather than just talk and ritual observance.

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      • Valmiki says:

        “The American version, if you ask me, is notably vital and oriented toward practice rather than just talk and ritual observance.”

        All the more reason why I remain astounded that people, like you, are so entranced by Chogyam Trungpa. I understand that the message and messenger are two different things, but with certain messages – those inextricably wound with experiencial understanding – that distinction just can’t be justified. What experiential wisdom could an animal rights activitist who organizes dogfighting impart? Any message he could provide would, by definition, have to be academic and theoretical, as it surely wouldn’t be borne of experience. Likewise, I find it astounding that people sought guidance on a path of gaining experiential wisdom from someone who chose to be drug-addled, intoxicated and lecherous for much of his life experience.

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        • Steve Silberman says:

          Honestly, Valmiki, after reading and responding to several of your comments on this post on several websites at once, I think you have a tendency to think in strictly binary terms that cloud your vision. It’s a very common problem — and one that I personally believe Buddhist teachings are designed to cut through. For example, you describe me as “so entranced” by Trungpa, an assertion that is not supported by the evidence in this post. I went to far as to add my own observation that those who called out Trungpa for his drinking and womanizing were correct; I have even been criticized by one of his former students for adding those parentheticals. But frankly, for someone who sees himself as “defending” the true spirit of Buddhism from any number of interlopers — Jobs, Trungpa, people who are “entranced” by Jobs or Trungpa, etc. etc. etc. — I think you’re really quick to judge others with very broad and careless condemnations (i.e., I don’t know where you got the notion that Trungpa was “drug-addled” as well as an alcoholic). One of the deepest lessons I’ve learned from practice is not to be so quick to make superficial judgments of others’ engagement with Buddhism, and not to revel in spreading malicious gossip. In other words, “Physician, heal thyself.”

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          • Valmiki says:

            That is a constructive response. You aren’t the first one who has said that to me, and I guess I do need to be more mindful of my own heedlessness.

            With respect to Trungpa’s drug usage – Steinbeck supposedly mentions this in his book The Other Side of Eden.

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      • Mike White says:

        I totally agree that the fact that most “Buddhists” do not meditate is a bug, not a feature.

        I have noted that it is akin to people here in the USA saying “I’m a Catholic” or “I’m a Christian” yet never going to church. I think many “Buddhists” throughout the world, in countries where Buddhism is the main “religion”, do not truly practice Buddhism any more than Christians in the U.S. really practice the teachings of Jesus Christ.

        The fact that meditation has been embraced by Buddhists in the U.S. is very important and shows a true commitment to the teachings of the Buddha.

        Were the Buddha’s teachings only about meditation? No, of course not. But did the Buddha’s teachings include meditation as a major component? Theravada texts answer that question with a resounding “Yes!”

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  62. Sdenka says:

    Thank you for sharing it, I enjoyed very much reading it.
    My encounter with Zen was in Kyoto-Japan and… changed my life.

    What he learned from his years of Zen practice?
    The answer is very simple, just see his accomplishments, what he DID.

    Regards from the Peruvian Andes.

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  64. Ben says:

    Steve Jobs’ treatment of others at times reminds me of Zen masters who beat their students with sticks. Additionally I was drawn to the following part in the article: “mythical Zen rogues who drank sake, caroused with whores, shunned temples, mocked hollow rituals, sat zazen in caves, and turn out to be the only ones worthy of inheriting the old master’s robe and bowl” – Self righteousness may be illusion. Freedom or liberation may be found in many different places and in different ways. That said I love and am attracted to LovingKindness, Compassion and Empathy and “desire” ;) more of it in this world.

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  65. tetsuma_sb says:

    “Wow. Oh wow. Oh wow” — what a trip, all the comments offered! Jobs’ last words remind of those of Joko Beck: “This too is wonder.”

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  66. Kind of hilarious, all of these self righteous comments about slave labor from those who are obviously using the very products and processes they condemn in order to make said comments.

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    • David P. Graf says:

      Hmmm….just because most manufacturers are doing the wrong thing makes it right? I will buy a PC manufactured in the US when I can find one.

      On another note – I appreciate how the author goes into Jobs’ involvement with Buddhism. However, he is far too kind. The primary work of Jobs life was to tie others to the material world through his “insanely great” products.

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      • Steve Silberman says:

        I didn’t know Zen practice was about shunning “the material world,” or making those kinds of distinctions. That sounds more Hindu or Christian or something.

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        • David P. Graf says:

          My understanding of Zen Buddhism was the importance of “non-attachment”. Jobs’ practice of encouraging others to think that their lives and happiness were not complete without his products seems to run contrary to that.

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          • Steve Silberman says:

            That’s called “running a successful business.” Jobs was not — and never pretended to be — a Buddhist teacher. He was a technology entrepreneur in a fiercely competitive industry, and a very skilled one at that. I’m fine with criticizing some of his business practices and his cruel conduct with employees, as I did in the piece itself. But criticizing Jobs for promoting Apple products seems a little much.

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            • David P. Graf says:

              Uhhh…encouraging others to live their lives in such a way that will lead them in the wrong way doesn’t rate condemnation? It is one thing to promote your products. It’s another thing altogether to make people think that they have a higher “status” or that they will be “lacking” if they do not have your product. That’s what Jobs did and he was very effective as a manager but it seems inconsistent with his Zen Buddhism.

              One more thing – thank you for taking the time to reply to my earlier comments.

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              • matt says:

                that’s what jobs did? really? where in the marketing material did it state you’d be a lesser, incomplete person without their gear? come on, specially, where does it state that? or, are you just repeating a haters meme without questioning its authenticity first?

                the latter, I think..

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                • David P. Graf says:

                  matt,

                  You must be kidding. I am not going to do your homework for you. Apple has for decades been able to put over a price premium because of its “status” and how that reflects upon you and your life.

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  67. Glenn Wells says:

    Wonderful article. As a Mac user for twenty years, I appreciate how Apple products enable the bleed-through from professional life to personal and back, an infinite loop. Unfortunately I am compelled professionally to use Adobe products that are increasingly unintuitive and detract from the holistic experience the Mac makes possible.

