Vanity thought #280. Just WOW!

Almost a month ago NY Times published an eulogy on Steve Jobs by his sister, who he first met in 1985 because he/they were adopted and grew up with different families. The most remarkable part of it was Jobs last words, as he looked over and past the shoulders of his wife and children and he said these now famous words “OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.”

I don’t know what these words meant to his sister and to the millions of his fans and I don’t really care, devotees quickly assumed that it was a “payback” for his prasadam munching services he rendered back in the seventies.

So, with flood and everything, I took my sweet time and finally decided to have a closer look at those crazy years as they are documented in Jobs official biography.

It’s not a short book and it’s filled with all kinds of irrelevant and confusing biographical information – who went where and who talked to whom and in what order and so I went straight for the meat – the Reed College years when Jobs was attending Sunday feasts at ISKCON temple in Portland. I once mentioned it here.

The biography puts it in the larger context of Jobs spiritual development, or it was mostly search for enlightenment, development implies progress while his life was bobbing up and down the river of spiritualism.

Anyway, this is what I gathered so far. It was 1972, hippie movement was pretty much the background of all social life in California and young Steve wasn’t missing anything. He got himself a girlfriend, taught her to smoke marijuana, played a guitar, experimented with LSD – the whole nine yards. His foster parents worked their whole lives to get him to college while he had no idea what to do with his life. Among all the available options that included Berkeley and Stanford he decided to enroll in a small but very expensive Reed, it was three times smaller than his high school (don’t quote me on that, I haven’t read about his high school years yet).

After a year or so he got bored of all the required courses that he had to attend so he dropped out. In practice it meant he could still attend courses that he liked and he could still live with his friends in the dorm. I mention this as an example of what “search” meant for him – he had plenty of hunger but he was very whimsical with his choices and wasn’t going to commit to anything or do anything against his will.

In his private life this search meant consuming large amounts of alternative culture and trying all kinds of lifestyles without committing to anything in particular. Hare Krishnas were part of the Portland scene already but from the biography it appears they were just that – part of the scene. I don’t know where he heard about vegetarianism first but he was convinced by a couple of “hippie” books, not by Hare Krishnas.

Jobs took vegetarianism very very seriously but because his sources were rather dubious his practices turned outright weird. Generally he would call himself a vegan but it was a lot more than that – he was obsessed with cleanses, diets, and fasts. Sometimes he would eat only apples for two weeks, at other times he would live only on carrots, sometimes he would drink only juices, sometimes he would fast, sometimes he would avoid all carbs and so on. People were joking that during his carrot eating stage his complexion would turn orange.

Speaking of his appearance – he hardy wore any shoes, only sandals, if it was snowing. This is worth repeating – he never wore shoes, not to college, not to work, not even when he was raising money to manufacture his first Apple computers a few years later. In fact he was kicked out of one of the important meetings for putting his bare feet on a table.

There was also a question of his personal hygiene – he honestly believed that eating vegan food would not make him sweat at all. Everybody around him disagreed but that didn’t stop Jobs, or rather he couldn’t start taking showers just because other people complained about his BO. In his first job, at Atari, they had to assign him to the night shift because not only he was obnoxious to his colleagues but they couldn’t stand his stench, too.

So this was the young man who came to Hare Krishna “Love feasts”, as they were called then. At that time Jobs met a guy, Robert Friedland, who introduced him to eastern spirituality. That dude even had a local guru, a converted American Ram Dass who also had influence on now famous American kirtan singers Krishna Das and Jai Uttal. They have nothing to do with ISKCON, except that our Sri Prahlad lists them on his site, though that doesn’t mean he gives them any special endorsement. I’ll investigate this matter separately, if the need arises.

Anyway, this Friedman was four years older than Jobs and he taught him how to use the famous reality distortion field and lots of other valuable life lessons. They were a group of four friends and together they went to dance their socks off (if they were wearing any) at the Hare Krishnas. Robert would work himself into a frenzy while Jobs was a bit subdued as if he was “embarrassed to let loose”. After the kirtans they would stuff themselves with prasadam.

