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Thai Buddhist cult claims to know afterlife of Steve Jobs

22 August 2012

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 21, 2012

A Thai Buddhist cult movement claims to know the whereabouts of Steve Jobs in the afterlife. In a TV special on DMC.tv, the satellite TV channel of the Dhammakāya (pronounced “tah-mah-guy”) Movement, and its website have given their take on the question hardly anyone was asking in the first place: Where is Steve Jobs now? The Apple co-founder and CEO passed away in October 2011 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.

This question was asked by a man called “Tony Tseung” – who claims to be a senior engineer at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California – to Phra Thepyanmahamuni, the abbot of the Wat Phra Dhammakaya (their main temple). The movement was established in the 1970s and puts the focus of their teachings by literally interpreting Dharmakāya, which equates obtaining Nirvana as the “true Self”, also known as atta - contrary to the main Theravada Buddhism teachings most Thais are following in which Nirvana is the ultimate goal, in which Self ceases to exist (anatta).

The abbot’s answer is very elaborate to say the least:

หลังจากที่คุณ Steve Jobs ได้ละจากโลกนี้ไปแล้ว ก็ได้ไปบังเกิดใหม่เป็นเทพบุตรภุมมะเทวา (…) รวมกับอัธยาศัยพื้นฐานของตัวเขาซึ่งเป็นคนที่มีความรู้ความสามารถทั้งทางด้านวิทยาศาสตร์และสุนทรียภาพทางศิลปะสูงมาก (…) ตัวเขาก็ได้ไปบังเกิดใหม่เป็น “เทพบุตรภุมมะเทวาระดับกลางสายวิทยาธรกึ่งยักษ์” ที่มีที่อยู่ที่อาศัยซ้อนอยู่บนโลกมนุษย์ใกล้ๆ กับที่ทำงานเดิมของตัวเขาในทันที

“ภุมมะเทวาสายวิทยาธรกึ่งยักษ์” นั้นมีลักษณะเป็นอย่างไร (…) ก็คือภุมมะเทวาที่มีอัธยาศัย 2 อย่างมาผสมผสานกัน ได้แก่ อัธยาศัยของวิทยาธรที่รักในการเรียนรู้ศาสตร์และความรู้ต่างๆ กับอัธยาศัยของยักษ์ที่มักโกรธ ขี้โมโห (…)

After Mr. Steve Jobs has passed away, he reincarnated as a divine being (…) encompassing his characteristics: a person with the knowledge (and a great appreciation) for both science and arts (…) His reincarnation is a “Thepphabhut Phumadeva [divinity] of middle rank – half a Witthayathorn, half yak” that lives in a parallel universe not very far away from where he was as a human.

What is this divine being like? (…) It is a being that has two characteristics mixed together which includes his thirst for knowledge of sciences [his Witthayathorn half] together with his yak half, that is prone to be angry and hot-headed (…)

ปรโลกนิวส์ ตอน สตีฟ จ็อบส์ ตายแล้วไปไหน ตอนที่ 1“, DMC, August 21, 2012

Aha, Jobs is now apparently “half a Witthayathorn” - a term the abbot came up by himself – and, apparently because of his well-known temper, “half a yak” (not the animal), a giant demon that is mostly seen ‘guarding’ Buddhist temples in Thailand.

When the abbot went on describe how the life of Afterlife-Steve Jobs looks like, things get even more interesting:

ส่วนวิมานหรือที่อยู่ที่อาศัย ของท่านเทพบุตรใหม่จะมีลักษณะเป็นวิมานที่เรียบๆ ง่ายๆ ขนาดปานกลาง ที่สูงประมาณตึก 6 ชั้น ซึ่งตัววิมานจะประกอบด้วยโลหะสีเงินสีขาวและแก้วผลึกขนาดใหญ่ที่มีขอบเขตกว้างขวาง และอยู่ไม่ไกลจากที่ทำงานเดิมในสมัยที่ตัวเขายังเป็นมนุษย์ (…) นอกจากนี้ ท่านเทพบุตรใหม่ยังมีบริวารอันเป็นทิพย์ที่คอยรับใช้ดูแลอยู่ประมาณ 20 ตน ซึ่งทั้งหมดนี้ก็เกิดจากผลแห่งบุญที่ตัวเขาได้เคยทำบุญแบบสงเคราะห์โลกเอาไว้ในสมัยที่ตัวเขายังเป็นมนุษย์ เช่น บริจาคทั้งเงิน สิ่งของ ความรู้ให้แก่ผู้อื่นและสังคม

