Steve Jobs is a Buddhist!?? And a tangent on Commodification

Who knew?

Well, these guys, apparently:

“A college dropout, he traveled to India and returned, according to an article in the Telegraph, “in search of philosophical enlightenment.” His wedding in 1991 was officiated by Zen Buddhist monk Kobun Chino Otogawa…

“Of all the different kinds of awareness, awareness of death and impermanence is best,” the Dalai Lama wrote in The Way to Freedom. In his Sanford University address, Jobs spoke of death as being a great motivator. “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,” he told the assembled graduates.

His Commencement speech:

YouTube Preview Image

Does this mean I’ll be switching to MAC any time soon? Hmmm… In truth I’m probably too stubborn and rooted in PC-land to do that any time soon. And while I’m more convinced every day that MACs are just better-built and sturdier all around, they do have their problems – I encountered one not long ago. But even with that and the very low price tag, my PC does crash and do weird things far more than I’d like to admit.

One of the turn-offs to MACs is reports I’ve received from fellow scholars of the likes of:

CBETA just released an updated CD-rom with the complete version of the Taishō canon, 17 sections of the Jiaxing canon, the Xuzangjing, and some apocryphal collections all of which are available in searchable, yet still Mac unfriendly format. PC users can request free copies at

Plenty of Pāli-reading software out there is similar: it’s made by enthusiasts who love the language and want to share it with as many people as possible and for whatever reason they can’t figure out how to make it work on MACs. I’m also very much a DON’T go with the flow kind of guy. Any time something becomes a status symbol, I avoid it religiously (I didn’t have a cell phone until 2005 and still make a habit of not allowing it to become a digital leash). I know the ‘I’ stuff (IPad, IPod, IPhone) can be wonderful for their applications, but I also know they can be time-sinks and toys and diversions from wonderful and very simple thing we call the real world. My lower-tech gadgets, an LG not-very-smart phone, sansa express mp3 player with radio and voice recording (which I love), etc work just fine at what they do – in fact I can feel a bit snobbish that my $20 mp3 player also has FM radio and recording ability while a $200 IPod can do neither, but I digress. But ‘what they do’ – digression aside – is limited. I can’t download countless apps to do whatever random thing I happen to want do do right now.

The limited, but useful (no random games or ex-girlfriend tracking – see the link above – here) nature of technology like the sansa allow for a truer engagement in life. I would hope that one of my favorite philosophers, Albert Borgmann, would appreciate this distinction. It’s like the difference between grandma’s homemade sourdough bread and a supermarket bread section. You can have a different flavor of bread with each meal for a month from the supermarket, but there is a certain shallowness – a commodification – of your experience.

Now that’s not to categorically dismiss either supermarkets or ‘I’ stuff. One can develop a sophisticated relationship with a certain product, know it’s quality, history, features, maker, etc with either. It’s just that a simple item or simple, home-made food lends itself to such knowledge much more easily. Sure, grandma’s sourdough may not always be what you want, but eating it always carries a certain connection with the past, with your reality, that brand-x bread will not. And my little sansa won’t do a lot that an iPod can do, but, often enough, that’s a good thing :)

If there are any shifts in my technological world, it’s more likely I’ll follow the advice of Ven. Ashin Sopāka (Ethical Computing) and migrate to an open source operating system and programs. In the end, it’s not about any one being ‘Ultimately’ better than any other, or passing judgment upon people because of what they do or don’t have, but rather it is about getting down to basics, having technology that serves as a tool more than a toy and functions reliably and without excessive cost. As Ven. Ashin Sopāka says:

Speaking of relieving the burden, I must say there is definitely a lightness, a freedom and a happiness when using the open source stuff that I didn’t have when using proprietary, commercial software. I know, that sounds kinda odd, but I feel, in a sense, that I am living closer to the spirit of the Vinaya – and Dhamma! – in this one small area. Of course, the stability and disease-free status of the computer has allowed me to do what I really became a monk for – to study, practice and experience the Dhamma.

Thanks to Mumon for the mentioning Jobs in his recent, highly relevant blog post.

Stay in touch with American Buddhist Perspectives on Facebook: