Vanity thought #1316. Scientology Part 2

Yesterday I got to the point where Ron Hubbard was hospitalized for treating ulcer during the war and completely made up his battle wounds. I called him a scumbag. In retrospect, it was uncalled for. Sure, the dude loved to boast and exaggerate but that is not a really big sin, I’ll get to that a bit later.

After the war there was a short period where LRH got involved with occultism. In the end, he stole the leader’s girlfriend and all his money and left him broke. The occultism itself described in wikipedia like so:

    Parsons used his “magical wand” to whip up a vortex of energy so the elemental would be summoned. Translated into plain English, Parsons jerked off in the name of spiritual advancement whilst Hubbard scanned the astral plane for signs and visions.

To be fair, this episode in LRH life is presented as a destruction of a dangerous cult and saving its innocent victims, which is one way to see it, sure. Eventually Hubbard married the girl and it was his second marriage while still not being divorced from the first wife but all paperwork was eventually completed. Not a big deal.

Then came dianetics and with it the beginning of Scientology itself.

From one of his friends Hubbard picked up something about Freudian philosophy and he took it up in the spirit of American entrepreneurship. He spruced Freudian methods with attractive sounding words and introduced some gadgetry to make it look and sound like a really advanced science. People, as usual in modern psychiatry, were still asked to recall difficult incidents from their lives so they could “let it go” but in dianetics the process was interactive and guided by an “auditor” who, instead of waiting for the patient to open up, would prod and push and record patient’s reactions as shown by an “e-meter”, a simple device to measure low voltage current running through the person, sort of a lie detector.

LRH developed special language around the whole process with memories called “engrams” stored in a “reactive mind”, the process called “auditing” which leads to the state of being “clear”. Somehow or other it worked and really caught on. Perhaps it was the convenience of it all coupled with attractive packaging and making benefits of standard psychiatric practices available to general masses that made it into success. The book sold like crazy and LRH made even more money lecturing and charging people for “auditing”. In the documentary they show maybe a hundred people being audited at once, all paying good money for each session. There was no limit on how many sessions one needed to become “clear” so money was flowing in. But, like any fad, it was soon over, actual psychiatrists were not impressed, and dianetics hit a dead end. LHR also mismanaged the situation by making dianetics an “open source” project and it inevitably got carried away.

That’s when LRH decided to take it to the next level, impose some discipline on his followers and provide them with an all around set of beliefs. He needed a church and the best part of it was that churches don’t pay taxes, something that was sounded in the documentary as a turning point in his life – when he realized that the best way to make money is to start a religion, and so he did.

A man was declared a spiritual being whose purpose in life is to assert control over the universe. Instead of a soul LHR used a new term “thetan”. The main difference is that thetans are omnipotent, they are like gods themselves, and Scientology is the way for them to restore their powers. The whole process is called a “bridge” and people start at the bottom and work their way up through a long series of steps. Auditing is one of the main practices but the stage of “clear” is not the ultimate yet, there are always more rungs on the ladder – they go for omnipotence, after all.

Organizationally, LRH set up standards to follow and adopted modern managerial methods. Branches were like franchises and they had to pay ten percent of their income to the center, various departments were called “orgs”, there was clear hierarchy and everybody knew his duties, had his progress charted, knew his immediate and long term goals and, most importantly, there was a system to milk as much money from congregation as possible, not squeezing it too hard and not letting people to get away without paying all they could afford.

It took LRH a decade to build the entire thing but it was progressing beautifully and became an international organization. It was at this time that Hubbard worked out a couple of principles that were of particular interest to film-makers. One was that Scientology should always present itself as a church, and another was that it should never be defensive: “Don’t ever defend, always attack.”

Whoever was perceived as a threat must be attacked first, and the best attack was filing lawsuits. They didn’t actually intend to win but harass their opponent until he gave up. Scientology was also supposed to be a closely knit community with zero tolerance for deviations. They have a term “suppressive person” to describe about two percent of the population that cannot be cured and must be avoided at all costs. Scientology members were prohibited from association with such undesirable elements and in dealing with them all gloves were off.

