Steve Jobs and Buddhism

Steve Jobs is known around the world as the visionary co-founder of Apple, Inc. He was instrumental in the remarkable success of Apple and its products including the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iPad, as well as making his mark in the film industry as the CEO and majority stockholder of Pixar, the highly successful animated film company known for the Toy Story movies, A Bug's Life, Monster's, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E and Up. Pixar was later purchased by The Walt Disney Company, where Jobs served on the Board of Directors.[1] The subject of numerous books, documentaries, films and even a play, he will also be the subject of an independent film jOBS starring Ashton Kutcher.[2] The film premiered at the Sundance Festival on January 25, 2013 and will open in theaters on April 19, 2013.[3]

During his early career he traveled to India and spent seven months there. After returning to the U.S., he experimented with LSD and became a practitioner of Zen Buddhism.[4] But, as blogger Steve Silberman asks, "What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?"[5] In discussing the book Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson's authorized biography, Silberman notes,
    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.
Silberman also discusses books that influenced Jobs, such as Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungap Rinpoche, a Tibetan Lama, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which was compiled from lectures by Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, and the influence that his teacher Kobun Chino Otogawa had in his life. Silberman believes that Job's gutsy showmanship may have been inspired by stories about legendary Zen masters.
    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.[6]
While many of Job's attributes as an inventor and entrepreneur may have by influenced by his Buddhist beliefs, he lacked the basic tenet of treating others with respect and lovingkindness.
    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 "sh--heads" [my edit] 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.[7] 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.
NBCNews reports that ten employees of Foxconn, a Taipei-based manufacturer for Apple, Hewlett Packard and Dell, have committed suicide. It is believed to be due to working conditions: no conversation on the production line permitted, only ten-minute bathroom breaks every two hours permitted, and that workers are being yelled at.[8]

So what type of Buddhist was Steve Jobs? It would be safe to say he was at least in some important ways a hypocrite. While he seemed to embrace Buddhist ideas that fostered his creativity and success, he side-stepped a very basic tenet of Buddhism, respect and kindness toward all. We see that some Buddhists are hypocrites, just as are some Christians. Actually, if we are honest about it, human nature is such that we may all be hypocrites, especially if we include the wayward nature of our thoughts and feelings. Both Buddhism and Christianity clearly teach that what we think and feel are virtually as important as our outward actions. So, even if our outward behavior is above reproach, the occasionally serious, wayward content of our minds and hearts could cause us to fall short.

[1] "Steve Jobs," Wikipedia,, retrieved February 25, 2013.

[2] "List of Artistic Depictions of Steve Jobs" Wikipedia,, retrieved February 25, 2013.

[3] "Jobs (film)," Wikipedia,, retrieved February 25, 2013.

[4] "Steve Jobs: Early Work," Wikipedia,, retrieved February 25, 2013.

[5] Steve Silberman, "What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?", retrieved February 25, 2013.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Stephanie Wong, John Liu and Time Culpan, "Why Apple is Nervous About Foxconn,",, retrieved February 25, 2013.

[8] Ibid.
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