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  68. SanskritBliss says:

    I just finished the book less than an hour ago and started doing a search about whether Steve Jobs meditated. It brought me to your insightful and well-written piece. There was no mention at all in the book about whether Jobs continued a meditation practice as an “adult.” I’m very curious if he meditated daily.

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  69. Bill Roberts says:

    Great article. It is somehow reassuring to know that the man who had such a huge impact on personal computing in all its facets was so influenced by the Ancient Wisdom.

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  72. Daito says:

    May the light of truth dispel the darkness of our ignorance. May all sentient beings be happy, free from sickness, free from sorrow, free from hatred. May all sentient beings attain enlightenment in this very lifetime.

    Gassho,
    Rev. Daito Thompson

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    • Mark Hobbs says:

      Even though Steve Jobs was a practicing Buddhist, he was not a Buddhist teacher and most likely not fully enlightened; therefore, his actions need not be seen as some criteria on how a good Buddhist should or should not behave. He was like us a human being, who had the insight to follow both a spiritual path and the path of a business man taking both his sanity and his neurosis along with him. It does seem that he had some recognition that the highest aim for us is that of following the heart which is the seat of most spiritual traditions, for that alone he is due credit for making the contribution of communicating that message.

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  73. Superb piece Steve, as are your compassionate, straight talkin’, uncompromising yet kind comment-replies.

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  74. Tim says:

    A spiritual practice that has no apparent affect on how you treat other people? Crap. Objectively without the slightest value. (signed, Jesus of Nazareth)

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  75. Jim Birch says:

    Thanks, interesting. I read Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism a long time ago and found it very illuminating. It crystallised an inconsistency I saw around me in various form of spiritual practice. I could see that there was something contradictory but couldn’t put my finger on it. I never knew anything about the author.

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  77. Valmiki says:

    I think much of the resentment shown in the comments here has to do with witnessing the irony in retrofitting the trappings of eastern spiritualism upon the life of someone who was ultimately an exceedingly savvy businessman (but nothing more) so as to somehow provide insight on why he was so good at furthering materialist obsession and consumption. Sprinkling “Zen” over the persona of Steve Jobs is an effective story-telling device, but it is intellectually dishonest.

    The reality is simply this: if Jobs was such an enduring adherent of Zen philosophy, it would stand to reason that his actions over the course of his lifetime would reflect a growing understanding of loving kindness, compassion and selflessness, after all, if Buddhism can be distilled in any meaningful way, it is to the cultivation of these three traits. Why then, has Steve Jobs been shown to be an ill-tempered individual, prone to extreme anger and viscious verbal tirades, and most tellingly, someone supremely egotistical with strong-handed business practices (incorporating personal vendettas)? Where had all the fruit of his “sitting zazen” all these years, under the privileged tutelage of highly regarded practitioners no less, gotten him? While it is indeed all about the path, and not the end result, I would think that someone turned on to Buddhism, much less a long-time adherent, would resist from engaging in, among other things, the use of slave labor as a means to produce something as disposible as music players. And, without even so much guilt as to engage in charitable work as many other business leader do to, I suspect, sleep better at night. It seems to me that his decisions were guided by the need to satisfy Apple’s shareholders, and that providing a supremely polished product was what he realized was the way to do so. To make use of a trite phrase, he “was one” with his fiduciary responsibility, and that was really the extent of it.

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      What’s interesting to me is how many people have appointed themselves Popes of the One True Dharma, Gatekeepers of the Gateless Gate, proving how much they allegedly know about Buddhism by showering contempt on the practice of a guy whose behavior did not fit their ideals of practice, or demonstrating their commitment to compassion and lovingkindness by making snide remarks about someone else’s apparent lack of commitment.

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      • Valmiki says:

        I am most assuredly not the arbiter of any “right” way, but I do not think it wrong of me to note that there is a glaring gap in what Jobs did, and what you say was the inspiration behind it. There is a big difference between saying whether someone may not have lived up to the path they set upon themselves and saying that someone did not live up to the path others have ascribed them. To his credit, I don’t see anywhere – and I could be wrong – where Jobs himself made a to do about his Buddhist leanings. The suprising thing is to see others do it for him, when it just doesn’t seem to fit the evidence.

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      • Dave Rogers says:

        My reply: On Kinds of Buddhists

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        • Steve Silberman says:

          Dave, you make good points, though I’m sorry you didn’t like the headline. Without saying too much about it, I’ll say that the headline was intentionally ambiguous in order to catch the eye of folks who might not have even a passing interest in Buddhism. I also suspect that the people who were intent upon trashing Steve would have done it anyway, no matter what the headline was. But I hear ya.

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    • I saw Issacson in an interview and he discussed Jobs’ ill-temper. But, he also showed how he pushed his employees to do the impossible. Zen masters are well known for slapping students. I can’t say that that was Jobs intent but it would seem that his ill manner had a similar effect.

      No one practices buddhism because they are saintly, we practice because we are humans working with human problems. The problems ebb and flow. Sometimes they go away, but they also come back in new and interesting forms which trick us.

      That Jobs acted in ways we consider offensive does not negate his practice.

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    • TrevorML says:

      one of the greatest mistakes people make… seeing Zen as Zen Buddhism… Zen is Zen… Buddhism is Buddhism (with its many variants)… Zen in its essence has no interest in niceties, politeness, or good (western) manners… it is about the moment whether that is joy or anger… the mundane and ordinary is a vital part of Zen… and with this comes all of human behaviour whether one like it or not!

