As reported by James Hookway in The Wall Street Journal Southeast Asia, August 31, 2012:
KHLONG LUANG, Thailand – When Apple Inc AAPL -2.60%. founder Steve Jobs died after a long fight with cancer last year, software engineer Tony Tseung sent an email to a Buddhist group in Thailand to find out what happened to his old boss now that he’s no longer of this world.
This month, Mr. Tseung received his answer. Mr. Jobs has been reincarnated as a celestial warrior-philosopher, the Dhammakaya group said in a special television broadcast, and he’s living in a mystical glass palace hovering above his old office at Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters.
Mr. Jobs’s death unleashed a wave of grief across the world when he died last October. From Shanghai to Sydney to New York, admirers of his iconic devices laid flowers and lit candles to mourn his passing. Some commentators described the outpouring as an homage to a kind of secular prophet whose innovations changed the ways millions of people live their lives, strengthening the appeal of a brand which already was approaching cult-like status.
Some of Mr. Jobs’s admirers in Malaysia later gathered on a tropical island and in a religious ceremony each took a bite from an apple before flinging the fruit into the sea in a bid to speed up his reincarnation.
Now, Phra Chaibul Dhammajayo, abbot at the Dhammakaya Temple here just north of Bangkok, claims Mr. Jobs has already been reborn.
“After Steve Jobs passed away, he was reincarnated as a divine being with a special knowledge and appreciation for science and the arts,” the Dhammakaya leader said in the first of a series of sermons beamed to hundreds of thousands of the group’s followers around the world.
Phra Chaibul’s claims are impossible to corroborate, and his sermons have unleashed significant criticism, including from some skeptics who suspect he is just trying to get attention to help with fundraising. Among other things, he has said the reincarnated Mr. Jobs spends much of his time lounging in a glass palace resembling an Apple store. Phra Chaibul also has said the being formerly known as Steve Jobs is attended by 20 servants, who seem to resemble the Apple store ‘Geniuses’ who help customers set up their iPhones and other devices here on earth.
Senior monks at the Dhammakaya Temple declined requests for comment.
Either way, it’s not surprising that 68-year-old Phra Chaibul (the ‘Phra’ is a religious title) has latched onto the Jobs phenomenon. Many Thais are well aware of the interest Mr. Jobs had in Buddhism. Biographies of the former Apple chief were translated into the local language and took up entire shelves in local bookstores, while dozens of local magazines featured him on their covers.
Apple’s mantra of using technology to bring people closer together also dovetails neatly with the teachings of the orange-robed monks at the Dhammakaya Temple. They preach a worldly, tech-savvy form of Buddhism which instructs worshipers that it isn’t a sin to grow rich, as long as they contribute a chunk of their earnings to the Dhammakaya cause.
At the group’s headquarters here in Khlong Luang, a little north of Bangkok, tens of thousands of worshipers flock each weekend to a giant flying saucer-shaped structure surrounded by a vast network of airport-like corridors and meeting halls that’s comparable in size to the Pentagon. Anthropologists frequently liken the Dhammakaya group to Christian televangelists operating in countries such as the U.S., Brazil and the Philippines.
“The Dhammakaya Temple identifies itself as a ‘modern temple for a modern age,’” Rachelle Scott at the University of Tennessee wrote in a recent book on Thai religious movements. “It chooses to present itself as modern in select ways, whether by employing a contemporary aesthetic, using new technologies, or re-interpreting key doctrines and practices through a modern lens.”
But by adopting Mr. Jobs to help spread its theology, the Dhammakaya group has certainly raised eyebrows, including upsetting some Buddhists.
Other Buddhist leaders disapprove of Phra Chaibul’s sermons, which are titled “Where Is Steve Jobs?” They say they are a stunt designed to lure more followers to Dhammakaya’s vast sanctuary. “Even if it is true, it is just showing off and has nothing to do with Lord Buddha’s teachings,” said one prominent religious authority, Phra Payom Kallayano.
Another revered scholar and temple abbot, Phra Paisal Visalo, told local media here that he is worried that many more people will follow Mr. Tseung, the software engineer at Apple in California, by seeking Dhammakaya’s help in contacting deceased friends and relatives.
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter...
...Sporting a shaved head and over-sized glasses, Phra Chaibul, a soft-spoken trained economist, advises students to closely analyze Mr. Jobs’s life so they can better understand their own role in this world, and beyond...
...The spiritual rewards also appear to be worth the effort, at least according to Phra Chaibul. He says that Mr. Jobs now enjoys sleeping on a floating hover-bed, and when he thinks of a piece of music he would like to hear, it automatically plays. If he is hungry, an aide quickly brings him a tasty treat...
...What’s more, Mr. Jobs was reborn in a younger, more handsome form. Phra Chaibul says he now appears to be around 35 to 40 years old, with a full head of hair. Artist renderings accompanying Phra Chaibul’s lectures show a rejuvenated Mr. Jobs living in a photo-shopped, air-brushed utopia where he hangs out with other sprites and revels in the achievements of friends and colleagues he left behind on earth.