October 6th, 2011
11:10 AM ET

The Zen of Steve Jobs

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - Steve Jobs’ admirers praised him for de-cluttering the world of high-tech gadgetry. The products that made him famous, from the Macintosh computer to the iPad, exemplified minimalist design and simplicity of use, enabling what some called a Zen-like experience.

“Apple products are as defined by what they're missing as much as by what they contain,” wrote tech and pop culture columnist Jeff Yang this year in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The spiritual side of Steve Jobs

Might Jobs’ approach to innovation and design have been provoked by real-life Zen, as in Zen Buddhism?

The Apple chief, who died Wednesday at 56, had a decades-long relationship with a Zen master, who presided over his wedding and whom Jobs reportedly appointed as a corporate spiritual adviser. Their ties have fed speculation about such a connection.

Early on in life, Jobs took a spiritual retreat to India that helped lead him to embrace Buddhism. But the teacher with whom Jobs bonded with in the United States was a Zen Buddhist, a tradition rooted in Japan.

According to Yang and to other press reports, Jobs studied at the Los Altos Zen Center in the 1970s and developed a close relationship with a Japanse-born Zen master, or roshi, named Kobun Chino Otogawa.

Kobun focused his teaching on developing a Zen meditation practice.

“The real purpose of practice is to discover the wisdom which you have always been keeping with you,” Kobun said in a talk that’s posted on the website for the Jikoji Retreat Center, a Zen center he founded outside San Francisco.

“To discover yourself is to discover wisdom; without discovering yourself you can never communicate with anybody,” said Kobun, who died in 2002, in the same talk.

Jobs seemed to echo that spiritual self-reliance in public comments, including his oft-quoted 2005 commencement address at Stanford University:

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "no" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

According to Yang, Jobs appointed Kobun as the official “spiritual adviser” for the company he founded after being fired as Apple CEO in 1986. Called NeXT, that company was eventually purchased by Apple, paving the way for Jobs' second act there.

In the 2001 book "The Second Coming of Steve Jobs," Alan Deutschman describes Kobun as:

a Zen Buddhist monk who had been Steve’s guru and friend since Steve was in his late teens. (Kobun) was a lovable, poetic, romantic personality who was known for speaking very slowly (even in his native Japanese) and giving unintelligible lectures... He was a renegade who rebelled against the strict discipline and burdensome responsibility of being a priest. He was the Steve Jobs of Zen.

Kobun presided over Jobs’ 1991 marriage to Laurene Powell.

The relationship between Jobs and Kobun is the subject of a graphic novel, soon to be published by Forbes. The book, which is fiction but is inspired by the real-life relationship, is titled “The Zen of Steve Jobs.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Buddhism • Spirituality • Technology

soundoff (332 Responses)

    i wasnt a fan of apple

    but steve did a lot for technology

    rest in peace furry tech brother

    October 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  2. John Richardson

    Sorry to see that the comments are even more inane than usual. The guy deserved better than this!

    October 6, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Inane Poster

      I don't think he would read these stupid blogs so not a big deal. He had a life.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  3. hippypoet, the prophet

    may all those who deny they owe there current existence to the ALMIGHTY SUN may voice your arguements here. I will gladly take arguements for a view against mine. All are welcome to speak.

    October 6, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • hippypoet fan

      When did you add "the prophet" to your name? No matter, I have my SPF 50 right here and I am ready to do your bidding.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Jay Garrick

      Current? Who lives in the now anymore?

      October 6, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • martinipaul

      Hip: by that logic I will also have to worship pizza.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • hippypoet

      @ hippy fan i added the prophet a little bit ago, when i became a prophet of the ALMIGHTY SUN...

      @martinipaul – how does my logic lead you to worship pizza, not saying yours is a bad god, cause i love me some pizza.. garlic crust, extra cheese, large as fuk... oh yea, delicous!

      oh and i meant current not as in right now, but as in the life you live at this moment.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      Myth opens the door to a world that cannot be predicted and controlled, where truth is more amorphous, multifaceted, relative, pluralistic.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Jay Garrick

      "oh and i meant current not as in right now, but as in the life you live at this moment."

      But my words live in the past and my thoughts are of the future. My life is not of this moment.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What I want to know is when did you add an 'e' to "argument"? Really, dude, educate yourself. Or get a better spell-check.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • hippypoet

      right moving right past the moron tom tom, which as i have said i care not for spelling for it doesn't help me convey a message unless i use words that only the most intelligent will understand, wheres the point in that? now shut up mouth unless you have an arguement to add that is about the topic of conversation.

