Monday, September 12, 2011

Karma Yoga Lessons from Steve Jobs

Karma Yoga Lessons from Steve Jobs

We all know Steve Jobs as a very successful and inspiring entrepreneur but how many of us know him as a Buddhist or a Yogi? I really admire him for everything that he has been able to achieve as an entrepreneur and CEO of Apple, but I never thought that he was involved with any eastern philosophy like Buddhism or Yoga until I read a couple of quotes published by the New York Times blog following the announcement of his resignation from Apple. While I was reading the quotes some of them reminded me of the Karma Yoga philosophy. I shared the quotes on my FB and a friend commented "he was in India before". "I knew it!" I thought right away.

Note: This article was published three weeks before Steve Jobs death, October 5, 2011. I wrote it with my utmost respect and, like the rest of the world, I was saddened by the news. Image courtesy of (CC BY 2.0). Adapted.

Steve Jobs the Buddhist

So I did quick Google search and this is what I found:

"In autumn 1974, Jobs returned to California and began attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club with Wozniak. He took a job as a technician at Atari, a manufacturer of popular video games, with the primary intent of saving money for a spiritual retreat to India." [Wikipedia]
"Jobs then traveled to India to visit the Neem Karoli Baba (an Indian Yogi) at his Kainchi Ashram with a Reed College friend (and, later, the first Apple employee), Daniel Kottke, in search of spiritual enlightenment. He came back a Buddhist with his head shaved and wearing traditional Indian clothing. During this time, Jobs experimented with psychedelics, calling his LSD experiences "one of the two or three most important things [he had] done in [his] life". He has stated that people around him who did not share his counter-cultural roots could not fully relate to his thinking." [Wikipedia]
"Steve Paul Jobs traversed the loopy roads of Uttarakhand and ended up at the ashram of Baba Neeb Karori, near Ranikhet. The mystic saint had just died. Jobs never got the enlightenment he was looking for, but did return to California in Indian clothes, and a Buddhist. Three years later, in 1976, a hippie startup took wing with the revolutionary idea of personal computing. Jobs co-founded Apple with fellow dropout Steve Wozniak. " [The Economic Times, 26 of August 2011]
"Jobs married Laurene Powell, on March 18, 1991. Presiding over the wedding was the Zen Buddhist monk Kobun Chino Otogawa." [Wikipedia]
Not surprisingly he commented about Bill Gates
"I wish him the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger." [WSJ Blog, Aug 28, 2011, Steve Jobs best quotes].

Karma Yoga

Yoga means union of the self with the Self, in other words, Self Realization. I prefer to say that Yoga is getting to know who we really are. The Yoga Philosophy system gives us different paths to reach this goal. One of them is known as Karma Yoga, the Yoga of Action, which means reaching this state of union with the Self through right action.

In the Bhagava Gita, one of India's holiest books, Krishna (The Supreme Self) teaches Arjuna (The individual self) the wisdom of all the four paths of Yoga including Karma Yoga so Arjuna can assume his duty as a warrior and engage in the battle against the Kauravas, his step brothers and enemies (the negative tendencies of the mind) on the field of Kurukshetra (the mind body field).

Karma Yoga Lessons from Steve Jobs

So let's see what Karma Yoga Lessons we can learn from Steve Jobs:

Don't expect anything in return: renounce the fruits of action
"I was worth over $1,000,000 when I was 23, and over $10,000,000 when I was 24, and over $100,000,000 when I was 25, and it wasn't that important because I never did it for the money." [Inspirational Steve Jobs Quotes.]
"Apple's goal isn't to make money. Our goal is to design and develop and bring to market good products... We trust as a consequence of that, people will like them, and as another consequence, we'll make some money. But we're really clear about what our goals are." [WSJ Blog, Aug 28, 2011, Steve Jobs best quotes]
"You know, my main reaction to this money thing is that it's humorous, all the attention to it, because it's hardly the most insightful or valuable thing that's happened to me." [WSJ Blog, Aug 28, 2011, Steve Jobs best quotes]
Karma Yoga is performing our actions without expecting any particular result, without expecting anything in return, without aiming for the fruits of our actions. The fruits of action are the result, the compensation that we receive for performing our actions. Here Steve Jobs gives us a very good lesson on Karma Yoga. It's not the money that drives his action but doing what he loves to do.
"The Sages call that man wise whose pursuits are all without selfish plan or longings for results, and whose activities are purified by the fire of wisdom". [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter IV, Verse 19].
"Relinquishing attachment to the fruits of work, always contented, independent (of material rewards), the wise do not perform any (binding) action even in the midst of activities". [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter IV, Verse 20].
This doesn't mean that we shouldn't expect anything at all. It is part of our human nature to expect some rewards from our work, but what usually happen to us is that we put money or the making of a living (the fruit of our actions) as the driving factor on deciding what to do with our life instead of doing our duty, what we have to do, what we love to do, what we are meant to do.

We should have an aim or goal in life, a vision of how we would like to live and perhaps the amount of money that we would like to have, but once those seeds are planted in our subconscious we should let them grow naturally and water them with our actions that are guided by our heart and intuition.