Thus Hubbard was not only nurturing but also very protective of his movement, or his cash cow – depending on perspective. In the sixties his church got a lot of grief from the US government and got sued for brainwashing, blackmail, extortion and all kinds of bad things. That made Hubbard only more protective and the church started cleansing its own ranks to make sure nothing untoward came out in public. People were pushed to admit to various thought crimes against the church and report on each other during audits. The “Guardian Office” was established to deal with external threats in an organized manner, but nothing really helped, the government wouldn’t budge and eventually LHR was forced to leave the US on a fleet of ships. Thus “Sea Org” was born.

He spent another decade sailing Mediterranean and North Atlantic. Officially, he relinquished managerial responsibilities but the church, of course, didn’t abandon him and sponsored all his travels. For the regular church members Sea Org was the ultimate salvation, a sort of a holy dhama or like our Rādhā Dāmodara Traveling Saṅkīrtana party of the seventies. LRH was busy perfecting church mythology and by the members it was seen as disclosing final revelations about the universe. Eventually, however, he ran out of places that would accept his ships, returned to the US and went into hiding.

So, what we can learn from that part of LRH biography is his uncanny ability to organize people and get them to do what he wanted. He always had charisma but in all his previous endeavors his general incompetence eventually ruined them. Scientology, however, was an unqualified success. Why? It’s a big question to answer, there could be books written about it.

What I want to focus, however, is Hubbard’s personality. He wasn’t a scumbag and he wasn’t even a fraud, he just loved to boast and he loved money, a fairly innocuous faults in the days of Hitler and Stalin and governments building nuclear bombs and testing them on people.

To me he looks like a prototype of Steve Jobs. He created ideas/products that people liked and then he used their attachments to monetize the hell out of them. The ideas weren’t particularly knew, they weren’t first and they weren’t best bang for the buck but they worked, people liked them, they were easy to use, they provided satisfaction, and people paid top money for them with great pleasure. Scientology provided the full ecosystem, strong self-identification, irrational allegiance to the brand and hostility towards outsiders and particularly towards its enemies. All the same things that we see in Apple and its fanboys nowadays, or at least the days when Steve Jobs was still alive.

There’s also a completely new language that outsiders couldn’t easily understand, which is immediately obvious to anyone picking up an Apple computer, they have special glossaries for that. But more on Scientology itself some other day.


Vanity thought #1047. An Apple a day

doesn’t keep māyā away. I’m talking about Apple Computer, not a fruit. Late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs has probably moved onto the better pastures but that doesn’t do anything for us.

I don’t want to repeat the story about Jobs being a regular at a Portland temple, dancing his socks off and then stuffing himself with prasādam. We hope that it was the most significant thing he even did in his life, we have no reason to doubt that Kṛṣṇa has never forgotten his service there. We can also interpret the moment of his death, which he himself described as “wow”, as a confirmation that Kṛṣṇa’s devotees will never perish.

Apart from that, Steve was a genuine asshole, parking his car in a handicapped spot just because he could, jumping queues in the cafeteria, and generally treating people as rubbish. I don’t want to talk about that either. In materialistic terms it had both positive and negative effects but it doesn’t matter for Kṛṣṇa so it shouldn’t matter for us.

What I want to talk about is Apple’s impact on us as devotees as well as ideas and ideology behind the company. Once again, Steve Jobs might have been responsible for them and they shaped his future karma but we shouldn’t care about that. Karma is karma, it’s there for everybody, Kṛṣṇa has no interest in it and neither should we.

Apple is a fascinating phenomenon, it’s so much more than just computers and other gadgets, it’s an attitude, it’s a cultural phenomenon, it’s a life choice that defines millions of people for years and years of their lives. It also affects lives of people who somehow oppose Apple’s philosophy, they just can’t be themselves in Apple’s presence anymore. It affects us as well, with so many of our devotees buying into this Apple idea and treating their MacBooks and iPhones as Steve’s prasāda. Apple is like an official sponsor of Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. When Kṛṣṇa wants His devotees to be connected and up to speed, He sends them Apple. So it affects us.

