PHOTO CREDIT: "Green Apple" by Suat Eman.
It is true that the inventor of the iPhone, Steve Jobs, was a genius and a true visionary. His inventions revolutionized modern society, which rightfully gives him a place among legends such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. It is also true that he dabbled in Zen Buddhism but I feel it goes too far when Lama Surya Das describes Steve Jobs as exemplifying the Buddhist teaching of "Right Livelihood."
Right Livelihood is one of numerous teachings by Buddha on how to live a life with less suffering for yourself, and others. One of those is "Right Livelihood" which (in brief) advises working in a job that does not promote the suffering of others. Unfortunately, Steve Jobs oversaw a multinational corporation that employed factories that did not treat their employees very well. In 2006, Apple was criticized for the working conditions in a factory that made iPods and Nanos.
The workers in that factory (Foxconn) were made to work 15 hour days until 11:30 at night and could not live with their families but instead had to live in on-site dormitories. In return for such harsh labor they were only paid US$50 a month. It might be a decent wage in China, but if Jobs was a Buddhist who truly cared about Right Livelihood, he would have ensured better conditions, and wages. Especially when you consider how much those finished products cost and how much money they brought in for Apple and Steve Jobs. According to the article, workers are "lucky if they make two percent of the profit from an iPod."
In response to the revelation of such working conditions, you'd think a Buddhist example of "Right Livelihood" would immediately put a stop to them. Sadly, no. As late as this year, Apple was still using the Foxconn factories to build iPads, and the conditions haven't changed. The working conditions are so terrible that 14 workers at Foxconn factories committed suicide in a 16 month period!! It became such a problem that Foxconn had to install giant nets around the tall factory building to prevent workers from leaping to their death. Supposedly workers could only work 36 hours of overtime but one record showed a worker having to work 98 stressful hours of overtime. It was also routine for less productive workers to be humiliated in front of their colleagues and all employees were banned from talking.
Of course, such working conditions don't tarnish everything that Steve Jobs accomplished, but in light of them, let's not claim Steve Jobs was more than he turned out to be. He was a flawed being like all of us, and we do not need to make him a near-deified being to appreciate his genius.
~I bow to the Buddha within you all~