Concerning the living space of this new divine being: it is a very clean-cut, simple and middle-sized, six-story in height, which is built with silver metal and crystal in large quantities and that is not very far away from where he used to work in his human form. (…) Apart from that the new divine being has about 20 celestial servants at his service which comes from karma he obtained from charitable nature during his human form like donating money, objects and knowledge for others and society.

ปรโลกนิวส์ ตอน สตีฟ จ็อบส์ ตายแล้วไปไหน ตอนที่ 1“, DMC.tv, August 21, 2012

Anybody who dares to read the full explanation can go to their webpage here - even though it is only in Thai, the pictures should give an idea…! Also, there’ll be a part two of the TV special on DMC.tv…

That last sentence is exactly the way of the Dhammakāya Movement many critics find fault in: give enough money for charity (preferably to Dhammakāya) and you might also reincarnate with your personal living space that coincidentally resembles an Apple Store and with your own personal Geniuses…erm, I mean servants!

The practices and methods by the movement are something more akin to what some say Christian TV evangelists with a giant temple on the outskirts of Bangkok, opulent mass-ordination ceremonies, the aforementioned TV channel with some production value, grand-scale downtown pilgrimages by monks, nationwide promotions such as a special credit card with a special perk to convert the bonus points into money donations to Dhammakāya, among many other actions.

And where does the money come from? Of course from donations by devotees, who are encouraged to donate large sums in exchange for great merits in order to ensure enough good karma for the afterlife. It basically blends religion with capitalism – a fact that may be why this movement had an increase of followers among the Bangkok middle class in the 1990s as this scientific article argues. This practice parallels to the selling of indulgences in Christianity during the middle ages until the 16th century, which was one of the points German reformist Martin Luther was protesting against in 1521.

Also, the Dhammakāya Movement is considered as one of a few Buddhist groups that have some to large supporters in Thai politics, as this cult is rumored to be closely linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The other noteworthy group is the Santi Asoke sect, which practices and propagates a more ascetic lifestyle that is opposed to materialism and mass consumption – in some ways the diametrical opposite of the Dhammakāya Movement business model. Followers of the Santi Asoke also took part in numerous protests against the government(s) of the aforementioned Thaksin Shinawatra and its reincarnations.

This whole story is intended as a lesson of karma and their take on what happens next after one has passed away. And of course this story is also yet another attention-grabbing PR stunt by the Dhammakāya Movement to gain new followers (and if you have been reading until this point you know why) by purely making up blatantly speculating predicting the afterlife of a worldwide-known figure. Not to mention the potential new devotees abroad, since this movement also has branches in 18 other countries including an open university based in California.

Steve Jobs was certainly influenced, if not even inspired, by Buddhism of various teachings. But he was not known as a devotee – not by practice and certainly not any of Thailand’s various Buddhist’s groups. Also, the abbot suggests that Jobs was concerned with life after death – contrary to his well-documented remarks that he regards death itself as “very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.” He also said in the same commencement speech to university graduates in 2005: “Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and on Facebook here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 August 2012 19:56

    They’re gone nut!

  2. 22 August 2012 18:08

    The Abbot hasn’t said or picture Yak,like guardian Buddhist temples in Thailand. People tend to re-write in the wrong way base on their attitude against this temple which I’ve been following this abbot and activities more than 20 years and much deeper respect every day because monks in this temple are very disciplines than other temples in Thailand..

    People who is negative toward this temple has never been to this temple or even other temples…I think it’s wrong if you don’t know them well and criticized them based how you feel from outside.. should take time to know them better then you can write about them.

    I hate Santi Asoke, they are not real and they are always used by the so-called leader who is anti- government,they should not involved in politic instead of finding peace…

  3. 22 August 2012 17:44

    They are a cult,they’re practicing the regular Buddhist follow Lord of Buddha!!nothing wrong about it..

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