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Buddhism in the News


Friday, November 18, 2011

iLivelihood: Steve Jobs and Right Livelihood.

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~

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BM said...

When ever an article praise him of being a Buddhist I slightly disagree. IMO, I think Steve understood the Zen practice but didn't understand what Buddhism and practice of bodhisattva dharma means.

So. I completely agree with what you wrote. It seems Lama Surya Das isn't well informed about him or other reasons. Here is the article about the other side of Steve Jobs:

BD said...

I think he was a guy...maybe even a really nice guy. Don't know never met him. He seemed to have some good ideas. Was he a bodhisattva, nope, but he was famous and liked Buddhism so let's put him on a mantle. Not sure why we "Western Buddhists" seem to feel the need to justify our faith (for lack of a better word) maybe it's our collective Christian / Judeo guilt complex. I was not aware for one of the problems plaguing his factories in China. Not surprising to hear of their conditions but shame on Apple none the less for not doing due diligence and being proactive against that.

Reg Carver said...

I agree totally. There are no true heroes anymore. It's all about $$. To think anything differently is naive. But what can you do - other than try to point out the truth as you do here. Kudos to you! Keep it real. Always, keep it real.

Mumon said...

His inventions revolutionized modern society, which rightfully gives him a place among legends such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

Not to distract from Mr. Jobs, who was a great industrial designer, the problems his team of engineers solved were well known to those, uh, "skilled in the art" for decades, and there were many, many of us, myself included, who never worked at Apple, who never met Mr. Jobs, but who made his products possible through our inventions.

All that said, of course you're spot on about Foxconn. But the other side of it is that the ubiquity of these devices does ultimately empower people.

Maybe someday there will be trade agreements signed that take labor conditions into account.

Kenny said...

The workers in China building Apple products are no less important or valuable than the priviledge people at Apple Headquarters including Steve Jobs.

Without these workers, the finished products of Apple would likely be both more expensive and probably not as reliable.

As humans, we need to stop distancing ourselves from the plight of others suffered elsewhere on the globe, especially those who suffer for your pleasure.

For example, every year people in the west scramble to the malls and toy stores to appease the whining, selfish, spoiled children...just think of the children elsewhere who suffer horrendous conditions in order to satisfy the material cravings of these whining children... there is no christmas for them.

They call him James Ure said...

I agree, Kenny. That's why I wrote the article. Steve Jobs and Apple make great products, but it's at the expense of children and adults worked too hard under terrible conditions.

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