Steve Jobs “Hare Krishna temple. I loved it” speech at Stanford – 2005

Steve Jobs is regarded as a demigod by millions of devotees around the world, who revere his image, read about his pastimes and activities, and hang on his every word or example as if it had some direct connection to the source of his inspiration and material success. Steve Job’s ‘dictionaries’ are even available that purport to communicate the “Wisdom of Jobs” in a convenient A-Z format.

Hare Krishna?

Conspicuous by its absence in these ‘Books of Jobs’ is any mention of Hare Krishna, and the importance he ascribed to the Maha-Mantra in his 2005 commencement at Stanford.

Students anxiously awaiting words of wisdom from their Guru,  hoping to learn answers to important questions like “How can I make a million dollars too?”, or “What stock should I buy now?” were instead told three stories by Steve. For the first he told them they would have to “connect the dots.”

Steve hints at the first dot when he says  “it started before I was born,” describes a fortuitous adoption and education, and then makes the first mention of finding something that he loved.

“… I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.”  (3:00 in  Video here).

Curious? Much to the consternation of the students, Steve choose to chant “Hare Krishna.” He truncated the full mantra for brevity, confident that those that didn’t know it already could google it on their iphones.

“ANYONE can immediately become eligible to perform Vedic sacrifices if he ONCE utters the holy name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead or chants about Him, hears about His pastimes, offers Him obeisances or even remembers Him.” – SB 3:33 6

Steve’s first story relates that he ‘loved’ walking over two hours each way – not for a FREE meal – but for “one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple.”

The rest of his ‘first story’ (the success of Apple) is just one example of  “What I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition [that] turned out to be priceless later on.”

But did he have to say Hare Krishna?

Steve delivered this commencement a few years after his terminal illness was diagnosed and aware that his material body would not last much longer.  Each word and paragraph was chosen deliberately to communicate the most important message that he felt he was obligated to give to the students and the world.

Connecting the dots

1967 – Steve was twelve and living in the area when ISKCON arranged the Mantra Rock Dance at the Avalon Ballroom in San Fransisco, making Hare Krishna a household mantra and introducing the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin to the world – anyone within 100 miles who wasn’t there regretted it.

1967 – “Here Comes the Sun” – Allen Ginsberg and the devotees greet Prabhupada at the airport to introduce the world to Hare Krishna  at Mantra Rock

1967 – Mantra Rock popularized Hare Krishna before anyone knew who Janis Joplin was.

After Mantra Rock the Dead were Grateful that the devotees became fixtures at their concerts, often providing prasadam for the band and crew backstage.

Steve would have been around fourteen in 1969 when Apple Corp released the Hare Krishna Mantra single, produced by George Harrison.  Steve, an enthusiastic Beatle fan, chanted Hare Krishna often.

Apple Records – In 1969 the Hare Krishna mantra was a hit single around the world. It reached number 12 in the UK and appeared on the music show Top of the Pops. It also made the number 1 slot on both the German and Czechoslovakian music charts.

1969 -George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ – every Beatle fan, including fourteen year old Steve, had a copy.

George put this Hare Krishna sticker of Eric Clapton’s CREAM guitar, helping him remember God before each performance. “I found my God in music and the arts, with writers like Hermann Hesse, and musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter. In some way, in some form, my God was always there, but now I have learned to talk to him.” ― Eric Clapton

1970 – Apple releases “All Things Must Pass”, from which Steve learns many of the lessons that he tries to communicate in his final years.

1973 – Around the time Steve dropped out of college Apple Corp released George Harrison’s “Living in the Material World” album, expressing a generation’s dissatisfaction with traditional values that they saw as temporary and unimportant, and encouraging Steve to abandon the traditional path.

1973 – Apple Corp released “Living in the Material World.” inspiring devotees like Steve to follow Krishna’s instructions in Bhagavad Gita, which he did throughout his life.

By  Spring 1973 Steve had dropped out of college and for the next year he was ‘loving’ his long walks to and from the ISKCON temple for the Sunday Feasts, where “much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later.”

Apple Computer

It should be obvious that Steve’s familiarity with the Beatles, Apple Corp, and the Hare Krishna mantra was the inspiration for the name of  company he formed a few year later – the nexus prompting  lawsuits from Apple Corp that weren’t settled until Apple Computer promised to stay out of the music business.


“One of the greatest reflections on life we’ve ever heard”

Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to Stanford in 2005

Full video here.

Bill requires us to connect the dots – Given the importance of what may have been his last opportunity to communicate the most important knowledge acquired in his lifetime, one might wonder why he does not just connect the dots for us?

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17,  I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

Steve is referring to this illustration from the Bhagavad Gita 2:13 “As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.”

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.

It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.


Connect the dots? Isn’t there an app for that?

Most graduates left scratching their heads and unable to connect the dots.

“Hare Krishna? What does that have to do with making a million dollars?

“He loved it?” Love? Going to the Hare Krishna temple? Must be out of his mind?

“Stay Hungry?  I am hungry!  That why I want to know how to get lots of money so I can be rich and happy like Steve and my life will be a success.”

“And all that blathering about “death” and “time being short” and “remembering that I’ll be dead soon.” Sounds like some kind of holy-roller now!”

And then his “final message as he signed off”  – Three times yet! ….  “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish!” I heard you the first time Steve.
You’d think he’d at least tell us where to get a good meal.

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish” – Steve’s repeated his ‘final words’ three times to the students after describing to them where he found the “one good meal” that he has ever recommended to anyone.


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