Steve Jobs had a spiritual advisor -- here's what it was like the first time they met

Alex Gibney’s documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” (currently in theatres) has many revelations about the man and the company he co-founded, Apple.

But one that stands out is the first time Jobs met his spiritual advisor, Zen priest Kobun Chino Otogawa.

A big reason why it’s so memorable is that the whole scene, which is a recollection by Otogawa, is told entirely through animation.

Gibney told a room of reporters in New York last week that the idea came after a video of Otogawa talking about Jobs at a 1992 event was brought to his attention. Gibney used Otogawa’s audio from that footage and incorporated black and white animation to visualise the priest’s description of their encounter.

Here’s select stills from the scene along with Otogawa’s story:

“When I was living in California 23 years ago…I answered the door at midnight and there he was in bare feet with long hair and jeans with many holes everywhere. He wanted to see me…18 years old he was.”

“I looked into his eyes, they looked terrible but he’s not crazy. I [had] to talk to him. I put my jacket on and took him on a midnight walk in downtown Los Altos.”

“All [the] stores [were] closed. One bar called “The Tea Cup” was open. So we sat down at the counter and I had an Irish coffee and he had juice.”

“What he said was, ‘I feel enlightened, and I don’t know what to do with this.” I said, “Oh, that is very wonderful. I need proof of it.”
“A week later he came back with a little metal sheet…I didn’t know what it was…that little thing was the proof. It was a chip of a personal computer. He said, ‘I designed it, my friend Woz helped me. It’s called Lisa.’ Which is the name of his daughter. That is the origin of the Apple computer.”

“And [I’m] still not quite sure it was the proof…He always said, ‘Make me [a] monk. Please, make me [a] monk.’ I said, ‘No, not until [I have] proof.'”

The animation was created by Gibney’s 26-year-old son Nick, who is an animator by trade.

According to the Oscar-winning director, the choice to use animation for that sequence was because it’s difficult to tell how truthful Otogawa’s story is.

“The way Kobun Chino tells it is let’s just say a dream-like rendering,” he explained. “So much of the dates and details don’t quite match up, like his idea of how old Steve was.”

Gibney said he decided on a black-and-white hand drawn look because it would suggest that it was a “magical story” but also match the black and white conceit that Jobs had with the Apple products.

Regardless of the accuracy of Otogawa’s recollection, there’s no doubting how important he was to Jobs.

WikipediaKobun Chino Otogawa.

According to reports, Jobs studied with Otogawa in the 1970s, focusing on Zen meditation. This led to Otogawa being Apple’s corporate spiritual adviser.

In 1991, Otogawa presided over the marriage of Jobs and Laurene Powell.

Otogawa tragically drowned in 2002 trying to save the life of his 5-year-old daughter Maya, who also died.

Les Kaye, a Zen teacher in Silicon Valley who also knew Jobs, told USA Today in 2011 how Jobs reacted when he got word of Otogawa’s passing. “Kobun’s death really struck him,” Kaye said. “He was beside himself.”

It seems Jobs’ search for enlightenment was a struggle. Like Gibney’s film, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs notes the Apple co-founder’s maniacal drive that made working under him extremely difficult. The author writes:

“Unfortunately his Zen training never quite produced in him a Zen-like calm of inner serenity, and that too is part of his legacy.”

Watch the 1992 Kobun Chino footage that inspired the animated scene in “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” (stars at 29:27 mark):


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