      @Jay Garrick i love what you said, not because its true, which it is, but because how it sounds... but you react to your thoughts, you react to pretty much everything that is in the past already, but your life is current when one understands the law of conservation of matter and energy.

      MAY THE ALMIGHTY PROVIDER OF ENERGY THE SUN SHINE UPON YOU ALWAYS. well not tom tom, not untill he breaks his leg gettting off his high horse! see now i want a blunt! damn it!

      October 6, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Jay Garrick

      One flaw is that the sun isn't the only source of power.
      That..and it isn't sentient. It gives nothing but merely reacts to it's own chemical and nuclear nature.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • hippypoet fan

      Wise one, how can I become a disciple? I feel the warmth of OUR GOD and wear my sunscreen. I revel in the joy of nuclear bliss. I want to spread the good news.

      Ok, marketing. Here's what I was thinking, little bottles of SPF 50 with a flyer with a sun on it, smokin' the ghanja of course, and praising the almighty SUN. We don't have to be naked to deliver the flyers but it is ok.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • hippypoet

      i also never said that the SUN knows anything did i? nope, the SUN does what it does because its in its nature to do so. We all live by chemical reactions. I am only stating that by taking the SUN away we all die... so we owe 1 out lives to it as we know it, and 2 we owe the existence of the planet to the SUN as well... without the center of gravity the makes us orbit, the planets and moons would never come to be.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • martinipaul

      Hippy: isn't this the slippery slope to pantheism? I mean, where does water, or beer, fit in?

      October 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • hippypoet

      @hippypoet fan LOL, being naked would help improve sells if we were super hot, as a pun, it would show our faith! but being a disciple doesn't take much, just a lifelong devotion to spreading the good word of others ignorance to religion and there false gods as the creators of life. By using science as our reasonings, we gave followers of thought, not stupidity!

      October 6, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Jay Garrick

      Nah..the sun is little more than a campfire in the cosmos. In a few hundred years we'll ditch on it for a better star. Maybe a nice Class A star. You see...the sun is interchangable for our needs. We are only bound to the sun until our technology exceeds the boundaries of this little Sol system.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • hippypoet


      "Hippy: isn't this the slippery slope to pantheism? I mean, where does water, or beer, fit in?"

      not sure what you mean? the water is found in lakes, rivers, brooks, streams, sometimes the clouds... and the beer fits in my belly, where else?

      October 6, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Jay Garrick

      Nah..the sun is little more than a campfire in the cosmos. In a few hundred years we'll ditch on it for a better star. Maybe a nice Class A star. You see...the sun is interchangable for our needs. We are only bound to the sun until our technology exceeds the boundaries of this little pitiful Sol system.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • hippypoet

      @jay, yes thats true, but the arguement untill we have another separate life source is the SUN... and so, all stars are equal to the SUN in worshipping factor as they all can create the correct conditions for life. now the only way we as humans could survive on another land without the SUN is by creating a SUN or something of that idea to heat us and create plants to live off it like here on earth. so it would be nothing less then an imitation of the real thing or original.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Jay Garrick

      Necessity does not make something worth worshipping. Without the Big Bang..there would be no sun. I say you are focusing on the wrong thing. The sun is reliant upon the Big Bang.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • hippypoet

      ah, your catching on to my little trick in my logic.... see if the SUN is reliant on the big bang, which i agree fully, then using this logic, the christian god is reliant on those who worship it. see for true existence to be pondered one must look at trhe truth behind things as they were created, there was no standing stone with gods name on it, no great monument, nothing, and then one day some dude says hey i got an idea- the big bang for religion.. now weather or not the god is real, is not the question the real question is why people worship anything, i say the SUN because it is the most direct thing we as humans can look at and say yes to...religion is based upon needing answers, we have answered all questions that religion answers but one, unless you truly understand the law of conservation of matter and energy... inshort, our belief in anything is as dumb as belief in a pizza, but to have faith that one will @ssend after death is pure illogical, but yet some of the most intelligent folks buy into this bs, why – ,brainwashing from the parents on down thru the entire family. so i created a belief that everthing in like manner but is based on a reality of tanible evidence, hence the SUN. i mamy have lost myself there for moment, i was putting kids to bed... sry.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Jay Garrick

      "see if the SUN is reliant on the big bang, which i agree fully, then using this logic, the christian god is reliant on those who worship it."

      I'm pretty sure your analogy doesn't work here. Existence due to an event is not co_mparable to an act of worship.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Jay Garrick

      "brainwashing from the parents on down thru the entire family."

      That is an unfounded as_sumption.

      A little off the subject. But if one's parents told their blind child that the earth is round all their life but never explained the finer details...the child would be right in saying the Earth is round. However...would they be brainwashed?