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      • Mike Williamson says:

        When I read what you wrote, it seems to me you are saying that the best approach to that which arises in our experience is first to accept it completely at the non-verbal level without assenting to it or not assenting to it at the verbal level. And at this point we can then notice that the mind, as we know it, is providing a label from automatic memeory to this arising and it assumes that this partial or fragmneted knowing via this labeling process is the whole of the knowing that can be known about this arising. Now at this point from which to view, we can see our own conditioned response and have enough room to wonder what might be its limitations. If this is what you are saying….I can tenatively agree with you. When recognizing objects in the world of objects such as a pencil or table we can function quite well without this sort of awareness of mind that I refer to here. However if we cross over to living things (trees, animals etc) we do begin to need a deeper seeing and when we cross over into the world that deals with the experience or inner aspect of what we conventionally call “a person” which is completely invisible to the outer senses, then we need a deeper awareness of mind and a much more refined form of attending.
        Is this what you meant?
        In a sense the mind automatically divides and this naturally creates a partially or a kind of bias. That our ordinary perception is always somewhat biased can be more and more exposed as the awareness of the way the mind works increases. However; if we do not directly see within our own experience, how the mind works, then we are subject to systemic error that is difficult to catch. Yet, if we can see directly into how our own mind works, there is the potential of having access to the space of mind from which the error can be see through and as naturally as the error occurred then just as naturally there is the occurence of the correction through this seeing. Now from this point of view what do all such concepts of the ordinary mind refer to? Just as grapes are useful for making wine so are concepts useful for making wisdom. But they do have to first have their boundaries broken; then they need to go through a fermentation process before the wisdom is ready to drink.

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    • Maria says:

      To some of these negative comments to this very nice blog article:

      Just because Steve Jobs was interested in and studied Zen doesn’t mean he was a perfect human being in every way. I’m sure he felt, just like most of us, that we have a lot to work on within ourselves to become better people. I’m sure Zen inspired him very much.

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    • ky says:

      Jobs is still a human being like you and me. We should not impose any form of expectation on him e.g. to be loving and nice to his opponents even during his practicing as a Zen buddhist. You seemed to be disappointed because of having forgotten for a moment of becoming a human being and impose your own view and expectation on Jobs. Jobs is a very down-to-earth person and doens’t put up a show “Oh, I am a buddhist and hence I must show to the world the ideals of a buddhist or else people will Boo! Boo! at me”. He doesn’t mind even if people say he is a “bad” buddhist because he believes in sincerity and honesty, not deceiving others. He expose his own shortcomings and not cunningly hide them. He did all these for simplicity, honesty and wanting Apple to soar higher than ever. Just a flash of thought.

      Nowadays wherever, in temples, retreat centres and business organisations there are lots and lots of hypocrites around. Jobs by behaving “badly” is just his natural ways and thus, he is not a hypocrite like most of us do. We have lost trust, sincerity, honesty and simplicity nowadays. These are the real jewels which we can’t see because we only focus too much on other’s faults like anger etc. Ironically, his anger in openness actually shows his sincerity, honesty and simplicity. This is likened to “the beginner’s mind” and is actually much closer to “truth and reality, Zen”opposes to our educated in Dharma, fabricated “holy me” and cunning camouflage (hypocrite) ways of life. Just another flash of thought.

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  78. penelope says:

    This is an interesting article. Perhaps someone will do some more research and write more about Jobs’ contemplative life. Many people, Buddhists meditators and others, seem to be very interested in the topic (for better or worse).

    My only comment is, I wonder why you felt you chose to make evaluative judgements on Trungpa Rinpoche (and other matters), “(rightly)” … “(also rightly)”?

    It seems pointless and is actually distracting that people describe a complex human being (who is now dead) in this evaluative way. In my experience, the less study and direct experience of Trunpa Rinpoche, the more opinions the person seems to espouse. Pema Chodron and Reggie Ray who knew him very closely and for a long time do not do this. They do not try to interpret his behavior.

    Similarly, I am perplexed by the common tendency to define Jobs as good or bad, Buddhist or fake, kind or unkind etc. that run throughout the comments here and most descriptions of the man. Your article was most interesting when it did not fall into this trap. I hope that you or someone else will take this enquiry further, do more research and share more on this subject in an intelligent and enquiring manner.

    If Jobs was a Buddhist (whatever that means) he was just a practitioner like the rest of us practitioners. No wonder his “people” didn’t want people asking him about his personal life. Thousands of people want to judge him and put in their two cents worth, just because he is famous, or rich or something. Its common throughout the media in the US. Nobody wants to report the news anymore, at least not in any depth. Everyone has an opinion piece. Thank you for reporting what you discovered.

    I too liked A. Marina Fournier’s comment best!

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  79. Dahlia Balir says:

    I am a Buddhist and an Apple fan. I found this article fascinating, enjoyable until I came upon, “caroused with whores”. Besides the fact that I find it offensive, it’s totally out-of-place in the context of the style of the article.

    Perhaps you could replace “whores” with prostitutes?

    I suspect that Jobs’ chutzpah as the Valley’s most dramatic and effective showman was inspired, at least in part, by the mythical Zen rogues who drank sake, caroused with whores, . . .

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  80. Rose Rhoades says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful post and for honoring Kobun Chino Roshi whose loss was deeply painful for even his casual students. It’s unlikely Jobs bypassed basic respect and loving kindness all the time. So he wasn’t fully accomplished in compassion and skillful means…he was a “practitioner” not a fully enlightened buddha. Everyone has things to work on.

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  81. Robert says:

    I am extremely disappointed with your comments on Steve Job’s Buddhism. Buddhism is fundamentally, and above all, a path based on compassion for others. As you know, the Buddha’s motivation to leave the riches and struggle-free environ’s of his family and palace was to find the source and cure of suffering; and as you also know, I’m sure, his first teaching, on the four noble truths, were on the truth, pervasiveness, source and cure of suffering, all with the purpose of showing us how to alleviate suffering in ourselves, and more importantly, in others. Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, whom you reference, taught that taking refuge (formally becoming a Buddhist) committed one to two things: to abstain from harming others, and to cleaning up one’s own mess. The Bodhisattva vow which so many of us have taken is a commitment to give up our own freedom from cyclic existence until all sentient creatures–bugs and all–have been freed. Meditation and other practices have their value only to the extent that they increase our compassion for others and our ability to help relieve the suffering of others.

    I know you know all this, and cite it primarily for those readers not so familiar with Buddhism.

    So, with compassion for others and the motivation to help others being the heart and soul of Buddhism, I found it incomprehensible that you would all but ignore this in writing about Jobs. As far as one can tell from the written record, Jobs was Buddhist in name only: no concern for those who made his products, no concern for the happiness of those who worked for him, rarely listening to those around him or giving them credit for the contributions they surely made to his success, and, as far as we know, very little philanthropy either.

