Since his death, a lot has been said about Steve Jobs and his Zen practice. What I’ve found surprising about much of this talk is the number of practitioners who proclaim Mr. Jobs not a “real” Buddhist. After all how could he be a “real Buddhist” given that he was so very rich, or that he never practiced Dāna (दान), or maybe that he employed “sweat shop” labor. There were many things for people to pick on and pick people did. In some cases I’ve seen comments that were outright vitriolic.
Some of this isn’t surprising. For reasons that continually fail to reveal themselves to me, we practitioners often seem to get into “my Buddhism is better than your Buddhism” jousting matches. I supposed it’s understandable from the belief versus realized philosophy point of view. My teacher, Rodney Smith, gave a great talk recently about the difference between belief based philosophies versus realized philosophies. His assertion was that in belief based philosophies, the believer doesn’t question their practices but needs others to believe as they do to reinforce their world view. The believer even ignores the obvious cracks in the belief system or white washes over them to avoid questions that could threaten the belief, a.k.a. “my Buddhism.” In the realized practitioner, the cracks in the philosophy and/or practice of the philosophy are “where the light shines through.” The realized dharma practitioner probes at the questions to find deeper understanding rather than to project their fear of the answers onto others. Perhaps we should ask ourselves why we need Mr. Jobs to be our kind of Buddhist. Perhaps we should ask ourselves where our judgement of his practice comes from with the perspective of our own practice.
We are all just practitioners, and none of us is perfect. I “fail” in my practice often. These “failures” are just opportunities for me to obtain better understanding of myself and to cultivate my practice further. It is certain that Mr. Jobs had challenges in his life that he needed to overcome as well, as we all do. As Bhikkhu Khantipalo says in the introduction to the Maha-kammavibhanga Sutta, “The minds of people are complex and they make many different kinds of kamma even in one lifetime.” The mind of Mr. Jobs was clearly quite complex, most likely leading to many different kinds of karma.
I am grateful that Mr. Jobs’ spirituality is a subject of conversation. There is an entire thread on the dualism between what is Zen and what American culture understands as Zen. Mr. Jobs gave us an opportunity to discuss and examine our own practices. Whether his Buddhism was inferior or superior to mine is irrelevant and is a judgement call made from a place of separating and forming our egos, not from a place of Anattā (अनात्मन्). Nobody really knew Mr. Jobs’ heart and nobody knew his personal struggle along his path. None can therefore judge. Even if they could, is it in any way beneficial to do so?
Thank you for your contribution Mr. Jobs, and blessings on your journey.