Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Steve Jobs, A Buddhist?

I admit i haven't read, and probably won't, the Steve Jobs biography. But from all the news and book excerpts that we have been saturated with since his death, i also have to admit that i wonder about the man's claim to have been a practicing Buddhist.

First of all, let me say that a piece of me admires Steve very much. Not for his success, not for his sales skills, not for his creativity, but for his willingness to be who he wanted to be. He didn't seem to care whether anyone else liked who he was. He didn't seem to care whether anyone else liked the path he wanted to follow. He didn't seem to care whether anyone else thought he was... well, different, unorthodox, a stray cannon. Steve Jobs knew what he wanted to be and became it. That takes guts and a clear understanding of who you are.

On the other hand, from what i understand, he claimed to have been a Buddhist. Yet, despite that, he yelled at his employees, badgered them mercilessly, ran an organization that had fear as a piece of the culture (for certain groups of employees), publicly insulted and disparaged his competitors, held immense grudges, and kept the hateful parts of his heart completely open to public view and well fed. A Buddhist?

When Apple hired John Sculley, they say the clinching argument in the process came from Steve himself, with the now famous "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to help me change the world?"

That is a beautiful line and i wish i was in a position to be able to use it myself. On the surface, Steve looks like a wonderful person. But, look below that surface. Change the world? Yes, in many ways, Apple has helped change the world. Technologically. But what i am getting at concerns Steve Jobs, not Apple's technology.

Steve was a salesman. He sold desire and attachment. He sold the belief that you were not a whole person if you didn't own one of Apple's products. He sold desire, holding dreams of the "next big thing" just out of our reach for months like a sick man holding bones just out of reach of starving dogs.

Steve convinced the world that we needed to own his product. That life without it was hard to even contemplate. He cut open our hearts and inserted craving directly inside. He convinced millions (or billions?) of people that they were somehow inherently better people because they had an iPod or iPhone when their friends did not. Conversely, he convinced millions of people that they were inherently lacking in some way if they didn't own his product.

Did Steve help change the world? Yes, he helped institutionalize attachment and aversion, greed and craving. A Buddhist? I'm not so sure about that. A dabbler, maybe, but he didn't seem to understand what being a Buddhist really means.


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