    Staring at a wall for 20 years does not make one a practicing Buddhist, only a practicing meditator. As for all the space you gave to giving his Zen practice credit for developing his aesthetic and the extraordinary insights that led to his amazing products: pure speculation.

    And as for the value of his contributions, I suggest you apply the Buddhist standard: In what way has his activity relieved the suffering of sentient beings? Not given them pleasure, but relieved their suffering.

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      Robert, I have to wonder if you read to the end, because your comment echoes the final section of my piece, where I talk about Steve’s denigration of others and his lack of humility, and provide a link to a news story about the working conditions in the factories in China where Apple products are made.

      I have to say, though, that casting people as “good” or “bad” Buddhists, on the basis of some binary criteria that you’re imposing, is tricky business indeed. You cite Trungpa as your inspiration for this strict standard; yet by some people’s “good Buddhist” criteria, Trungpa himself was a spectacular failure. He drank often in public, even during dharma talks, which infamously encouraged similar behavior — and, no doubt, chronic alcoholism that required intervention — in some of his senior students. (When I was at Naropa, heavy drinking at the Hotel Boulderado after dharma talks was practically de rigeur). He slept with women openly, which hurt the feelings of — among other people — his own wife, Lady Diana Mukpo. No one denies this, and Trungpa didn’t even try to hide it.

      Was Trungpa still a powerful, brilliant teacher? I say yes, based on my own very personal, non-dogmatic, non-binary (basically layperson) standards. But to some who are interested in judging other Buddhists, Trungpa was an outrage, a charlatan, a wolf in lama’s clothing.

      As far as your question about whether Steve’s work at Apple helped relieve suffering as well as stirring up craving, I suggest you ask any neurologist whether the graphical user interface — which Steve made the standard of modern computing after seeing it in action at Xerox PARC, where GUIs were basically ignored as too “out there” for customers like IBM — helps modern brain surgeons visualize difficult operations before actually cutting into the patient’s skull. That’s just one, very tiny example of how the technology that Steve helped develop and popularize relieves profound human suffering daily, in thousands of hospitals all over the world. I could go on forever about how iPhones are now being modified for use as mobile diagnostic tools; how iPads can give non-verbal autistic kids a voice for the first time in their lives; or how social networks like PatientsLikeMe — which would have been inconceivable before Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the Web, on a NeXT cube designed by Steve Jobs — are accelerating medical research.

      Think bigger.

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      • Robert says:

        Steve, I did read and was pleased that you covered Job’s denigration of others, etc. But it’s a question of balance in your piece. Since you are writing about Buddhism and Jobs, rather than Jobs alone, I felt it would have been better to explain Buddhism more fully. You describe some of the early history of Buddhism in the US, and there’s material about how thoughts of viewed, but nothing about the centrality of compassion. Given its centrality, the contrast with Jobs apparent lack of compassion for others is central to your subject, “What kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?” In other words, your title demands that you describe both Buddhism and Jobs. You understated the importance of compassion to Buddhism and Buddhists. The short answer to your title is that no matter what Buddhist practices he engaged in, how long he practiced, and what benefit he got from them, he seems have missed its basic point about compassion. Implication: Don’t judge Buddhism by Jobs behavior.

        Which seems to be the point you’re making about Trungpa, Rinpoche. Your comments about him have nothing to do with anything I wrote. I used him as an example only because you mentioned him (and now you’re calling him a charlatan and knocking him off the pedestal you created?). Please read more carefully. He is not the source of teachings on the centrality of compassion to the Buddhist path; for that I would cite hundreds of teachers, living and dead, beginning with the Buddha’s teachings. I don’t know why you wrote about him at all and agree with the points that you made about his behavior. Still, one thing his students agree on was his absolute kindness toward everyone. He never lied to anyone or hid anything. Agree or disagree, as I do, with his behavior, recognize that he hid nothing, not before or after he acted. In contrast to his behavior, his teachings, if not his method of teaching, were orthodox and pristine–and compassion was central. One of his closest Dharma brothers was Suzuki, Roshi, as you may know. You may also know there’s a shrine to him at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center. I don’t think Roshi thought him a charlatan.

        As to judgments about Jobs benefits to sentient beings, each is entitled to their judgment, and I wouldn’t for a moment argue with any of them.

        Think deeper.

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        • Steve Silberman says:

          Robert, you have confused others’ comments about Trungpa with my own. I made it very clear in both the piece and the comment that I think Trungpa was a very effective teacher. The whole point of my comment was that I *don’t* judge Trungpa that way.

          You say this: “…no matter what Buddhist practices he engaged in, how long he practiced, and what benefit he got from them, he seems have missed its basic point about compassion.”

          I said this in the piece: “Isaacson is admirably frank about the core tenet of Buddhism that Jobs seems to have bypassed: the importance of treating everyone around you, even perceived enemies, with basic respect and lovingkindness.”

          And more, in the rest of the paragraph.

          Was there more to say about Buddhism in general? Of course! Robert, this is a 3000 word *blog post.* Do you know how unusual that is? It’s of epic (tediously epic) length, by blog standards. I had to leave out a million things, including the influence of Zen-influenced calligraphy on Steve, and thus on the digital fonts that Apple developed.

          Robert, the great thing about the Web is that, if you feel something has been inadequately covered on someone’s blog, you can do a better job yourself. I invite you to go for it!

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  82. Gennin says:

    Hi Steve,

    Someone sent me a link to this, and I was interested to read it. I was a little taken aback at these lines: “He turns out to have been a serious, diligent practitioner who undertook lengthy meditation retreats at Tassajara — the first Zen monastery in America, located at the end of a twisting dirt road in the mountains above Carmel — spending weeks on end “facing the wall,” as Zen students say, to observe the activity of his own mind”.
    Are you suggesting that he did practice periods at Tassajara, because I think by now someone would have noticed his name and picture in the old photo albums in the dining room. If not, and he went there during the summer guest season, and would not really have been doing lengthy retreats, nor would he have spent weeks on end facing the wall. I would like to know more about the source of this information, as no doubt would many of my friends currently at Zen Center.
    As a small correction, too, your picture is not of the ‘great’ han, wherever that is. It is not the zendo han, either, but the echo han down by student housing, which is only used in the summer to get the students out of bed and to the zendo.