      October 6, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • hippypoet

      i disagree, the christians WHORship the god of there creation, i worship the creator of me as well. They don't whorship the creator of there creator...having the arguement that there god was always there is saying they themselves could have also always been and been without said god. i argue only that my ALMIGHTY SUN has given me the power to do what i do, which is true, and that we owe the very air we breath on it, the ALMIGHTY SUN.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • hippypoet

      on the topic of the earth being round.
      i think if its a fact the child could learn on there own, then it true and therefore not brainwashing... not sure at the moment what the definition of brainwashing is but mine is: making one think as others do or as you do. i argue that thinking is not fact, thoughts are thoughts – not real- teaching facts is enlightening your youth.

      October 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • hippypoet

      i apologize Jay., but i am getting rather drunk at this point.. sure yoiu've noticed letters of words missing here and there... well, enjoyed the convo, but as much as i'd like to stay -transformers 3 is the movie rented tonight – haven't seen it, yet.. later

      October 6, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  4. Zen

    Thanks Steve, u got me all interested in the 'Zen', Gonna read "The Lotus and the Cross"

    October 6, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Bai Ling

      The Lotus and the Cross is a good read, very engaging and well written. I would give it 10 stars!

      October 6, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • hippypoet

      what is the book about? please be honest, i am not making a joke or anything i just really wanna know.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  5. george

    nam myoho renge kyo
    nam myoho renge kyo
    nam myoho renge kyo
    For a speedy return .......

    October 6, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  6. Central Scrutinizer

    My son, I appreciate your offer to help, but I got this. Pray unto me and be saved.

    October 6, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  7. Central Scrutinizer

    I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

    October 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • martinipaul

      Did He endow you with these things to use as a club to bash others less endowed? Or are you like the Pharisees, wearing your iq, education, reason on your forehead to show everyone how superior you are?

      October 6, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer



      October 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Credit, where credit is due ..........
      "I do not feel obliged to believe that same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use". Galileo Galilei

      October 6, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  8. VerySad

    This is a crying shame.

    Afraid of an economic recovery, it's been confirmed that the Tea Party killed Steve JOBS.

    October 6, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      There be a 'Cancer' among us and it arose from the bags of tea,,,, Damn tea parties, I'll take my drink as a pepsi please,,, 🙂

      October 6, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer


      October 6, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Yahoooooo I'll have a Montain Dew,,,,,,,and then,,,,,

      October 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  9. Central Scrutinizer

    The believer is happy. The doubter is wise.

    October 6, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Believing doubter,,,,,,
      Doubting believer,,,,,,
      The choices one has,,,,,,,,

      October 6, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • *frank*

      Richard, are you drinking gallons of Mountain Dew and chain-smoking in your house when you type these ponderings? Lol.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Trystan

      I choose not to believe. There is no doubt in me : )

      You forgot about that choice. The better choice.

      October 6, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  10. chad

    One thing is for sure, the question of "Is Jesus Christ real" has most certainly been resolved for Steven.

    October 6, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      To bad he was wrong. I never had any children. But may he RIP.

      October 6, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      May sire'd Steve Jobs be judged in righteousness and found truly worthy of his reward, a heaven of the many heavens here within the firmaments Heavenly Gaia, our Mother who opens up Her fleshened bodice to receive all lost and to be found souls.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      Richard, you are alright man. I loves me some Mother Earth. Peace.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  11. Richard S Kaiser

    Where were we when the universes were being created and set floating upon the vast Oceanic realms of Nothingness?

    Where were we when the Firmaments of the Celestial Universes were born out of the Seas of Nothingness?

    Where were we when atomic nebulations began to be cloistered together to form the planets and such as this Earth who was once known as Gaia?

    Where were we when the stars were set aflame and divided the Celestial Heaven into innumerable Universes of too many to count?

    Where were you and others when Life did form and began to be created and ever recreated by the Sons of GOD who gave to HIS Sons the atomic Cosmos to be their playground?

    October 6, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      Who are you referring to as "we"? Humans. Well you big silly humans weren't around until about 200,000 years ago. The universe is young and blazin' but I don't have any kids so it is MY PLAYGROUND mister!

      October 6, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ C S,,,,,,,,,,,,

      So sad,,, So sad,,, no children is so sad,,,, Here, be mine and I will be your father and together as Father and Son, we will trample asunder the very natures of the Gods who defy the Father who is our GOD!

      October 6, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • *frank*


      October 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      My son, I appreciate your offer to help, but I got this. Pray unto me and be saved he who would crush assunder mine enemies!

      October 6, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  12. Central Scrutinizer

    A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.

