The path we should tread

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The path we should tread

These days I’m fascinated by the whole iPhone and iPad phenomenon. The Economist, a British weekly newsmagazine, once featured a satirical photo of Steve Jobs on its cover dressed as Christ, complete with a halo and holding an iPad instead of a bible. It was certainly indicative of the considerable recognition he was receiving for his pioneering spirit! From an early age Jobs was fascinated by Zen Buddhism and meditation, so let’s take a look at his life in relation to the teachings of the Buddha and see if we can find the roots of his innovative genius.

Our world these days is constantly changing, particularly when it comes to technology — the Walkman evolved into the MP3 player, which became the smartphone, and this will probably change into something else in the future too — nobody knows what will happen. Constant change allows for infinite potential, and within this swirling vortex, some currents of energy stagnate whereas others become trend-setting and innovative. Jobs paid close attention to the flow of energy in the world.

Music has been an essential component of human society throughout history; there is naturally also tremendous potential energy associated with it. With the advent of music files and free downloads, however, the music industry began to plummet and showed no signs of recovery. The industry finally began to come back to life with the introduction of the iPod, and so this energy of decline was transformed into vitality.

This connects with the Buddhist teaching that afflictions are Bodhi (“enlightened wisdom”). Energy itself originally has no good or bad nature — it only becomes positive or negative according to how it is used. People are similar, which is why the 108 afflictions can be transformed into 108 virtues (i.e. wisdom) — Bodhi and afflictions are originally not separate. The only question is how to undertake this transformation.

Steve Jobs perceived the patterns of energy within the music industry and then figured out what would make it either survive or fail; this allowed him to find a way of resuscitating it. This power of perception, the root of Steve Job’s innovative genius, gave him a profound awareness and understanding of the basic needs in our modern society: listening (iPod), speaking (iPhone), and reading/watching (iPad).

In 2005, Jobs delivered the commencement address for Stanford University’s graduation. He himself had dropped out of college after six months without any money, and this was his first speech at a university. The speech was very inspiring, and among many memorable quotes he said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” He further added, “Keep looking. Don’t settle.”

These sentences contain the realization that inherently we are not separate from the world — originally there are no dualities. Jobs knew that when the work one does and the work one loves become one, tremendous energy is released. When self and other become one, the energy at our disposal greatly increases. Jobs’ advice to the Stanford graduates setting foot into the world to do the work they truly loved gave me a clue as to the source of his overflowing creativity.

Steve Jobs was one of Apple Computer’s original founders, but at age 30 he was dismissed from Apple and felt an unimaginable sense of betrayal. He later recalled:

The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

Destruction is a fundamental condition that must exist for all creation to be made possible. The moment of total annihilation is also the beginning of true innovation; it’s the same for both individuals and companies. After succeeding, we must put down this mind that has succeeded; after failing we must let go of this mind that has failed. Only then can the individual and company find their own basis for survival. The process of returning to the original source, to this primary point, is also the process of destruction for the sake of creation.


In the Diamond Sutra, Buddha said:

Use the mind which naturally abides nowhere.

If we were to briefly summarize Steve Jobs’ style, it could be seen as, “Keep changing. Don’t settle.” True spiritual creativity is necessarily accompanied by complete healing, though Jobs’ originality certainly shone through his imperfections.


*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo writer on religious affairs.

Baek Sung-ho
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