Do You Know the Hidden Motivation Behind Steve Jobs’s Success?

How Paramahansa Yogananda changed his life and thousands of others

A short time after Steve Jobs passed away, Nabha Cosley’s friend at Crystal Clarity Publishers, received a phone call.

“We’d like to place an order for 500 copies of The Autobiography of a Yogi. Do you have that many?”

As it turned out, the books were needed for Steve’s memorial service.

And by now, the story of Steve’s memorial service is known to a lot of people. Being the control-freak that he’s often portrayed to be, he planned every detail of his own memorial.

It was held at Stanford University in October 2011. Each attendee got a brown box as a farewell gift. One of those attendees who told this story to the larger public was Marc Benioff, founder, and CEO of Salesforce.

Two years later at a TechCrunch conference, he remembered his feelings when he opened the box. He thought, “This is going to be good. I knew that this was a decision [Steve] made, and whatever it was, it was the last thing he wanted us all to think about.”

This brown box contained copies of Autobiography of a Yogi (let’s call it AoY). Benioff continued, “Yogananda had this book on Self-Realization. Steve’s last message to us was that here is Yogananda’s book… Actualize yourself.”

What’s worth asking is why? Why did Steve, a popular business icon known mostly by what he’s done through Apple, give away copies of AoY?

The answer lies in his past. In 1974, Steve traveled to India with Dan Kottke after reading [Be Here Now]( by Ram Dass. While trying to reach the ashram of Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass’ guru, he made his way through various villages and towns often catching diseases like dysentery.

During this time, he first found AoY and read it since there wasn’t anything else to do. Benioff says more about Steve’s visit to India. “He went to India, and he had this incredible realization that his intuition was his greatest gift and that he needed to look at the world from inside out.”

When Cosley spoke with Les Kaye, the member of the Los Altos zendo where Steve often went, he said that Jobs was more interested in exploring his spiritual self when he returned from India. He would take long evening walks with the leader of the zendo exploring spiritual subjects.

He was particularly more interested in spiritual concepts rather than the outward practice of zen and meditation. He used to meditate with Dan in his attic (apart from getting high on LSD).

But even though his interest in meditation was fleeting, he found spiritual refuge and expression in his work.

According to Kaye, Steve believed in infinite possibilities. “He could invent things that no one had ever dreamed of. There were no roadblocks in his mind — nothing that said, ‘Oh, no, you can’t do that.” said Kaye.

He placed a great value on intuition and used to say,

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Even though he reflected spiritual qualities, he did not have all the answers and he was far from having it all figured out. Even before his death, he told Walter Isaacson, his biographer, “I’m about fifty-fifty on God.”

And though he didn’t know what to believe, one thing was always true — he would read AoY every year. And on his deathbed, his final words were “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Now that is something powerful.

If you’ve never read AoY, I recommend you give it a try. When you do, you’ll realize that the love of God which emanates from the book is enough to convince the most ‘practical’ and ‘scientific’ person about the existence and the love of God.

Steve’s Quest for Inner Transformation

Paramahansa Yogananda more than anything spread the word of Kriya Yoga through his autobiography. It is an advanced meditation technique that he calls the “airplane route to God.”

Upon reading the book myself, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The book is dripping with the love of God. Immediately, I found the nearest center teaching his techniques and after one year of training was finally initiated into Kriya.

Without a doubt, it has been the greatest investment that I’ve made in my life.

Even though yoga is one of the greatest movements of the modern era, it’s vastly misunderstood. In the U.S alone more than 20 million people are pursuing yoga (one out of every ten people).

Yes, this proves that people are looking for higher physical and mental well-being. But the true yogic understanding is still not prevalent. And there aren’t enough sources for the average Joe to understand the essence of Yoga.

For a lot of us, yoga relates to the body — it’s a set of poses that you practice for higher awareness and relaxation.

