A handwritten letter from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and featuring his reflections on Zen Buddhism will be auctioned on 3 November by the British auction house Bonhams. The letter dates to 23 February 1974, when the late Apple CEO was 18 years old and living in California. It is estimated that the letter could sell for as much as US$300,000.
The letter was written to Jobs’ childhood friend Tim Brown, with whom he remained close until Jobs’ death from pancreatic cancer in 2011 at the age of 56. At the time of the writing, Jobs had dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and was living in a cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains south of San Francisco.
According to the auction house, the letter was a response to a letter in which Brown offered thoughts on Zen Buddhism, to which Jobs responds, “I do not know what to say.” (Bonhams)
“The letter gives a fascinating insight into the private life of a fiercely private man,” said Adam Stackhouse, director of Bonhams’ history of science and technology business. “This is particularly special as no autograph letters from Jobs have appeared at auction before, and certainly no material as revealing and insightful as this.” (Yahoo News)
The letter also notes Jobs’ wish to travel to India to attend the Kumbha Mela festival, which occurs every 12 years and attracts tens of millions of devotees to the Ganges and other sacred rivers. In full, the letter reads:
tim i have read your letter many times
i do not know what to say. many mornings have come and gone
people have came and went
i have loved and i have cried many times.
somehow, though, beneath it all it doesn’t change – do you
i am now living on a farm in the mountains between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz. i wish to go to india for the Kumba Mela (sic), which starts in April. i will be leaving sometime in March, not really certain yet. if you desire, and i am still here when you arive (sic), we can come up here in the mountains together and you can tell me your thoughts and feelings, which I did not fully understand from your letter. There is a fire in the other room and i am getting cold here. i will end by saying i do not even know where to begin.
In India, Jobs sought out the Hindu teacher Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Maharaj-ji. This turned out to be a disappointment, as Neem Karoli had passed away shortly before Jobs’ arrival.
In a retelling of the story of the journey, Jobs’ friend Daniel Kottke said of Jobs and himself: “I think the trip influenced us both in a general sense of broadening our experience of life on Earth and putting our lives in the US in a wider perspective. . . . Steve was mostly drawn to Zen meditation and he went to the zendo in Los Altos regularly after his return from India.” (India Today)
Stackhouse suggested that the letter pointed to an initial interest in spirituality in the young Jobs’ life and that Brown may have influenced Jobs in his eventual turn to Zen Buddhism and Zen training under the Japanese master Kōbun Chino Otogawa (1938–2002). On 18 March 1991, Otogawa presided over the marriage of Steve Jobs and Laurene Powell.
The letter is part of a History of Science and Technology auction that is to include a prototype version of an Apple Macintosh computer as well as a first-generation iPad prototype.
Jobs, Steve. 1955-2011 (Bonhams)
A handwritten letter by Steve Jobs featuring his thoughts on Zen Buddhism will be put up for auction – and could sell for $300,000 (Yahoo News)
India visit gave a vision to Steve Jobs (India Today)
Steve Jobs and the Rediscovery of Zen (Nippon)