Steve Jobs was one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, having founded Apple and created iconic products like the iPhone, but the inspiration for much of his entrepreneurial success came from a yogi in faraway India.
In 1974, two years before Steve Jobs had founded Apple, he’d arrived in India. At that point, he’d been working as a technician at video game company Atari in Los Altos, California, and had saved up money for the trip. Jobs had wanted to meet Neem Karoli Baba, a spiritual guru who’d attracted some high-profile followers in the US in those days. “For me it was a serious search,” Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson. “I’d been turned on to the idea of enlightenment and trying to figure out who I was and how I fit into things,” he said.
But when Steve Jobs arrived in Nainital, he discovered that Neem Karoli Baba had passed away the previous year. The guru’s ashram was nearly abandoned. Jobs was disappointed, but ended up spending 7 months in India nevertheless.
And the experience in India transformed him. When he reached back home, his parents could barely recognize him. “My head had been shaved, I was wearing Indian cotton robes, and my skin had turned a deep, chocolate brown-red from the sun,” Jobs later said. When he walked into Atari’s offices looking for his job back, he was barefoot, and was wearing the orange robes of a Sadhu.
While Jobs would later give up his orange robes for his signature turtleneck and jeans, one of the longest-remaining impacts of his stint in India was the book “An autobiography of a yogi” by Paramhansa Yogananda. Jobs had first read the book when he was 17 years old, and reportedly re-read it every year. Jobs’ biographer states that “An Autobiography of a Yogi” was the only book he had on his personal iPad. In fact, Jobs was so inspired buy the book that his memorial service after his death, all guests received a mysterious brown box. In the box wasn’t the latest Apple product, but a copy of “An Autobiography of a Yogi.”
“An Autobiogrpahy of a Yogi” was originally published in 1946. The book quickly found resonance around the world, particularly in the West. George Harrison from The Beatles had read the book, as had Elvis Presley, who’d spent many years studying it. The book follows Yogananda’s journey throughout India and abroad in a search for enlightenment. Yogananda was born in Gorakhpur in 1896, and the book details his childhood, his family life, and then how he finds a guru and becomes a monk. The book has been credited with popularizing concepts including yoga and meditation, interwoven into Yogananda’s message of “self-realization” through transcendence of the ego and acceptance of the true soul, to the Western world.
The book would eventually go on to shape some of the brightest western minds of that era, including entrepreneurs, musicians and thinkers. The book, though, isn’t particularly popular in India, and not many young people seem to have read it. But that seems to be changing — Virat Kohli loves the book, and calls it a “must-read”. Ancient Indian wisdom has provided direction and refuge to Western minds for decades, and it’s perhaps time that it provides a similar path to understanding and enlightenment for millions of its own young citizens.