Tuesday - March 20th, 2018

Steve Jobs, a Hindu holy man, and the Apple logo

In the '70s Steve Jobs travelled to India to visit a renowned guru whose favourite fruit became the logo of one of the world's most renowned companies. Geoff Wood talks with other spiritual seekers and finds out what the future billionaire might have been looking for.

There are many stories about the meaning and origin of the Apple computer logo.

Some say Steve Jobs was inspired by one of his favourite bands, The Beatles, whose record label was called Apple. Others say it came from his days as a young man working on an apple farm, a story Jobs himself mentions in Walter Isaacson’s recent biography. He was on one of his fruitarian diets and the name 'sounded fun, spirited and not intimidating.'

'Plus,' he added, 'it would get us ahead of Atari in the phone book.'

But there may be more to it than this anodyne account. An alternative explanation points to an ashram in India and a pilgrimage to a guru whose favourite fruit was the apple.

Before Mr Jobs founded what is now the world’s largest tech company, he travelled to India early in 1974, desperate for darshan (sight), and to be in the presence of the renowned Hindu holy man Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Maharaj-ji.

Considered to be a manifestation of the god Hanuman, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Maharaj-ji had become something of a magnet to young westerners making the now-familiar ‘journey to the East’. From his ashram in Kainchi in the foothills of the Himalayas, he received a steady flow of spiritual seekers from all over the world. Among them was the young Richard Alpert who would later find fame as Ram Dass, author of the seminal book Be Here Now.

Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who went on to run Google’s philanthropic organisation Google.org and oversee the Skoll Global Threats Fund, was another early visitor. Given the name Subramanyum, he was tasked by his guru to eradicate smallpox, a project which he undertook with the help of the World Health Organization.

Mr Jobs at the time was working at the young video games start-up Atari in Los Angeles. But the seed of his spiritual quest had already been sown. Jai Uttal, a Kirtan musician and world sacred music pioneer, told me this story on a recent trip to Australia:

Mr Jobs flew into New Delhi in April 1974, booked into a cheap hotel and came down with dysentery almost immediately. As soon as he was well enough he travelled to Haridwar in western India for the great Hindu festival known as the Kumbh Mela. From there he took a train and a bus to Kainchi in the foothills of the Himalayas to the ashram of Neem Karoli Baba. He rented a room with a mattress on the floor from a local family who fed him vegetarian meals. But he had arrived too late. Maharaj-ji was no longer present, having attained Mahasamadhi (left his body) the previous September.

Another devotee at the Kainchi ashram in the early '70s was Jeffrey Kagel, known today as Krishna Das, the chant master of American yoga. Like many others he arrived at his first darshan loaded with apples as an offering to Maharaj-ji. I asked Krishna Das what happened next:

Like Krishna Das, Mr Jobs never forgot his time at the Kainchi ashram. Although he arrived too late to meet his guru in person—and despite his subsequent rise to fame—for most of his life Mr Jobs continued to pursue prajna, a Sanskrit word used in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy meaning consciousness or wisdom, a form of cognitive understanding of the nature of reality achieved through meditation and mindfulness.

In his later years he turned also to Zen Buddhism for answers. But as a young man, his first great pilgrimage took him to India, and to a Hindu holy man fond of apples.

You can hear world sacred music pioneer Jai Uttal in conversation with Geoff Wood on The Rhythm Divine, Sunday 7 April 6.05 am and online. The program will feature music from his recent album Queen of Hearts, from his 1991 album Footprints, and from his teacher, the renowned sarod master Ali Akbar Khan. Jai speaks about his life in music and his influence on a generation of spiritual seekers that included the young Steve Jobs.

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