First, the name itself. I didn’t read Steve Job’s biography but I scanned the chapters about the beginnings of his company. It was around time when he spent several months on a friend’s farm where they tried to live an alternative lifestyle. Somehow I think that when he was looking for a simple, catchy word to name his company he chose apple for that reason – they tried to grow them there.

The word “apple” doesn’t carry any negative connotations, it convey vitality and values – traditional staple food no one had ever had an problems with. Milk is associated with animal cruelty now but apples are still unblemished. Apples are refreshing, energizing, cleansing, healthy – perfect to inspire positive thoughts and hopes about the company.

Then came the logo. The original was uninspiring, maybe paying tributes to medieval typography than to anything else, but then came the death of Alan Turing and that’s where we should start paying attention.

Alan Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, a father of the computer, some say, an iconic name for computer enthusiasts in those days. He was also gay, which made his life very very difficult. Eventually the pressure had got to him and he killed himself by eating an apple injected with poison.

That’s how we got the Apple logo – an apple with a bite taken out, and painted with rainbow colors, the symbol of homosexual freedom.

Do we really want a symbol of homosexuality to be our designated Hare Kṛṣṇa computer company? Their current CEO, Tim Cook, was just outed as gay on TV, some runaway mouth unwittingly confirming rumors that have been circulating for years now.

Of course if we say anything about it it would be a very bad PR for our movement but internally we should remember that homosexuality is clearly a demoniac inclination incompatible with pure devotion. Any sex life is incompatible with pure devotion in this age but straight people at least have a chance of doing it right, according to regulative principles, and that would quickly elevate them and cleanse their hearts of lust. Gay people do not have such a chance, unless they go against their nature and enter into straight relationships.

Of course we should not ban gays from devotional activities but we should also remember that lust contaminates everything and so we should stay away from any expressions of gayness just as we should stay away from straight men and women obsessed with sex.

But was that Apple logo really a tribute to freedom of homosexuality? Or was it a protest against unjust persecution of gay people? I think it’s the second reason, and in this we can lend Jobs our support.

A hundred years ago our society has been through the similar stage – traditional religionists claimed that one’s opportunities in devotional service are determined solely by one’s birth while Śrila Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī argued that in devotion it’s not the birth, it’s actual qualities that matter.

We should at least understand what gays were going through and even if we disagree and do not approve of their agenda, we can find a common enemy in stifling traditionalists. Even now we should pay heed to this attitude when we contemplate what to do with our gay devotees. Do we give them a chance? What kind of chance? Do we ban gayness altogether in all its expressions?

It’s the same story playing over and over again, and I’m afraid I’m siding with Jobs’ reaction to it – it’s simply unfair to people who just happen to be differently conditioned. We are all afflicted one way or another, we should have a heart and see beyond the externalities. It’s what in people’s hearts that matters to Kṛṣṇa, not a particularly wired set of sexual organs.

If homosexuality is a contentious topic, there’s another explanation behind Apple’s choice of their logo – it’s an apple from the Garden of Eden that was given to Eve by a serpent and which spelled the doom of mankind.

“Try something different,” the serpent said. “Dare to be different. It’s an apple from a tree of knowledge,” he said. We know how it turned out for everybody.

It’s our quest of knowledge that binds us to the illusion. Once again, one of the direct meanings of māyā is “to measure” – it means desire to know and judge everything. Quest for knowledge, thirst for science – that’s what drives materialists and other assorted demons. They want to figure out this world without relying on God. They want to discover things without God’s help and they want to see things being great and valuable solely on their own merits.

As devotees, OTOH, we should learn to see God’s spark in every extraordinary phenomenon in this world and realize that nothing good exists here without drawing its attractive qualities from Kṛṣṇa. We could even argue that things look good and attractive precisely because they are invested with Kṛṣṇa’s potencies. He is “all-attractive”, after all.