    October 6, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • martinipaul

      Sympathy? That means most of the atheists here are unethical. No religion? Be real. Secular Humanism will be a bigger millstone around your neck than Christianity. What makes you think a scientifically ordered soceity would have room for malcontents like you?

      October 6, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      What am I malcontent about exactly? And why aren't you on your knees (to pray I mean)?

      October 6, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • martinipaul

      Scrut: probably everything. You certainly do not sound 'content'. And you are quite right, I should be praying and I will be tonight. You will be at the top of my list of people for GOD to bless. God bless mommy and daddy and central scrutinizer -

      October 6, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      Oh, well no you are wrong.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  13. Central Scrutinizer

    If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. ...But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion.

    October 6, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  14. Central Scrutinizer

    So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser


      Can one such as youself have understanding and knowledge to know what intelligence is without becoming a mockery of wisdom handed down thru the Ages?

      October 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      "Can one such as youself have understanding and knowledge to know what intelligence is without becoming a mockery of wisdom handed down thru the Ages?"



      October 6, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • sevres Blue

      Which, I guess, is why I only take the Gospels with a grain of salt.

      October 6, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      I takes mine with a shrimp kocktail and a shot of Patron. Then I lick the pages cuz it make my tounge feel funny.

      October 6, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  15. Central Scrutinizer

    To poo or not to poo. That is the question.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  16. Central Scrutinizer

    @ all believers in God

    To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.

    When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.

    In the beginning there was nothing and God said, “Let there be light,” and there was still nothing but everybody could see it.

    I’ve never understood how God could expect His creatures to pick the one true religion by faith—it strikes me as a sloppy way to run a universe.

    When did I realize I was God? Well, I was praying and I suddenly realized I was talking to myself.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ Central Scrutinizer,,,, "When did I realize I was God? Well, I was praying and I suddenly realized I was talking to myself."

      You may well be "as a god" but never a God and highly unlikely GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!

      October 6, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer


      No, I am quite sure I am God. Prove I am not! Pray to me or feel the furnace my friend. I am watching you. Where is your faith? God speaks to you and you just turn away. What if Moses had done that? He was a sprite 80 year old dude and he took good direction.

      October 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      GOD is the wholesomeness as the Cosmos of all universes and as such they(universes) float upon HIS Holy Spirit of Nothingness, the very oceanic sea of blissfulness. Our "physical bodies" are but 'nodulations' of atomic pastries in cellular divisioning made manifest by GOD's Sons. We are their husbandry and buildings and temples yet more importantly we are their Kingdoms' domains.

      October 6, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      Thank you Richard. Now on your knees and be a good sheep.

      October 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ Central Scrutinizer,,,,,,,,,,,,

      As a sheep I will not bow to one who is but a goat herder in stag only,,,,,,,,,,,,

      October 6, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      My son, sheep, goat, donkey, piggy...I will lead you will follow. For I am the Lord God. The ONLY true stag. The one and only Creater of all matter in the universe. But hey, don't bother to get up. Unless by stag you meant a horse or chicken or something. That would be incorrect. I am with YOU now. BELIEVE and be SAVED.

      October 6, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Whatever floats is and whatever doesn't isn't,,,,,,,,,,,, ,

      October 6, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ C S,,,,,,,, "For I am the Lord God. The ONLY true stag."

      Stag as in "castrated adult animal"?

      October 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      Silly follower. I have no body.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      I hope you are not the poo guy.

      October 6, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      If the "stag" fits so be it as a castrated one,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,, ,Pooof,,,,!!!

      October 6, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Central Scrutinizer

      I don't want to be castrated. I have no body. Dangit Richard would you please pay attention! Ok, I might go with the stag=chicken cuz eggs are quite good but that is the only reason. Otherwise I expect you pray for your salvation and follow my word mister!

      October 6, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  17. Central Scrutinizer

    Get off everyone you damn dirty poo!

    October 6, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  18. Central Scrutinizer

    I fear the poop has won!

    October 6, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  19. Central Scrutinizer

    I was going to say something but I don't want to get the poo poo on me.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I must confess that every time I see your screen name, it somehow registers as Central Schnauzer. I don't know why, and I certainly mean no disrespect, but it does crack me up.

      October 6, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Tom? Just remember, a little green rosetta makes a muffin betta!

      October 7, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • John Richardson

      @Tom Tom OMG! I thought I was the only one!!! Yes, Central Schnauzer!

      October 7, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  20. Cosmos

    O the frailty of life!

    From dust thou camest to dust thou shalt return!

    We hope that your loved ones will find peace and comfort!

    October 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Apple

      Steve you will be remembered for being the visionary you were.

      Love the Christian Apps which is awesome!

      October 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.