Steve Jobs, the CEO and co-founder of Apple and Pixar, was an extraordinary man. There is no doubt that he has left an indelible mark on history.
His recent unexpected death at the early age of 56 has many people wondering about his personal faith.
He has been known to speak very openly about death and how its reality has motivated him in his life to accomplish something of great substance and worth. He is quoted as saying “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.”
But beyond statements like this concerning death, he has not spoken very openly about his faith.
Some have pointed out that he was confirmed as a Lutheran. Yet what has emerged about him concerning his faith is that he visited ashrams in India during the 70’s and returned to the States as a “Buddhist.”
But what kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs? Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan, Zen, or a New Age mix?
We know that he was married to his wife at Yosemite National Park by Kobin Chino Otogowa, a Zen Buddhist monk.
So, we can assume that he might have considered himself a Zen Buddhist, which is a school of Mahayana. This would also explain his minimalist approach to life and design. I heard that he lived a very simple life and ate vegetarian with the exception of fish.
To the Buddhist, this is commendable. As far as what his beliefs may have been, we can deduct that as a Zen Buddhist:
He would not have a belief in a personal Creator God. He would have been steered cleared of asking these kind of questions.
- He would believe in the law of karma which he briefly mentions in his speech to Stanford University.
- He would believe that life is cyclical and that he will return to this world again depending on his karma.
- He probably believed that he had a “Buddha nature” and sought to develop it and attain some form of inner enlightenment.
- He may have practiced “katsu” which is like primal scream therapy as well as some meditation and chanting.
- As a Buddhist he would be taught to not depend on anyone but himself even though he may have followed a “teacher.”
If we look at the time that Steve Jobs grew up in, we can see that his Buddhism was probably more of a New Age type of religion or practice rather than a real practice of classical Buddhism. He used mind altering drugs, visited ashrams, and probably took what he thought was useful from the Zen tradition and incorporated into his life.
This seems to be the “Buddhism” of most who claim it from the Western world. It is a hodge podge of man different things, thrown together in a cafeteria style, for “whatever works for me or makes me happy.”
In a book interview, Jobs called his experience with LSD “one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life.” As Jobs himself has suggested, LSD may have contributed to the “think different” approach that still puts Apple’s designs a head above the competition.
Using LSD would not be considered a very Buddhist thing to do. It goes against the 5 main prohibitions of the Buddha, one of which is to not take any intoxicating substance. Yet it would flow with the general tenor of the “New Age” that was emerging as a dominant religious force from the late counter cultural rebellion of the 60’s.
Some accounts say that as a corporate leader he was a very intense man with his employees and could drive many to tears. He was infamous for tearing apart his competition through verbal assaults and parodies. He created products that are highly useful to many of us (I use them myself). Yet in the Buddhist mind, it could be said that these products create desire, craving, and clinging which leads to suffering. (yes, seriously) The main purpose of Buddhism is to cease suffering, not create more desire and craving.
Although He made billions of dollars from his success, he was not known to be a philanthropist like Bill Gates. He had a lot of chances to use his influence for something that would alleviate the suffering of multitudes, but sadly he passed without using the opportunity. His personal charity could have made a huge difference around the world.
Yet to me this is consistent with Buddhist teaching, which is about personal spiritual enlightenment and each person standing on his own; based on his own karma whether it be good or bad.
He was like us all, an imperfect human being, in need of salvation and reconciliation to his Creator. Like us, he was a man in need of understanding the true purpose of why he was put on this earth; to love God supremely and to love others. His days, like ours, were numbered.
To me, his Buddhism was not classic. Most Buddhism in the world is not. Which begs the question “Is the tail wagging the dog”? (my attempt to be Zen).
His Buddhist ideology may have helped develop him as a person in some sense, but ultimately I believe it failed to provide the real solution to the problem of suffering and the answer to the real purpose of humanity.
We can only hope that in his last days on this Earth he found something fuller, more complete.
I believe that the fullness would be a reconciliation to his Creator through faith and trust the finished work of Jesus Christ alone.
We may never know on this side of eternity. But you can learn from this example, and you can know. (1 John 5:11-13)