We won’t find this attitude at Apple computer. On the contrary, they look like they channel some higher powers from demoniac planets. That would explain why their gadgets look so good, so perfect, so flawless. That would also explain why their new HQ looks like an alien spaceship, and not the goofy one they draw in the cartoons but a cool one you might actually agree to be taken in if aliens would ever come for you.

Am I being ridiculous? How is it possible for demons from higher demoniac planets (where life is even better than on the planets of demigods) to channel their sophistication and their demoniac attitudes down to our Earth? The same way any other planet affects our lives. Maybe it’s colors, maybe it’s certain electromagnetic waves, but somehow Mars projects raw, military style power while Sun projects pride or Jupiter channels wisdom. It happens, there’s no reason demons can’t channel their attitudes, too.

One way or another, but shouldn’t we be worried about embracing things inspired by demons? There’s one crucial thing they don’t project – devotion to God, so why should we continue buying into Apple’s ideas expressed through design but also through the way their computers work, they way the expect people to work with their computers, they way they expect people to think when they work with their computers – it’s all contaminating, it’s taking on unwanted association.

Our only excuse is that such association is unavoidable but that doesn’t mean we should be oblivious to the limits.

The worst part is using Steve Jobs connection to Kṛṣṇa as an excuse for us to indulge in all things Apple, as if him being a devotee somehow justifies our own sense gratification. It doesn’t. Nothing does. We should always be on the lookout for seeking sense enjoyment and immediately remember Kṛṣṇa and hope He shields us from temptations.

If we do not consciously do it we can never hope to become real devotees, it’s that simple

Vanity thought #383. Krishna Consciousness and Open Source

Connection between Steve Jobs and Krishna consciousness is well known, thanks to his famous speech where he talked about Sunday programs at the local Hare Krishna temple where he had gone to get the only wholesome meal of his week. Some count him as a bona fide devotee though Buddhists also stake their claims on his soul.

One Buddhist cult in Thailand is spreading a “revelation” about Jobs’ next birth as a celestial being living in a six story crystal and silver palace that resembles Apple stores and hovers above Apple’s HQ. They also talk about his previous births and therein lies the crux of their revelation – he got all his glory for being very generous and so followers of the sect must cough up a lot of cash, too.

Never mind that, today I want to compare Jobs and Apple approach with open source movement and our Krishna consciousness.

Looking at Jobs’ achievements one can easily imagine that he was giving us stuff revealed to him by some demigods, or aliens (for those who don’t believe in gods). His products and designs carry that special quality that separates them from the pack. They are not entirely unique and they are not the best, technically speaking, but they are nothing short of perfection that no one else in this world has been able to replicate.

So here we have it – demigods reveal their secrets to a person with all godly qualities, who worshiped Krishna for quite some time, and was a vegetarian, too. Thus for devotees i-things are as kosher as gadgets can be.

Open source, on the other hand, is built on an asuric principle that people can produce stuff themselves, bypassing the demigods and a general cosmic order of things. If Apple is godly, open source is atheistic. The fact that Linus Torwalds, the creator of Linux, is an atheist only cements this point view.

That is not all, however. To get into godly way of doing things one must make sacrifices to the gods, in this case through Apple approved stores and cash registers, and godly living doesn’t come cheap. Apple product owners are not openly vain but they have a whiff of snobbishness around them anyway. They are definitely not hoi polloi and vast majority of the population simply feels itself excluded. Apple users, meanwhile, often don’t even acknowledge hoi polloi’s existence.

If one thinks that this is a negative quality one should remember that our books aren’t cheap either and we don’t give them away for free. In order to receive the mercy of our books one must make a monetary sacrifice, too. Unlike Christians we don’t give anything away, we want people to value our literature. The whole set of our books is like Macbook Pro of computers – it’s the best knowledge available and it costs and arm and a leg.

As an aside note – some hotels stock Bibles in their rooms. I think it would be a good idea if we could place Bhagaval Gitas in there, too. As hotel property they won’t ever be thrown away and each book would be seen by thousands of guests so there could be good number of people who would appreciate them and, perhaps, even become devotees.