Every company has plans, goals, a mission and a vision but no successful company has as a mission " to make money" but rather "to serve our customers by giving them the best products". Apple has become successful by doing what they love to do. And what is their compensation or the fruit of their actions? Lots of money pouring into their shareholders and stakeholders pockets.

Have no attachment to the results or fruits of actions

And to make things even harder for us, not only do we perform our actions expecting something in return but we even become attached to those expectations; we create expectations of what we would like to receive as a compensation for our work or of what we would like to experience as the results of our actions. However the results of our actions are not always what we expect them to be and if they are opposite to our expectations then we will inevitably suffer and feel miserable.

We also become attached to the results themselves either if they are positive or negative forgetting that they are all impermanent: we might become attached to the experience of misery when we didn't get the result that we expected or we might become attached to the experience of joy when we get what we expected or even more, however none of these experiences are permanent, they will all pass. Why should we then become attached?
"The triune fruit of action - good, harmful and mixed - springs up in nonrenunciants after their demise, but in renunciants never". [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII, Verse 12].
So what Karma Yoga teaches us is that we gotta do what we have to do and whatever the outcome is we should accept it with equanimity. We might have plans and goals but once we take action the results might be contrary to what we expected. If we are attached to our expectations or to the results of our actions then we will inevitably suffer but if we are aware that things will work the way that they should work and we just focus our energies on doing our best then we will be able to face any circumstances with equanimity, with a balanced and calm mind.
"Arjuna, remaining immersed in Yoga, perform all actions, forsaking attachment (to their fruits), being indifferent to success and failure. This mental evenness (Samatvam: equanimity of mind) is termed Yoga". [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter II, Verse 48].
And that's a lesson that we can learn from any entrepreneur. They all know that failure is a part of success so they are mentally prepared to fail as many times as it is necessary until they finally become successful. Thomas Edison failed 1000 times before he was finally able to make his first light bulb!
"If the same tragedy is faced by a person of steady mind and understanding, he will react differently. He will not suffer frustration or heartbreak because he knows that he can make another attempt and be successful. [...] One must be able to keep the mind free or detached from the results of karma so that one does not become tainted. If one's mind is always calm and peaceful, one will be able to find a positive way out of any crisis". [Samatvam: The Yoga of Equanimity, Swami Satyananda].
"The man of action is free from Karma who receives with contentment whatever befalls him, who is poised above the dualities, who is devoid of jealousy or envy or enmity, and who looks equally on gain and loss." [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter IV, Verse 22]

Find what your duty is, that's your main job
"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle." [Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]
We all have a specific role to play in life, our duty or our calling. The greatest question is: Which is our duty, our purpose or role in life? There is only one place where we can go and find out the answer...and that place is within ourselves. No person, no book or guru can tell us which our duty is. They might give us some inspiration or guidance but ultimately we need to listen to our heart and understand what fits our individual character. In other words, listen to your heart until you find what you are meant to do and then take action, just do it!
"Arjuna, the duties of Brahmins (intellectuals, spirituals), Kshatriyas (soldiers, rulers, leaders), Vaishyas (businessmen) and Sudras (laborers) are allocated according to the qualities (character) born from their own human nature". [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII, Verse 41].
Russell Simmons, a successful entrepreneur and a yogi, gives a very good example:
"The answer lies in two simple steps. The first is making sure that your gift is an honest expression of what's in your heart. In other words, you write the screenplay that's burning a hole through your brain, not the one you think might be the easiest to sell...... The second one is that rather than keeping that gift locked in your heart until you find the right deal or get someone to pay me what I'm worth you simply hand it over to the world". [Super Rich, Russell Simmons].

Do what you love to do, not what others expect you to do
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." [Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]
How many of us had at least one dream when we were children but because of social standards or because following our parents advice we decided to do nothing about them and leave them just as dreams? "that's just a hobby, it won't make you any money" that's what they told us to believe.

So we went on with our life doing what society expected us to do instead of doing what our hearts were telling us to do. We lie to ourselves and say yes this is the job that I like to do but in reality deep inside we know, "This is the Job that makes me feel safe and secure, I cannot follow my dream cause I'm afraid of failing or not making enough money to survive or have the life standard that I would like to have."

But Karma Yoga teaches us that we have to do our duties regardless of the consequences. We gotta be fearless and brave to face with courage any difficulties that we might find on our way and take the risk that we need to take regardless of what others might say. Right in the middle of the battlefield Krishna told Arjuna "Fight! you are a warrior and your duty is to fight!".
"It is far better to discharge one's prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another's duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one's own duty is better than engaging in another's duties, for to follow another's path is dangerous." [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter III, Verse 35].
"Better than the well accomplished dharma (duty) of another is one's own dharma, even though lacking merit (somewhat imperfect). He who performs the duty decreed by his inborn nature contracts no sin". [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII, Verse 47].
And the problem is that if we don't act upon those dreams they will always remain there, hidden within our hearts, and they will continue haunting us like ghosts for the rest of our life. Perhaps on our deathbead we might ask ourselves "why didn't I take more risks? Why didn't I follow my dreams? what was I afraid of?".
"if, clinging to the ego, thou sayest; "I will not battle," fruitless is thy resolution! Prakriti, thine inborn nature, will force thee to fight". [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII, Verse 59].
"Arjuna, shackled by thine own Karma, inborn in thy nature, what through delusion thou wouldst not do, thou will helplessly be compelled to do". [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII, Verse 60].
"He who relinquishes action as being intrinsically difficult, for fear of painful trouble to the body, is performing rajasic (negative) renunciation. He is unable to attain the reward of renunciation." [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII, Verse 8].
"Arjuna, one should not abandon one's inborn duty, even though it has some imperfection, for all undertakings are marred by blemishes, as flame by smoke." [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XIII, Verse 47].
Isn't that clear enough?

