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Steve Jobs on death

I’m sad that Steve Jobs has died. No one has had as much effect on the computer industry as he has. His company, Apple, has transformed the way we relate to computers.

I only recently learned that Jobs was a Buddhist. According to his Wikipedia biography, he went to India in the 1970s and came back a Buddhist. In 1991 his wedding ceremony was performed by a Zen priest. He was a very private man, and I don’t think he talked much about his religion.

I thought a fitting tribute would be Jobs own words, from his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, in which he eloquently discusses how an awareness of death and impermanence inspired him to live life to the fullest.

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.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

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.

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About Bodhipaksa

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Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, and a published author. He founded Wildmind in 2001. Bodhipaksa has published many guided meditation CDs and guided meditation MP3s.

He teaches at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire. You can follow Bodhipaksa on Twitter, join him on Facebook, or hang out with him on .

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Comments

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Comment from Jon Lennart Aasenden
Time: October 5, 2011, 10:23 pm

Actually he was a hare-krishna devote. I picked it up because I to spent a lot of time in a Krishna temple as a teenager – and while I support the Buddhist cause, I stick to the Vaishnava mantras to this day. He underlined his connection to the Krishna movement in his speach to the MIT graduates on campus two years ago.
It was one of the best speaches i have heared, because he actually flunked out of school and never graduated. He was more interested in potential, ideas and “real life” than dry theory.

Buddhist or not, it truly is sad to read about his passing.
May he rest in peace – Shanti Shanti Shanti – Hari Om.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: October 5, 2011, 10:38 pm

The only mention of the Krishna movement in Steve Jobs’ Stanford address was his saying that when he was poor he went for free food to the Krishna temple once a week. Every source I’ve found — Wikipedia, Christian Post, India Times, CNN (and again here), Hindustan Times, etc, all describe him as a (Zen) Buddhist, and say that his wedding was performed by a Zen priest. It seems clear you’re mistaken on this one.

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Comment from Shanna
Time: October 6, 2011, 7:14 am

Thank you for posting this. This is a beautiful speech to start my day with and keep me from focusing on things that do not matter. I feel for his family and hope they are doing as well as they can be.

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Comment from Tracy Moorhead
Time: October 6, 2011, 7:18 am

Krishna, Buddhist either way he was a man with vision! I use something he and his company created everyday!! My heart goes out to his Wife, Children and Co-workers may they get through this trying time with grace and Love.

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Comment from Jenny
Time: October 6, 2011, 7:18 am

Thank you for sharing that Bodhipaksa. It is very moving and a real inspiration to live life fully and be present while we are here.

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Comment from Stephen
Time: October 6, 2011, 11:54 am

Beautiful.

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Comment from Karen
Time: October 6, 2011, 4:04 pm

I read of Steve’s passing on this site. I was shocked. Not because a man has passed, we all do; but because of my reaction. I felt emotional. Tears came. I didn’t know Steve Jobs, but his heart shone out. He was a man of integrity, of love. Perhaps that is why people treasure the products of his life. A true light. My love is with him and his family.
xx

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Comment from stefanie
Time: October 6, 2011, 11:11 pm

To Steve Jobs with Metta,
Great decision to adopt Buddhism – rays of wisdom shines in all directions and world systems. Your works speak for Buddha.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma SamBuddhassa (3x)

May you be free from the suffering of smasara

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Comment from stefanie
Time: October 6, 2011, 11:13 pm

To Steve Jobs with Metta,
Great decision to adopt Buddhism – rays of wisdom shine in all directions and world systems. Your works speak for Buddha.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma SamBuddhassa (3x)

May you be free from the suffering of smasara

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Comment from Koyi
Time: January 3, 2012, 7:38 am

How true but rarely articulated this eloquent. Nobody escapes space and time alive. Sooner or later our bodies will become the culinary feast of ants and worms.

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Time: April 22, 2012, 2:10 pm

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