Open source products, of course, are free. We could say it’s not our way but, unlike egotistic exclusivity of Apple devotees, open source way is essentially sattvic and brahmanic in nature – people create something not for the sake of reward or recognition but because they feel that they should make a voluntary contribution to the society, spread the “love”, just like Lord Chaitanya did with His sankirtana movement – everyone is welcome to taste the nectar, it is free of charge.

Another interesting aspect – all geeks see perfect gadgets as manifestation of the Absolute Truth. The code, the logic, the execution, the design – it all reminds them of divinity the same way people talk about divine inspiration behind classical music or other works of art.

Atheist or not, Absolute Truth attracts everybody, everybody wants It shine through the products of their labor. Steve Jobs might have gotten his designs from gods but open source people get them the best authorized way for this day and age – through a kind of sankirtana. Like minded people gather together and share their realizations and this is how their glimpse of Absolute Truth reveals Itself to them. Even more than that – they invite everybody to join the process rather than jealously guarding the secrets of their trade.

So, in a way, Apple vs Open Source is not unlike the clash of traditional, caste and status driven Hinduism and unconditional, transcendental message of Gaudya Vaishnavism.

Demigods are cool, they get the best stuff in the entire universe, and worshiping them is a legitimate way to elevate one’s consciousness, but it’s still essentially materialistic and so doesn’t satisfy the soul. Sankirtana movement, on the other hand, is absolutely free of all selfish desires and its only goal is satisfaction of the Supreme Lord.

Param vijayate Sri Krishna sankirtanam!

Open Souce rulez, too!

Vanity thought #281. Who gets a wow.

I had a few more thoughts on Jobs passing so I’ll try to make a post out of it.

Why “wow”? What did Jobs see in the last seconds of his life to elicit a “wow”? We will never know for sure but one thing is clear – he wasn’t seeing the yamadutas. Or maybe he wasn’t seeing anything but simply reflected on the surge of loving feelings towards his family. On the other hand it’s said he looked past their shoulders so he could have seen something that wasn’t there for everyone else. Most likely, and actually the only explanation I see here, is that he was seeing vishnudutas who came to take care of him because his chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra didn’t go in vain.

What I like to think, though, is that his mind was blown away by their forms and their beauty. They look almost exactly like Vishnu Himself, Jobs wouldn’t be the first one to mix them up. We have plenty of pictures in our books to give us an impression of what they might look like and we have all the descriptions in the shastras to give us the clues but, to be honest, none of the depictions I’ve ever seen looked like “wow” to me. Nice, clean – yes, wow – no. If I were to imagine Krishna as He’s shown in our illustrations to Bhagavad Gita I wouldn’t go “wow”, his features are too Indian for me, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but they elicit petty material associations, they are not transcendental, there’s something off about them.

I shouldn’t be surprised, of course, none of our artists had actually seen Krishna of vishnudutas face to face to portray them exactly as they appear before our material senses. One could say they would never appear before our material senses but on some occasions they make themselves visible. A dying man doesn’t have developed spiritual senses yet he can still see them, for example. Without that first hand experience we can’t really draw Krishna as He is, we have to fall back on our interpretations of what a beautiful Indian god might look like.

Some come out better, some worse, some Deities look stunningly beautiful to me, some don’t, and different people have their own favorites. The only “real” standard of what Krishna looks like that I take on faith is the saying that among the original Krishna Deities of Vrindavana from Vajranabha’s time Govindaji has Krishna’s face, Gopinath resembles Krishna’s form from shoulders to waist and Madan Mohan looks like Krishna from navel down. I’ve seen the pictures, though, “resemble” is the only word I can agree on with my material vision. No “wow” from me.

Jobs, however, saw the “wow”, and coming from a design perfectionist as he was it is a kind of testament to the beauty of the vishnudutas. I don’t know what it is and I don’t know if Jobs was brought back to life he could have reproduced it but the way they appeared to him in person was definitely a “wow”.