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      Gennin: The context of the piece is Walter Isaacson’s new biography, “Steve Jobs.” Isaacson refers repeatedly to Steve going on lengthy “retreats” to Tassajara; at one point, Isaacson mentions that Steve had to “cut back” on the time he was spending on meditation retreats. I don’t know if Isaacson was talking about practice periods or sesshins. A former student of Kobun’s also suggested to me that some of Steve’s extended sitting practice may have taken place at Jikoji as well as at Tassajara.

      I’ll remove the word “great” from the caption on the photo of the han; inserting the word “echo” seems pointless.

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      • Gennin says:

        Thanks for the clarifications, Steve – now I wonder what Isaacson is refering to. I would tend to think that much of this would have taken place at Jikoji.

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  83. Excellent article Steve Silberman, thank you for sharing some of Steve Jobs’ history on the Path. Very informative and thought provoking!

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  84. Michael says:

    Funny you left out any mention of the suicides at the Foxconn factory in Shenzen where the iphone/ipad was made. Steve didn’t exactly cover himself with bodhisattvic glory there.

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      Sorry, Michael, but you must have been skimming too fast. It’s in the final section, and an important point.

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  85. Gi Lerr says:

    You always be remembered, Steve.

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  86. Paul says:

    Steve Jobs changed the world in his own unique way. I don’t feel I can criticize him for not fixing the whole world. I don’t know what positive change Apple may have caused at Foxconn. I don’t know about his anonymous giving, or what is in his will. I can’t see the back of his fence.

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  87. Paul says:

    Steve,
    You have provided the exact information I hoped to learn from the book. As an often frustrated beginning student of Zen, I am pleased to learn the about the journey from someone further down the path. After reading the comments, I feel the need to meditate. Or am I just relaxing?

    “It means investing moment-to-moment awareness in everything you do in the course of an ordinary day”

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  88. Sei Shin says:

    There were two good friends, Chokei and Hofuku. They were talking about the Bodhisattva’s way, and Chokei said, “Even if the arhat were to have evil desires, still the Tathagatha does not have two kinds of words. I say that the Tathagatha has words, but no dualistic words.” Hofuku said, “Even though you say so, your comment is not perfect.” Chokei asked, “What is your understanding of the Tathagatha’s words?” Hofuku said, “We have had enough discussion, so let’s have a cup of tea!”

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  89. Brian says:

    -Great article for sure but to me the comments seem to miss the point –

    -A genius appears and spearheads a move to transform the world so completely that it is almost unrecognizeable a few years later- probably will have helped create employment for billions eventually-

    -So he was grumpy and used old fashioned drill sargeant tactics to motivate people- he was a perfectionist- What is my point? A LOT of people are grumpy and mean and treat their employees like crap, and they don’t get sh*t done compared to this person- A genius can’t get a break these days it seems-

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  90. An excellent article about a true Buddhist on the path. Maybe he had not yet reached the Bodhisattva level that my mentor / teacher Buckminster Fuller attained, but he certainly made a difference for all being on Spaceship Earth.

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  91. ebear says:

    Has Futurama put his head in a jar yet, or it it too early for that?

    ebear

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  92. Krishna says:

    Yet, strangely, jobs had a terrible temper which goes against the basic tenets of Buddhism. Big ego, intolerance, cruelty, etc are not consistent with practice.

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    • Ethan Donaldson says:

      there are peaceful and wrathful deities, no?

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      • Phil says:

        Buddhism has nothing whatsoever to do with deities and the teacher called the Buddha refused to be drawn on the existence or non-existence of God. The question was simply not important to him and he refused to make stuff up. Branches such as Tibetan Buddhism absorbed a lot of local religious and folkloric influence rather like Christianity turned Goddess-worship into veneration of the Virgin Mary. Nevertheless Tibetan Buddhists don’t require belief in God as far as I know.

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    • merylste says:

      Krishna, you are judging a man that you don’t really know. Being on the path is being on the path. It doesn’t mean we’re perfected. Just making the effort. And he did. (And for humiliation–that is more likely in the person receiving the criticism. Again, you are judging not observing)

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    • Andrew says:

      Buddhism is not about being perfect.

      It is an attempt to be aware and mindful of your actions. Humans have flaws. The best you can do is try to recognize those flaws, correct your actions and do not repeat them. In this you will fail. Over and over. It’s part of being human.

      Steve Jobs was human. He was not perfect. He was not the Buddha. But I doubt he would ever claim to be, either.

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  93. n.krishna says:

    Dear Steve Silberman, this is one article that I read completely with full attention as Buddha says concentrate the mind on the present moment. Nice of you to have written this article. Steve Jobs was a phenomenon of our time. Disadvantaged socio economic position in childhood of Steve Jobs could have resulted in his untimely death at such a young age. Such disadvantage is associated with increased adult mortality and morbidity and can remain for life, despite later improvement in living conditions. We all should make the life of disadvantaged a little better as there could be such Steve Jobs among them.

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  94. Pradeep Sharma says:

    Budh is nude, this are the people who give up everything in there life as they do not need nothing. Asoka was a budh, he was also met by a budh who told him that he is traveller who will finish his journey. And I am very sure the author (I mean you) and reader(still you) are people who have incomplete journeys. A journey is complete when one realizes that nothing else is more needed in life. A journey ends when you meet the devine or say become the devine. Devine is a thought ( you can call him christ, you call call him krishna, you can call her Durga, you can call it allha, even you can call it YOURSELF).

    And visit india before you write crap … The real followers walk bare foot without clothes on streets in search of god. Being a buddhist is a sane thought… and the pinacle of it is showcased by all age group. When a 13 year old picks all her hair by herself, when a 45 year old guy gives up his life by not eating food FOR MONTHS. This are the people who decided that their quest for truth has just begun.

    This was another gimmic by Steve. And stupid people fall pray of it.

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    • Traveller says:

      Pradeep,
      Could you kindly delete your comment ? It does not belong here.
      In brief, Zen buddism is a little different from Indian buddhism.
      And even your understanding of Indian buddhism is off the mark
      as it starts with respect for all.
      best, – another Indian.