Self Surrender
"I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. 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. [...] It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith." [Best Steve Jobs Quotes,, Aug 25, 2011]
"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." [Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]
A lesson on self surrender, trust or faith in a greater power or destiny. We might have so many doubts but if we trust that at the end everything will work out all right and just focus on doing what our heart tell as to do, although at some times it might not seem the right choice, later in life we might be able to look back and say "Now I get it!".
"Over and above performing faithfully all one's duties, taking shelter in Me (the Supreme Consciousness), it is by My pleasure a devotee obtains eternal, unchangeable state". [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII, Verse 56].
"Taking shelter in Me (the Supreme Consciousness) all beings can achieved the Supreme Fulfillment". [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter IX, Verse 32].

Death meditation
"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, 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 I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. 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." [Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]
Meditating about death is a very common Buddhist practice. Some people might find it as something negative but is actually quite the contrary. It can bring a sense of responsibility motivating as to make the best use of this precious human birth (as Buddhist talk) for spiritual practice or living a fulfilling life.
"it's a philosophy about life. When you adopt a deathbed mentality you live every day as if it was your last". [The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin Sharma].
"You will start focusing on all the meaningful things that you have been putting off, and stop squandering time on all those petty things that have dragged you down into the quagmire of crisis and chaos." [The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin Sharma].

More about Karma Yoga

Often Karma Yoga is translated as Selfless Service, performing actions not for yourself but for the service of others. People therefore think that this path is only for those that do humanitarian or social work or for those that work on a non profit organization. While such actions are certainly positive it is not necessarily the only scope of karma yoga. Is not only about selflessly serving others but also doing what you have to do because it has to be done, even if you like it or not. That's also selflessness from another point of view.
"O Arjuna, when dutiful action is performed solely because it should be done, forsaking attachment to it and its fruit, that renunciation is considered sattvic (pure)" [Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVIII, Verse 9].
"One's definition to Karma Yoga should not be restricted to service of humanity. It must include this service, as well as a redefinition of your relationship with Karma". [Samatvam: The Yoga of Equanimity, Swami Satyananda].
Karma Yoga is also often seen as related to work only. Of course work is a very important part of our life but there are many other actions that we need to perform on our daily life like serving our family, loving our partners, eating, brushing our teeth, taking a shower or even going to sleep. These are all duties. We all have duties and we should perform them regardless of the consequences. Doing our duties means doing what we have to do no matter what. Brushing our teeth, taking a shower and having a proper sleep is our duty towards our body, we should take care of it as much as we can.

And Steve Jobs has given us another good example. He decided to step down from his position as CEO at Apple, renouncing to do what he loves to do and regardless of what people might say to be able to focus more on his health, not only for himself but for his family.
"Karma includes every activity, even life itself. Even at night when you sleep, you cannot renounce Karma because Karma is performed on many different planes, on the gross plane, on the mental plane and subtle planes. Even thinking is karma; it is an action". [Samatvam: The Yoga of Equanimity, Swami Satyananda].

Do I need to become a Yogi?

Being a Buddhist or a Yogi is certainly not a requirement to become successful in entrepreneurship or in any other field in life, but I think the laws of success are universal laws and they have been applied consciously or unconsciously by every successful individual. We can learn all these lessons not only from Steve Jobs but from many other successful entrepreneurs like Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company; Michael Dell, founder of Dell; Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin brand or Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. They all share similar believes. It Is not a coincidence that they are all school drop outs.

Since I like both entrepreneurship and Yoga philosophy I felt motivated to write this post, especially when I heard that Steve Jobs has also some interest in eastern philosophy. I also wrote this not only to share it with others but for myself because these are lessons that I try to remind myself and practice in my own life.

Related blog posts

Update March 2016. A couple of years later after publishing this article I finally read Steve Jobs Biography. The author, Walter Isaacson, talks a bit about his involvement with Eastern spirituality. I can recommend you to read the book. You can learn a lot more about Steve Jobs' life, the good and the bad. You can find the book in following the links below.

"Jobs’s engagement with Eastern spirituality, and especially Zen Buddhism, was not just some passing fancy or youthful dabbling. He embraced it with his typical intensity, and it became deeply ingrained in his personality." [Steve Jobs: A Biography, by Walter Isaacson]

And here is the very inspiring Stanford Speech by Steve Jobs. Even if you have already watch it it's worth watching it again. It's very inspiring.