Yet, it’s much more than that. It’s as much about the mind and the soul as it is about the body. Alas, many instructors now offer their own changes to the yoga postures that have been around for decades. There’s even yoga for your dog — doga-yoga.


But this wasn’t the yoga that Steve was after. He wasn’t seeking to tone his muscles and hips. Rather he was seeking an inner transformation.

Yoga means union. The union of the little self with the higher Self — the universal cosmic consciousness that most people call God. Most of what we know as Yoga today comes from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

But most of us don’t know how to even start with the goal of realizing cosmic consciousness. And this was the matter with Steve. According to Dan, he had also read a book called Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Maurice Bucke.

Bucke posited that certain notable individuals throughout history have demonstrated that they have attained ‘cosmic consciousness’. In the book, he cites examples such as Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Dante, St Paul, Francis Bacon, William Blake, and his close friend Walt Whitman.

With all this knowledge, Steve was hungry to know how he can get there but didn’t know a thing about it.

That is where Yogananda’s book came into the picture.

Yogananda’s Entrepreneurial Pursuit to Bring Yoga to the West

Yogananda was born Mukunda Lal Ghosh in Gorakhpur, India in 1893. As Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) of India writes about him, “From his earliest years, it was evident to those around him that the depth of his awareness and experience of the spiritual was far beyond the ordinary.” Deepak Chopra called him a spiritual prodigy.

Both his parents were disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya, the renowned master who was instrumental in reintroducing Kriya Yoga in modern India. When Yogananda was an infant in his mother’s arms, Lahiri Mahasaya blessed him and foretold: “Little mother, thy son will be a yogi. As a spiritual engine, he will carry many souls to God’s kingdom.”

While still a boy, he used to practice Hong-Sau, a technique where you concentrate on the breath, for 7.5 hours in one sitting.

He became a disciple of Swami Sri Yukteswar at the age of 17 who trained him for his mission to spread the art and science of Kriya Yoga to the west.

After graduating from Calcutta University in 1915, Mukunda took formal vows as a monk of India’s venerable monastic Swami Order, at which time he received the name Yogananda (signifying bliss, ananda, through divine union, yoga)

At the age of 27, he came to America with little money but a firm resolution to reawaken the thirst of Self-Realization in everyone.

His teachings were in a way most needed at that time. Mind you, this was the time when people were facing the threat of world wars and massive depressions.

But Yogananda had a singular message — whatever we’re seeking is already within us. This is how he taught people to take refuge in self-realization to face all of life’s circumstances with even-mindedness and indomitable will.

By making people realize the power of God within, he aimed to inspire them to live a life of higher purpose. The successful yogi, he said, “can stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds.”

He started converting people by the thousands. Many accomplished people took to his teaching. Some include George Eastman, the founder of Kodak; Amelita Galli-Curci, the acclaimed opera singer; the tenor Vladimir Rosing and Luther Burbank, the plant scientist. U.S president Calin Coolidge invited him to the White House for a personal audience. Today he is often recognized as the father of yoga in the West.

But even after he left his body, his work continues to date. One of the main reasons for this is his establishment of the Self-Realization Fellowship to ignite the inner flame of yoga in communities worldwide.

His ideology was simple — “I don’t use religion for business but I use business principles in religion.”

Even after his passing, Swami Kriyananda, his disciple, found Ananda Sangha, dedicated to spreading the teachings of Kriya Yoga further. (Which is where I learned the technique from).

But Yogananda bought to the West not only his ideologies and philosophies, or organizations, but practical, scientific techniques.

The Airplane Route to God

Even though Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe the eight steps towards the ultimate union to God, they’re not as accessible to everyone. For instance, the only step that modern civilization has been able to understand is the third step called ‘asana.’ An asana loosely means a posture that is used to make the body physically fit for spiritual unfoldment and meditation.

Even before the third step, there are the first two steps “Yama” (don’t do’s), and “Niyama” (do’s or rules). These outline ten principles that guide the choices of the life of a yogi and helps him to deepen inner realization.