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    • merylste says:

      There are many ways to approach the One/Emptiness/Brahman. I agree, the other person replying. You are speaking like a fundamentalist and not representing the wonderful teachings of the vedas as articulated by Vivekananda and others who greatly respect what Buddha’s methodologies have added to our practices.

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  95. June says:

    Brilliant article, well written and informative. It seems that Steve Jobs was on ‘the journey’. Thanks for the signposts.

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  96. caryb says:

    Thank you Steve,
    Kobun Chino Roshi was so true and so outside of the box — pee in yer pants funny… the Great Matter was always nudging in his presence…

    Who is this Steve Jobs guy?

    luv’n'stuff, cary

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  97. Ron M says:

    I have no comment.

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  100. Joseph Brown says:

    I doubt a man who threatened “thermonuclear war” over Android and condemned Bill Gates for his work in philanthropy could have apprehended even the first tenet of Buddhism, that attachment is the root of all suffering.

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  101. Harold Sinclair says:

    I suggest that all those CEO’s and entrepeneurs who engage in business practices based on greed “because they are businessmen,” by exploiting the consumer base of the U.S. and outsourcing production for slave wage labor that wouldn’t be tolerated here because they just can’t get rich enough, pull down that old populist favorite of the ’90′s, “Zen In The Art Of War,” and do a little bit of meditating. The way Jobs did business, without taking into account the impact on social displacement and disenfranchisement from the development of these technologies, is nothing to worship. Class war is coming your way and there are at least a hundred knotches on a Kalashnikov reserved for those oh so holy practitioners of “Zen.” And another hundred on a million machetes. Actually, the world is not a better place because of these technologies for most of the world. Get ready, here we come.

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      I agree with much of what you say, but if you read my post as “worship,” you misread it.

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  102. Seantm says:

    Thanks for the insightfully written piece. I realize that not all Sanghas or schools of Dharma thought weigh the question equally but I just can’t help wondering what, or who Jobs will be reincarnated as? :-}

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  103. Lee says:

    Steve Jobs is dead.

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    • Charlie echo says:

      Your time will come…but who’ll “talk” about your contribution to our lives.

      Have a good one.

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  104. Eric Curtis says:

    Great article. As someone that has practiced Zen for many years in different centers (some with charismatic teachers, and others without), I felt the author of his biography most likely missed understanding some of the most formative influences in his life.

    I am also very curious about Steve’s apparent lack of cultivation of loving kindness. Postulating on the sidelines, I wonder if what he really internalized was the Zen teachers way of pulling the rug out from under your ego to force growth, as well as the sense that great teachers are held to a different standard (there foibles are often thought by students to be a teaching lesson, instead of a human weakness).

    In my experience a narcissistic personality disorder, coupled with the authority and power of a spiritual teacher, is a damaging mix, and based on a few references in the biography I am pretty sure he was wounded by at least one teacher, and went on to perpetrate the same behavior on his future employees, friends and family.

    So to answer the question in your title – while I greatly admire his life and accomplishments, based on his reported behavior, he missed some of the most important lessons of Buddhism, interconnectedness and the compassion that arises from a deeper understanding of that (or to be fair the media and biography portray him in this way).

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    • Richard Gleaves says:

      These old teachers complimented their students by criticism, blows even. When they praised, it usually meant belittling. That was the custom.

      — Mumon, The Gateless Gate

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  105. Gayle Hanson says:

    Steve this is a very interesting article. Who knows what Jobs’ meditation practice was. I sure don’t. However, as someone who had the opportunity to study with Kobun Chino Roshi I would like to add that Roshi was perhaps one of the most accomplished calligraphers of his generation and that this is interesting to note in relation to Jobs ongoing interest in calligraphy and design. I would also love to know if Jobs attended any of the visual dharma talks and exhibitions by the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

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  106. Dave Rogers says:

    Mu.

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  107. Nhi says:

    Thanks Steve S! :)

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  109. Rae says:

    I meant in the way they approached technology, especially early on. Gates focused on IBM et al, while Jobs envisioned products for the individual. “Pirates of Silicon Valley” is available on YouTube. It fairly portrays both of them during that time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t touch on Jobs’ spiritual foundation. Thank you, again Steve, for filling in the blanks.

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  111. Dragos says:

    Interesting article about an interesting person, which is let down by uninformed opinions on topics which don’t even concern the content of the article (the totally shallow and “me too” comments about Windows and Apple competitors). Yes, some people consider this to be mandatory in an article about Jobs or Apple, but unfortunately this kind of remarks just throw a shadow on the whole article: if you are so incompetent or ill-willed about this, how can one trust the rest of the article?

    Returning to the content itself, it would be interesting to hear opinions about how the concept of lies and manipulation fits in all this.

    Jobs (whom I admire a lot but not worship) was a constant liar and a manipulator of the user base of his products. Is that a Buddhist way of interacting with the world?

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      I hate working on Windows machines myself, for the reasons I explained in the piece. It’s not a “me too” comment in the slightest, since most people seem to be fine with them. It’s a personal opinion. Feel free to disagree. And the comment about Apple’s competitors was made by Jobs himself — I was reporting it to show how he saw Apple’s competitors, and for reasons that are very relevant to one of the subjects of the piece, mindful design. Feel free to disagree with Jobs, too.

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    • Jeff B says:

      Being a Buddhist doesn’t mean being “enlightened.” It’s a path. You don’t hide neuroses. “Acting” like a “Buddhist” is just another version of ego. I don’t know about anyone else, but treading on this path is not a piece of cake. It’s not some game of being “nice.” It’s much grittier and real. I didn’t know Steve Jobs, but I suspect he struggled with the path as most of us do.

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  112. Thanks for this lovely article. Our “star” obsessed culture likes to focus on personality, as if that’s the story. What’s happening inside, what forces are at work behind the veil, is much more interesting. Apple’s products, as a reflection of Jobs’ inspiration, touch us because our own inspiration is the same. That inspiration is how we manifest the emanation of Basic Goodness, the term coined by Trungpa Rinpoche, an analog to what’s also called Buddha Nature, Suchness, Original Mind, etc. Words are always inadequate, which is why art comes closest. Thus we could say Jobs’ accomplishment was manifesting the Art of business.