That wasn’t all, Friedland had stewardship of a large apple farm and he turned it into a spiritual community where they would practice meditation and such. It wasn’t japa meditation, btw, they were heavy into Zen Buddhism and enlightenment, not devotion. I mean he once credited LSD for his biggest breakthroughs on the path to higher consciousness. Still, on Sundays they would welcome Hare Krishna devotees from the temple and have a big program that ended with big plates of prasadam. Curiously, biography mentions that after stuffing himself to his neck Jobs would go and “purge”. I should also note that when it came to prasadam Jobs apparently didn’t mind milk, butter and other diary products that he wouldn’t have touched otherwise.

I’ve searched the book, there are no more references to Hare Krishnas in Jobs life, except that famous Stanford speech, of course. At no point he is described as a devotee in the book, and, as I said, Buddhists have far better, solid rights to claim him as their own. This is what I meant when I said his search for enlightenment was bobbing up and down – sometimes he was very close to Krishna, sometimes he drifted away. To him it looked like steady progress, though.

After a short stint at Atari Jobs decided to go to India and search for a guru. He found dysentery first, then went to Kumbha Mela (that was lucky!) He traveled a lot, practicing simple living and fasting. In that sense he was really trying to find enlightenment in renunciation. Perhaps he even went to Vrindavan, no one would know now, except, perhaps, Daniel Kottke, a close friend from ISKCON dancing days, who accompanied Jobs on some of his travels in India. I’m not going to try and reach Kottke though it would be interesting to know if Jobs been to Vrindavan or not. He most certainly didn’t go as far as Mayapur and Bengal but Vrindavan was close to his general travelling area.

Jobs returned to the US without finding a guru but the experience still had a profound effect on his perception of the society and things like intuition and analytical western minds. It’s important mostly to to his fans who search for clues to his ingenuity but if some of us are struggling with overthinking things then we might take notice that Jobs’ conclusion was that mind and intelligence don’t matter much, listening to your intuition (read Supersoul) is far more important.

That was the end of his “gurukula” period and what happened next – invention of a personal computer, animation etc shouldn’t be of big interest to us. Jobs held to his vegetarian diet to the end of his days, though he relaxed his rules a bit from time to time. Once he enjoyed sushi, for example, fish tasting so good he was willing to overlook his principles. It was also a major bonding moment with his daughter, so that counted, too.

He still had weird fixation on dieting, with each new choice of restrictions being endlessly discussed at family dinners but that was one of his more controversial sides. His insistence on non-traditional diet, healing and medicines is now called responsible for delaying the much needed operation on his cancer back in 2003, but that also should be beside our interest in him.

Our main interest should be these three “Wows” – I can’t think of anything else but Krishna’s messengers coming to take him to his next destination. If he was so lucky then maybe even I have a chance now, this example of Krishna caring for anyone who chanted His names, even if long long time ago, is truly encouraging.

It shows not only that Krishna remembers, but also that he waits for us to end our prison terms in these bodies, he never forgets even for a second, patiently guiding us through our lives to our eventual meeting point. It also puts things in perspective – what really matters in our lives and what doesn’t. Building a biggest company in the world (at times) and having millions of fans is not nearly as important as honoring Krishna’s prasadam, chanting His Names and dancing with His devotees.

It also shows the meaning of the word “devotee”. Anyone who has ever chanted Krishna’s Name in an ISKCON temple is a devotee and is very dear to Krishna, we should always remember that, no matter where life takes us afterwards.

Maybe I will read more of the book of Jobs but I think I’ve seen all I ever need there, maybe it’s time for me to return to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, or maybe Jobs darker sides need some illumination, they can be off putting and dealing with them might have some practical value for us, too.

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