I’m not sure we can draw them with the same effect if all we can rely on are the forms and shapes we have experienced in the material world. It’s the modes of material nature that restrict us here. If one carefully looks at common designs surrounding us in our everyday life we can easily trace them back to something we have seen before, something that is connected to certain emotions and certain experiences. To give you an example – soviet era military machinery looks nothing like iPads, they are inspired by a different culture and different design values. I’ve seen the pictures of the insides of decommissioned soviet submarines and it’s an entirely different world out there, with its own rules and its own attractive features but it’s just different, it was inspired by different gunas.

My point here is that unless we are inspired by vishuddha sattva all our design clues and solutions will be traceable to common material roots, they can’t be transcendental. That’s why I think no one so far has been able to adequately convey Krishna’s beauty through material sculpture and painting. It might not be even necessary for our advancement but that is a different point.

Anyway, Jobs got his wows, but did he deserve them? I haven’t finished reading his biography but I’ve seen enough to declare him a major a-hole. You don’t even need to read a book to know he was an a-hole. He rejected his first daughter, for example, he had an uncanny ability to insult and denigrate people, he knew their weak spots right away and he was happy to press on them until he got what he wanted. He was a greedy, vindictive, vain, self absorbed pompous ass. Why did he get the wows?

Remember Daniel Knoppke, his close friend in college that he went to India with, when they first met Jobs pissed of Knoppke’s girlfriend by discussing how much money would it take for her to sleep with another man. Steve Wozniac, his life-time friend they started the company together, Jobs cheated him our of the bonus on the very fist job they did together. Why did Jobs get the wows?

Shouldn’t people like this got to hell straight away? Okay, maybe not to hell but they deserve to be on receiving end of such callousness themselves. Maybe they should, but this is thinking in terms of cause and effect existing only in the material world, under the assumption that we are our bodies fully responsible for what we do.

From Krishna’s POV, however, it might all look very different. Yes, Jobs deserved a body of a genius prick and if he were to follow his karma he would probably be living life of cartoon characters from Dilbert but after chanting Krishna’s names he is not obliged to do that anymore. His next body could be occupied by any number of other living entities, Jobs has nothing to do with it anymore, Krishna would put him somewhere where he can go to the temple, dance and eat prasadam again. Actually I think this is wrong – his dying body didn’t deserve the next incarnation. the law of karma in relation to his body implies that it would be burned or eaten by worms, there’s no Stive Jobs 2.0 waiting somewhere for his old soul to jump in.

That’s all very well but my mind still screams that it’s unfair to the victims of his abuse. To that I can answer that people get abused according to their karma, not because such and such was such an a-hole. Wozniac wasn’t offended by being cheated, for example, he thought that a small matter like this was not important enough to get in the way of their friendship. He was cheated but he didn’t feel like he was shorthanded.

When I see “injustice” like that I want to restore the order in the universe but my perception of what order is is inadequate. There’s so much stuff, so much background information that I don’t know that I should simply not pay attention to thoughts like these. In Wozniac’s case there was no offense, for example, and on some level Job’s ruthless greed was exactly what their partnership needed to become successful so it was in Wozniac’s self-interest to let that one slide.

In cases like this I justify my desire to put the universe straight by appealing to some principles that shouldn’t be violated in the name of universal dharma but in fact it’s not the threat to dharma that gets me all worked up, it’s emotional reactions in my own head that deprive me of sleep. Oh, this guy said this and he is such a shameless liar and the whole universe deserves to know about this. I can’t go to sleep yet – someone’s wrong on the Internet.

Well, this is a wrong approach, I’m protecting my own bruised ego by appealing to religious principles, that’s all. I see the world from the position of my body that has got into its head that it’s in the position to judge what’s right and wrong. I’m not a judge, I’m not a journalist, I’m not an expert on anything, I just have Internet access, that’s all.