But after this, the further steps laid by Patanjali are not, for lack of a better word, actionable, for the average person.

To remedy this, Yogananda first showed the modern applicability of yogic principles in everyday life. He attuned himself to the needs of his audience and gave lectures on topics like “The Science of Healing” and “The Art of Getting WhatYou Want.”

None of these are particularly yogic lectures, but they gradually uplift the consciousness of the listener to make him ready for a serious spiritual search.

Even his ideas on human nature, thoughts, emotions, habits, and brain wiring are still being confirmed by psychologists, physicians, psychotherapists, and neuroscientists.

Second, to remedy the lack of actionable advice for aspiring yogis, he outlined the path of Kriya Yoga to tap into an inner source of ever-expanding love and ever-deepening joy. I have had the honor of learning these techniques and receiving the advanced technique of Kriya and it has been worth the effort.

Kriya and devotion to God, he said, “works like mathematics. They cannot fail!” Most of all he emphasized the scientific nature of this technique so the modern skeptics give it a try.

Just like a scientist doesn’t take anything for granted without testing it, he urged his audience to test the principles and practices of Yoga.

And how can we see if it’s working for us?

Yogananda told truth-seekers to savor the early rewards of peace and well-being. But with even more rigor, he told us to continue further to reach eternal bliss and universal consciousness.

He said, “When by constant practice of Kriya, the consciousness of the blissful state of the spiritual self becomes real, we find ourselves always in the holy presence of the blissful God in us.”

What Steve Learned From AoY

Let’s go back full circle. At the same TechCrunch conference, Marc Benioff said referring to Steve, “[AoY] gives tremendous insight into not just who [Jobs] was but also why he was successful, which is that he was not afraid to take that key journey [towards self-realization]. It is for entrepreneurs and for people who want to be successful in our industry a message that we need to embrace and vest ourselves in.”

AoY was the only book that Steve downloaded on his iPad apart from reading it every year.

Yet, even though he read it so passionately, we still don’t know what he exactly learned from it because we never spoke about it. But that doesn’t stop us from connecting the dots.

Kristoffer Carter, in his talk, told the audience about his conversation with Brother Bhumamanda, the head of the monastic order at SRF.

According to him, this phenomenon is not uncommon — many non-devotees of Yogananda still can’t stop reading the book. Even if they don’t want anything to do with Yoga or meditation, there’s something in the book that speaks to them at a soul-level.

That is perhaps what Steve got out of it.

Here’s another analogy to understand it. You see, the ocean of Divine Love is boundless but our cups, if you will, can only take so much. Whenever we get a taste of that love, we want more.

But our cup is only too small to hold a large chunk of it that we have to keep coming back to the ocean repeatedly. And Steve, again, had to do the same.

Since he wasn’t into the practices and wasn’t a disciple of Yogananda, he couldn’t understand how he can expand his cup with the power of meditation and Kriya Yoga.

However, Carter argues, being a Zen Buddhist, finding Truth on his own terms was attractive for Steve. That explains a lot of Steve’s natural attraction to AoY.

Finally, tenacity is another common thread in the life of Steve and Yogananda.

The tenacity that Yogananda displayed by coming to an unknown country, not even speaking the language yet, attracting thousands of Truth seekers is extraordinary. And Steve perhaps picked a lot from that.

Of course, what Steve learned from AoY can only come from his friends and writers like me trying to connect the dots in his life.

But whatever you say, it’s clear that Yogananda was a big influence in his life and Steve too had spiritual tendencies that he couldn’t explore in the usual fashion.

That said, Steve still presents a fine link between a Truth-seeker and an entrepreneur. He shows that you can get the best of both worlds.

Predominantly, he showed how intuition and spiritual concepts applied to life and business can lead to success.

I hope we all can pick up from where he left off and carry our spiritual journey even further.

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Written on November 12, 2020