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  114. S. Brickman says:

    Nicely written. Also Mr. Jobs was in the direct care of a highly respected Tibetan Buddhist Lama during his last few years. So many forms of the Buddha’s teachings and all so useful.

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  115. S. says:

    Steve.

    A friend forwarded me this article, and I thought, after reading the first two paragraphs and before looking at the byline, that it could only have been authored by you. I wasn’t disappointed, and I wasn’t disappointed..

    (And when it comes to Steves, I’d take Silberman over Jobs any day. I’m fond of my Mac, but it doesn’t hold a candle to your depth and attention and artistry. Thank you, for this and all your work.)

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  116. anzaebo says:

    Namaste! Those who criticize the Apple maker
    without practicing mindfulness
    have fallen far be low/beyond the tree
    Aloha nui loa goes a long way to this JOBS *Steve done!

    Gate, gate parasam gate Bodhi SVAHA!

    also being another anonymous counterculture
    sitter in the late 60s-70s never knowing who
    sat next to me in the zendo; we all were mindless!

    From one Buddha, dharma, sangha sitter
    death (is)
    was closely always a breath away
    like dust settling zen haiku living HERE & NOW
    Kudos to my ex for sending me Apple Zen Waves!

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  117. John Zavacki says:

    one of my first computers was an Apple III. It was not so interesting. A bit later, a customer provided us with a Mac to communicate project data over an acoustic coupling to them. It was very interesting. The whole experience of using good products and bad (or maybe just not so good ones) reawakens my beginner’s mind. you do good with your writing. i like this story very much and also the one about things to know about writing a book. i have nothing to complain about. thank you very much.

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  118. Arnold T Canup says:

    Mr Jobs and Mr Wozniak took the short road in the beginning with the name Apple and it’s 1st price of $666.66. Is this Zen? I am sure prayers will light the correct path.

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    • Adrian Johnson says:

      They were young and brash and cocking a snook at a Christianity they never bothered to seriously investigate.
      –”Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

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  119. Paul Wilson says:
  120. Steve, Without knowing much about you, beyond your tweets, I read this post, reading deeper and deeper as I read on. I thought to myself: this author must have been there with Jobs, way back when he began the Bhuddist path. I could tell you were there before you revealed that you were. Powerful insights, beautiful storytelling, really great piece. Thank you for writing it. Have you considered a Silberman version of a Jobs biography? I’d definitely read it. @shirapwhite

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  121. Rae D. says:

    It was an exquisite read, learning how Steve was impacted by his practice. I personally found it honest and intriguing. Although I never knew him, the night he died, I sobbed and sobbed from my gut. It wasn’t about losing “Steve”, it was realizing how he had changed our world. He and Bill Gates were only born a few months apart in 1955. If there was no Steve Jobs to counter Bill Gates all these years, technology could have gone in a very different direction…a dark one…owned lock, stock and barrel (literally) by the government and big business. It was Steve who gave technology to the people, and for that we can be very grateful. He occupies a deep place in our psyche and now history, like it or not.

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    • c says:

      Counter Bill Gates? You mean counter the millions of dollars that Gates has given to charity by acting like the iPhone was some kind of gift to humanity and somehow means more than actual philanthropy. Apple is just as much “big business” as Microsoft.

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  122. A. Marina Fournier says:

    I’ll speak only to that which I know: making the back as good as the front.
    My mother was a couture-level seamstress, and ALL her garments were meticulously finished in the inside.

    I’ve had my embroidery praised for being as neat at the back as in the front–but that was by people who didn’t know that’s how it should always be.

    When I went through various artisan-woodworking studios one year during Open Studios, at one point I sat down on the floor, lowered the top of me, and looked at the underside of the chair–I’d have looked at the inside of a garment, in a different fashion, to see the quality of the “hidden” work–because I wasn’t sure I could pick up the chair safely enough.

    Yes, finish up your inside work as well as the outer.

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  123. Jack W. Orf says:

    Great article! But it is weird and incongruous that a Zen person would invent all of this technological crap so that the dumb masses can do what only the great Zen masters can do: Communicate telepathically. Cell phones allow dummies to be psychic and telepathic, which may not be the best idea.

    I’ve often thought that in some strange way computers and cell phones were ripped off from the Gods. Sort of like stealing fire from the Gods, or stealing lightning, etc. Totally crazy. Unless its not. Maybe Jobs just got into Zen so that he could steal the lightning. Naw. Thats crazy. Or is it? I always thought Gates did that.

    Also, the fact that he died with $8 billion in his pocket does not point to him being very spiritual. I thought that Zen Buddhists were supposed to live on one grain of rice, or something? Altho Buddha looked pretty well fed.

    Its particularly un-enlightened that even tho he knew that he was going to die shortly, he did not put any effort into redistributing that personal wealth in any way. Warren Buffett & Bill Gates give away billions and they aren’t even spiritual.

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      Jack, thanks, but all I can say is: You have a lot of ideas of what Zen people are like, and not like, and they don’t really track with my experience of the practice or the people. I’ve never known a Zen teacher who claimed to read minds like the Jedi in Star Wars or whatever. Zen is pretty ordinary, and I know a lot of Zenfolk who have computers and eat meals just like everybody else.

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      • Han van der Heide says:

        Thanks for pointing that out. I was scratching my head and wondered where someone would get ideas like that, and then suddenly I remembered a number of Hollywood movies.
        In no particular order: Karate Kid, Kill Bill, The Golden Child, I’m sure the list goes on.* Oh, and Star Wars of course.

        *Disclaimer: except for Karate Kid and a few of the older Star Wars movies, I have mostly seen trailers and snippets of the others.

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    • Adrian Johnson says:

      You may have the wrong mythology: rather than Zen, –ancient Greek: Steve Jobs as Prometheus– The generosity of this flawed but good Zen master is that he helped Jobs find thism his true archtype.

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  124. Stacy says:

    I too have wondered sometimes about Jobs’ Buddhism, what it meant in his professional life, and how it might have influenced him generally. My own meditation practice is relatively new but I’ve learned to love it. It has changed my life for the better.

    Thanks for writing this, I enjoyed it.

