Here is the text version of today's brief dharma talk:
Steve Jobs was not a saint, nor even a sage. He used to brag that he and a few friends basically destroyed their third-grade teacher. He started his technology career building and selling boxes to make illegal, free long-distance calls (remember those?). He had no engineering degrees, no MBA, no marketing degree, and only a smattering of college. He had dropped acid and traveled to India to live in an ashram. He fathered a child and denied paternity. He was brash and arrogant in starting Apple Computer, and there was no reason to imagine that such a hapless startup would succeed. Yet there was something dashing and bold and inspiring about him even then. Still, before his genius matured, he made many mistakes: personal mistakes, product mistakes, business mistakes. He was booted from the company he created because he really didn’t work or play well with others. He later came to believe that it was the best thing that ever happened to him. Still, he had eleven years—eleven years!—of struggling to find himself. He even started another computer company, NeXt, that was, by any measure, another glorious failure. All of that was a hard school, but he learned from it. Meanwhile, Apple foundered, without a creative vision, without a direction, without a sense of beauty or quality.
When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he was really ready to shine, and the company was on the ropes. He was less abrasive, more reasonable, better able to listen and best of all, to work with creative teams to bring his visions to life. Most people know the rest: one brilliant innovation after another, whole industries reshaped, the suspenseful product launch events, the astonishing innovations, the beautiful Apple stores and the elegant advertising and packaging. He showed us what is possible when you take extraordinary care with every single detail from concept to the design of a chip to the elegance of the user interface, the packaging, the commercials and marketing. Every single aspect was meticulously designed for beauty, for elegance and simplicity, for ease of use, and even for wit and humor. And millions of people responded to this care with devotion. Even as he battled cancer, he continued to work, to inspire, to innovate. I don’t think Jobs ever spent much time in a therapist’s office wrestling with the “childhood trauma” of being adopted, or the crushing personal defeat of being fired from your own company, or the terrible blow of a cancer diagnosis. He worked, and he learned, he traveled, he pushed his visions forward, and, by all accounts, he practiced. He never really cared about things most businessmen obsess about: market share, profits, “growing the company:” sales figures only told him whether he was hitting his mark and captivating the hearts and minds of all of us. In this most public of ages, he was a private man: he lived simply, dressed simply, ate simply, and focused all of his energy on bringing to life the vast, revolutionary changes that have transformed our lives, our world forever.
Many people don’t even know that Steve Jobs practiced Zen. His teacher was Kobun Chino, a beloved Zen teacher who also performed Steve’s wedding to Laurene. Kobun Chino died in 2002 trying to save his five year old daughter Maya when she fell off a dock in Switzerland. They drowned together. Here is a taste of his teaching:
At a gathering of some of Kobun’s long-term students in Santa Cruz, CA, shortly before his death, a student asked, “Kobun, why do we sit?” He replied: “We sit to make life meaningful. The significance of our life is not experienced in striving to create some perfect thing. We must simply start with accepting ourselves. Sitting brings us back to actually who and where we are. This can be very painful. Self-acceptance is the hardest thing to do. If we can’t accept ourselves, we are living in ignorance, this darkest night. We may still be awake, but we don’t know where we are. We cannot see. The mind has no light. Practice is this candle in our very darkest room.”
A few days ago, I began to think about the impact of Steve Jobs and his extraordinary vision. I said to Flint, we will be the Apple of Zen. But what does that mean, really?
Apple did not invent the computer, or even the personal computer, Jobs did not invent the cell phone, or the portable music player, and we have not invented Zen. What Jobs recognized when he visited Xerox Parc and saw the extraordinary graphical user interface for the first time was a revolutionary potential for computers. By making the computer accessible for ordinary people through a friendly metaphor of the desktop, folders that looked like paper folders on a desk, and documents that looked like pieces of paper, suddenly a new world of possibilities opened up. Computers could be elegant, beautiful, and empowering. Under the hood was the same powerful language that was used by others, but with a new twist. The first Macintosh ad campaign called this extraordinary machine, the computer “for the rest of us.”
This is how we began, too, with Joko’s “user-friendly” interface for Zen practice, enormously simplified, yet elegant, just as the Macintosh simplified the way we interacted with computers. So our practice was not the Zen of monasteries, priests, robes, and shaved heads, elaborate rituals understood by only a handful of the elite, just as the Macintosh was not the computer of engineers, the military, and computer scientists. It was for us, living our everyday lives, running our everyday businesses, creating, playing, and exploring new possibilities.
In our practice, too, we have removed many of the barriers to directly experiencing Zen. It is truly a practice for the rest of us. The real genius of Steve Jobs was in recognizing that these tools, if they were beautiful enough, elegant enough, and truly functional enough, would enable all of us to be creators in myriad ways, to communicate, entertain ourselves and others, and express ourselves in new forms. So undoubtedly Jobs was a genius, but so were many other developers in this exciting and turbulent arena: what Jobs did that was so unprecedented was not simply to dazzle us with his genius, but with our own.
This is our aspiration, too. Not to impress you with our enlightened being, our wisdom or compassion, not to awe you with the high priests of an incomprehensible world, not to save you or to fix you, but to amaze you with your own unfolding path, your own enlightened activity, your own wisdom and compassion. We don’t perform exotic rituals to invoke the mystery, we immerse you in the mystery itself, the mystery you encounter in every moment, in your ordinary life. Your awakened life awaits you, how will you meet it? What will you be doing?
One of the most memorable Apple campaigns flashed images of pioneers, geniuses, heroes, artists: Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Dylan, Mohammed Ali, Einstein, John Lennon, Buckminster Fuller, Martha Graham, JIm Henson, Salvador Dali. The voiceover said, “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or villify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
What can you say about a person whose driving passion was to amaze us, delight us, connect us, and empower us? Thank you?
In your practice on the cushion, day after day, you tap into the very same passion, the very same profound life force and you step out into your life with the very same energy and imagination. Our Zen practice is to amaze you, to delight you, to connect you, and to empower you, and you should be seeing its effects in your life, your work, your relationships, so that you can push the whole world forward, in your own way. That is our aspiration.