I hope Krishna doesn’t see it like that, too, I hope he only counts the times I called His Name and the rest goes straight past his counter, I hope He is not like Santa with his dreaded naughty list. Steve Jobs example inspires me here – nothing else matters but chanting and listening to Lord Krishna’s Name, His pastimes and His glories.

I can say amen to that.

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.

Vanity thought #256. On Passing of Jobs.

The departure of Steve Jobs is too big an event to pass on. I was going to continue with my varnashrama speculations and then this happened.

Naturally, it was impossible to escape the outpouring of RIPs and eulogies and various anecdotes and memorials, photos, videos, apologies and what not. Eventually I had to admit that varnashrama thing got moved to the back of my mind and Jobs was now reigning supreme, but why?

There are two main reasons – he was a remarkable man by modern day standards, and he used to come to Hare Krishna temple for Sunday feasts, his only wholesome meal in a whole week when he dropped out of college and lived on selling recycled Coke bottles. That is the deadly combination that makes it impossible to overlook his death. And also the launch of a new iPhone only a day earlier.

I’m going to break with my tradition of having long posts without any visual decorations to break the boredom and insert a Youtube video from several years ago when Jobs gave a commencement address at Stanford university.

This address is remarkable in two ways, first, it presents Jobs life in short fifteen minutes and gives an accurate estimation of his greatness, second is that he was reading from a script, he really sat down to write those lines up and he must have given them a lot of thought, and editing, and that makes them weigh a lot more than flying on the high winds of his usual Apple presentations. For once in his later life he wasn’t selling anything, he was exposing himself, ready to be judged.

I must say the ideals he expressed in that video are worth noting and thinking through over and over again, and I will probably do that here shortly, but after the video was over my first reaction was to grab my beads and start chanting. Why? Partly because it was so inspirational, partly because I thought it was an utter waste of my life to pay any attention to this Jobs brouhaha and his speeches. Let me explain.

This man knows how to achieve success and he is ready to share his most intimate secrets, yet his definition of success is so far from mine that I can’t see why I should apply any of his lessons to my life at all, however great they are.

First he talked about connecting the dots, he mentioned a few events from his early days which made no sense whatsoever but had proven to be crucial to his later success, like admiring the beautiful calligraphy used by a printer on campus. Had he not dropped from college he would have never had an opportunity to drop in on courses that he really liked, and that happened to be the calligraphy. Ten years later this course, that had no practical application until then, defined the look and feel of his first Macintosh interface, and the rest was history.

Anyway, his point was that we can’t connect the dots while living through them, much less looking forward. We can do that only looking backward, when they are all in the past and the connecting lines suddenly become clear. The lesson in this regard is that we should trust our instincts and wait until the grand design of our lives is revealed. It might not make much sense at the moment and our dreams might not look like going anywhere but we still should wait and see out dreams through, they all will work out in the end.

This is a wonderful lesson for keeping faith in our devotional service, too. Sometimes things do not make sense and do not promise success or even seem relevant but we should keep going and eventually we’ll see how each and every event in our lives lead us to cleansing our hearts and developing devotion to Krishna. Will do [ – note to myself].

Then Steve told a story how he was fired from his own company and the public humiliation of it all. For half a year he was devastated but then he realized that he still loved doing what he did, so he started another computer company and also an animation studio, Pixar, no introduction needed. His lesson was – never give up doing what you love. Never let failures, rejection and humiliation stop your heart from yearning for what it truly wants.

This is a great devotional lesson, too. Relatively few individuals manage to live through their devotional lives without going through some sort of serious setbacks. They are not the reasons to give up on trying to reach Krishna, they might be tests or whatever, but we should never pay them too much attention. We shouldn’t linger on our failures, Krishna is waiting, after all.

This lesson also came with “Keep looking, don’t settle” motto. Krishna might sideline us for a while but it’s no reason to accept our destiny as material nature dictates us and settle on being our bodies.

This line didn’t come out naturally during Steve’s speech, he had to say it but it was like us intoning prasadam offering prayers and then we suddenly realize we should say them with sincerity but they come out very artificial. To me it shows that he wanted to say this line no matter what, it was too important to skip for the sake of the presentation. Maybe he didn’t feel it at the time but it was not the reason to stop chanting. Chanting? Yes, what’s the difference, we both have to utter very important words – chanting for us, life lessons for him.