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  125. Jess Chalmers says:

    Thanks for the your article Steve . It guided me to pay attention and got my dendrites firing .

    Thanks for the moment on a still raining day where I reflected on your words and the dialogue it created .

    Jess

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  126. Tony Spencer says:

    Baffled to read such snarky comments after such a well-conceived and articulated story.

    The anger spilling out is downright venomous. To my understanding, Jobs tried and failed to manufacture in America but the logistics forced him to shift overseas. He was a businessman after all. No excuses if workers were mistreated there — although it’s a very slippery slope to start pointing fingers.

    I’m struck by the arrogance of these zazen critics. Jobs was clearly a flawed human being (join the party, folks) but that didn’t prevent him from developing artful ingenious tools capable of propelling civilization and culture forward.

    In fact, you’re probably writing your diatribes with the very tools he helped bring into existence. How supremely ironic and not just a little absurd.

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  127. Greg Downey says:

    Thanks, Steve, for writing this piece. You bring your own personal knowledge of Zen Buddhist practice and some of the key figures and texts to bear in a way that illuminates without drawing too much attention to your own practice.

    I feel like I understand Apple better and Steve Jobs but, like you, also feel a sense of disappointment that — dare I say it? — the company and its co-founder were not greater still? But perhaps the frustration that the synthesis was incomplete and imperfect (how could it be any other way?) might only inspire future generations of designers and business leaders to do better. We could do a lot worse than have an epidemic of Jobs-inspired executives leading large corporations.

    Really enjoyed this though — thanks for posting it.

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  128. Raymond Foye says:

    The most intelligent and thoroughgoing treatment of this topic I’ve read–or ever hope to read. Thank you for taking these important topics seriously, Steve.

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  129. Rajat Soni says:

    I think ultimately, beneath it all, stripped bare of the noise, distilled to its essence, Steve Jobs knew his life was a giant fraud. To me that’s the lesson of Buddhism. If you let all the hagiography and false praise float away you are left with a man who knew he was venal liar. In that sense, he was a master practioner of Zen Buddhism, as well as hopeless failure.

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    • Adrian Johnson says:

      And this is the beginning of Humility, without which no one can be a Saint in any religion. And so this Catholic-with-a-Mac prays: “Eternal rest grant unto Steve Jobs, O Lord; and may perpetual light shine upon him, and may he rest in peace”, –Amen.

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  132. Adrian Rush says:

    Jobs was a greedy misanthrope who raked in fat margins on the backs of virtual slave labor, by appealing to people’s base materialistic desires for his restrictive, locked-down (but so shiny!) products. His greatest achievement seemed to be convincing people to pay a premium for a dumbed-down computing experience. If any of his Zen training stuck, you’d never know it. He was more P.T. Barnum than D.T. Suzuki.

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    • E. Hollace says:

      What makes you say he was greedy? Do you have proof of this? If you are unhappy with the “restrictive, locked-down” eco-system of Apple products, then why waste any energy complaining about them? Did you know Mr. Jobs? I’d say only someone who knew him would know his true being and whether he was a Barnum or a Suzuki. You seem to have a lot of anger over the matter. Did something occur between you and Mr. Jobs or Apple to create such bitterness? Please back up your statements with facts. I’d be curious to hear them.

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      • Rajat Soni says:

        Please Mr. Hollace, why so glib. The fact that Steve Jobs never cared that legions of abjectly poor and essentially enslaved people in China toiled to make his products at a lower cost is evidence of his greed. That someone has to point this out to you is telling.

        The fact that he largely ripped off his truly Zen partner Steve Wozniak, who still doesn’t care, is evidence of his greed.

        The fact that he rarely credited to the true creators of his products, like Jonathan Ive, is evidence of his greed.

        And, sir, it is possible not to have a personal relationship with Mr. Jobs, yet be disturbed by his impact on the world; and to opine on that feeling. You don’t need to be his best friend to have a negative opinion on his impact.

        In fact, I speculate that deep down Mr. Jobs, would probably respect a person who criticized him mercilessly and questioned the received wisdom that he is a visionary genius, more so than a person who simply worshipped them because they own one of his products and the media told him that he was special.

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      • Rajat Soni says:

        And if you are Ms. Hollace, rather than Mr. Hollace, I apologize for my unfair assumption.

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  133. tooearly says:

    “If you want to know what I think, just look at our products.” At the time, it seemed like a crabby, dismissive, “bad Steve” response. But it was the most Zen thing he could have said.”

    But if you really want to know what kind of Buddhist he was, the more honest response might have been: “look at where our products are made.”

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    • Steve Silberman says:

      A worthy point that I make myself near the end of the piece.

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    • Paul says:

      Yes because employing the poorest and most needy people in the world is a horrible thing. Rich westerners deserve those jobs.

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      • babyfeet says:

        Thanks for pointing out the tremendous good that corporations such as Apple are doing abroad. Few appreciate their wage diminishing outreach program and their efforts to make all workers everywhere compete with those working in the least protected, most slave like working environments in the world. “There is nothing visionary in transferring the manufacture of your products from the US to China, and subcontracting the work to other companies, thereby circumventing labour laws, as Apple did 10 years ago. The working conditions of those who manufacture the products are appalling and ill paid.” – Mike Daisey

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        • Well done is all that I can say!

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        • Indigo says:

          As ugly as it may seem, low-end factory jobs in the developing world are many people’s only route out of poverty. Those poor Chinese workers are experiencing exactly what those poor European workers did during the Industrial revolution. Is it the company’s fault they have no unions or decent pay?

          No. It is the fault of every mindless consumer at the downtown mall and the big box stores stuffing their maws with laptops and iPhones. We live in a democratic society. If we don’t approve of bad behavior by corporations overseas we would have done something about it, right? So therefore, We, The People, are OK with it.

          It was the same during the Industrial Revolution, and it shall be the same for this age and all ages to come so long as the consumer wills it so.

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  134. Steve: So glad you wrote this post. Well done. It’s exactly the part of Steve Jobs’ life that I’ve wanted to know more about. Thanks so much. Great work. Susan

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  135. Pingback: Shambhala SunSpace » Steve Silberman asks, “What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?”

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