In Part One of our story on what the Beatles, Steve Jobs and one former SS officer have in common we’ve learned about the Beatles’ Indian adventure and their relations with Maharishi. We’ve found out how the stay in Rishikesh attending a Transcendental Meditation course influenced their music, changed their beliefs and taught them about their spirituality. Five years after that, yet another young men decided to follow their footsteps. A 18 years old college dropout decided to go to India to seek answers. This young man was Steve Jobs.
The Dropout In an Apple Orchard
In 1973 the Vietnam War was still raging, the Watergate scandal had blown up, and angsty, disillusioned young Americans were hanging on to the counterculture movement looking for answers their culture failed to provide. That was when an 18-year-old from San Francisco dropped out of college, took a psychedelic hint out of the Beatles’ transcendental book and headed for the Himalayas in search of ‘enlightenment’. Steve Paul Jobs traversed the loopy roads of Uttarakhand with his friend Daniel Kottke. They both ended up at the ashram of Baba Neeb Karori, near Ranikhet. At that time the mystic saint had just died. And even though Steve Jobs never got the enlightenment he was looking for, he returned to California in Indian clothes, and as a Buddhist. And just like it was in the case of the Beatles, Jobs certainly returned with a slightly different attitude towards life. Different enough to allow his hippie startup three years later, in 1976, took wing with the revolutionary idea of personal computing.
India changed Steve Jobs’ life. He went to India in search of enlightenment. He returned to America deeply influenced by his seven months of wandering around India. He returned a Buddhist, intuitive, hardened, and focused – ready to rule the world, even if by then the future was just a premise. After that journey it became clear that Steve was not the same person. And it was not just about buddhism, clothes or the notorious diet he sticked to even when diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After those seven months Jobs understood that different people have different DNA’s when it comes to leadership, business and innovation.
Soon after his return a company, we know all to well, was formed – Apple. The memories of the seven months the two spent in India are hazy – the guys were not that keen on documenting the experience. Of course there is no physical evidence that the experience changed the thinking of Steve Jobs. He has returned as a Buddhist with a shaved head but that might have been a shallow, superficial change. But there are others who argue that Jobs returned a man whose faith in human intelligence and technology was strengthened while he visited Neem Karoli Baba, the well-known mystic of that era.
Jobs was sometimes even largely disappointed with what he saw in India – the poverty, the injustice, yet as his friend Kottke states “we did learn to appreciate the deep spiritual culture of India and how that enables so many to live richly fulfilling lives in the midst of material poverty.”
When the two got to the Neem Karoli ashram it was basically deserted. After the famous mystic Neem Karoli had passed earlier in the year, the crowds of western hippies and seekers dispersed. They later continued their journey to an ashram of Hariakhan Baba. And as Kottke recalls it was a long difficult track. The two spent a lot of time on endless long hot crowded bus rides from Delhi to Uttar Pradesh and back, then up to Himachal Pradesh and back. Then there was a trip to hill town of Manali.
Kottke admits that the trip influenced them both in a general sense of broadening the experience of life on earth and putting the lives in the US in a wider perspective. That can be well understood as the recent studies prove that there’s a link between creativity, problem solving and distant travels. And even though neither of them found a ‘guru’ or had a ‘miracle story’ or an encounter with someone with advanced yogic powers Steve returned a different men. Mostly drawn to Zen meditation he continued going to the zendo in Los Altos regularly after his return from India. This trip provided him with insight into his own nature and into human nature in general, which allowed him to see the ways in which people create for ourselves an understanding of the world that isn’t very accurate. He gained knowledge and tools to see and test things for himself and to develop the skills to gain a clearer view of oneself and relationship to the world. Having a clearer understanding of himself and the world made it far easier to live a calm and peaceful life in the world and to focus on what matters. As the later story shows there were things that mattered to Steve a lot.
Steve Jobs’ trip to India was eventful, to put it mildly and it did mark a turning point in his life. In his own words, it helped him realize that ” Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Karoli Baba put together”. Jobs retained his interest in spirituality. In fact, he suggested the name Apple to Steve Wozniak after a visit to a commune in Oregon which he referred to as an “apple orchard”. The trip also made him retain a lifelong admiration for Mahatma Gandhi. In 1997, Apple’s ‘Think Different’ ads, which featured his personal idols, included the Mahatma and… John Lennon of the Beatles.