His third lesson started ominously – let’s talk about death. Wow! How often modern role models talk about death? Never, but Jobs thought it was also too important to miss out, and he let it rip out, full blast. He told people to live every day as if it was their last, always remembering that they are going to die soon and so should not pay attention to distracting things like fame and possessions and being afraid of losing them. He told people to look in the mirror each morning and answer themselves – will what they are going to do be worthy of their life goal if it was their last day on Earth? If the answer is no they have to change their plans.

No need to draw parallels with Krishna consciousness here, it’s all too clear.

He also made an interesting observation based on his own battle with cancer – “No one wants to die, not even people who want to go to heaven.” And he also said that “Death is very likely the single best invention of life.” From his POV it was about clearing the old to make way for the new and this is the part where his lessons can’t be directly translated into a lecture on Krishna consciousness. We don’t plan to die to start a new life from scratch, full of hopes, optimism and illusions.

Then he talked about inevitability of growing old and being cleared away, with the lesson being not to waste our time on following dogmas, results of someone else’s thinking, in this definition. It’s about following our hearts and inner voice and it could mean anything. Yes, if I really wanted to turn it to Krishna it could be about navigating our internal politics but, basically, it can mean whatever you want it to mean.

Jobs ended his address with a farewell message form “Whole Earth” catalogue he admired when he was young – Stay hungry, stay foolish. This, again, could mean whatever you want it to be. Maybe it’s about hunger for Krishna and simplicity, readiness to faithfully accept whatever Krishna teaches us on our way, or it could mean something else.

Anyway, with so many great lessons that can be derived from a short, fifteen minutes speech, why did I think it was a waste of time to learn more about this person? It’s an ontological issue – can lessons in material success, and that was undoubtedly the purpose of the whole exercise, be used for advancement in our spiritual lives? Sometimes they can be pretty inspirational, can’t deny it, but overall I tend to think it’s just an excuse for indulgence in false idol worshiping.

I think that as long as we live in the material world it’s fine to look at things and connect them to Krishna but we shouldn’t use this “engagement” principle as an excuse to go out and look at MORE things, allegedly to think about Krishna more, there’s plenty of room for hypocrisy in this approach, too much room for subtle sense gratification. All the lessons we need to learn to advance in devotional service are there in our books and in association with the devotees, there’s absolutely no need to go and look for them outside.

If things come into our view then I guess it’s fine but if I look in the mirror and ask myself whether I want to spend the last day of my life researching all the stories from Steve Jobs’ life the answer is pretty obvious – NO.

Then there’s a question about his visiting the temple. There’s ISKCON Hillsboro temple in Portland, about ten kilometers from Reed College where Jobs was living, and assuming it was there in the mid seventies and it has the same Deities, then here They are:

I’m pretty sure young Jobs had sang for Them, too, but even taking Their prasadam is sufficient enough to guarantee he’d meet Krishna consciousness again in his next life.

Having said that – do I want to follow his footsteps and relish the same dreams and glory? No, absolutely not, what works for him will not work for me. I don’t want to work for my material dreams at all, I don’t want to clear out the old and start anew, I want my mind to be firmly fixed on Krishna instead.

So thanks for your lessons, Steve, but no thanks.

I also hope I don’t have to achieve his kind of heights to realize that even at its best this world has nothing interesting to satisfy soul’s craving for devotional service. I hope that if I needed these lessons than they are somewhere in my past already. Maybe not, so I’ll have to take them, if that’s what Krishna thinks is necessary, who am I to argue?

Or, and next time I see the Deities I will try to remember how much They know about our future and how much They don’t tell us and why They didn’t tell anybody back in the seventies that future legendary Steve Jobs was visiting. Maybe because they have a better perspective on things and are not swayed by current public sentiment. Should I be? No, not really, don’t see the reason.