Tiger and the Buddhist Path

“I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught.”

Tiger Woods

From his public statement today:




I watched Tiger Woods deliver his public statement this morning.  I was surprised by its length and depth. Overall, I thought he seemed thoughtful and invested in the words.  He hit most of the major points that have been of concern in the media which was important, I think.  Whether or not he is able to redeem himself or atone for his “sins”–ah, those magical words–adequately is not merely a spiritual question, but one of cultural weightiness and, as I implied in my parody yesterday, financial implications for many concerned with their financial bottom line.

And let me be clear.  I am not a Buddhist, but I have a casual, personal interest in it.  I read about Buddha–the enlightened one–and study Buddhist teachers and writers on occasion.  I meditate regularly and practice yoga occasionally, both important parts of a lifestyle that intends to train one to be mindful, to connect mind to body, spirit to material, individual to collective.

This practice has helped me in ways Christianity did not to think about my life and my relationship to suffering and happiness in more thoughtful, active ways that were internally sourced, not externally derived. It has fundametally altered my self-conception and notions of spirituality that framed the first 50 years of my life.

So I was very interested to hear Tiger comment publicly on his drift away from and intent to return to a dedicated Buddhist practice.

Indeed, the “craving for things outside ourselves” that he referred to at the center of Buddhist thought is that which causes so much suffering in the world.  That whole notion of feeling incomplete, of needing to be filled up emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually; all of those things that Tiger pursued in his search for “security” was for me the most important comment he made because a thoughtful Buddhist practice would necessarily address, I think, his “sins.” It wouldn’t redeem him nor would he atone for them because in my facile understanding of Buddhism, one never necessarily overcomes or transcends the struggles of life. And no one else can change the indeterminate path of suffering and joy in life.

Clearly, Tiger was caught up in that craving that leads to confusion, constant change, and dissatisfaction: h proved to be merely human like the rest of us mere mortals in always looking for the new, the different, some external stimuli to “feel” alive.  But by their very nature, those experiences can never be complete nor satisfied because as life is so they are: impermanent, transient, and outside of our ability to control them.  What we do have the potential to do is to manage ourselves within, of course, certain limits.  (We will all age and die regardless of our efforts or cravings to live forever.)

Tiger must be mindful of what Buddha teaches: the constant craving, the human egotism at the center of it, and the grabbing and holding on must stop if he is to return at some fundamental level to his greatness as maybe the best golfer of all time.  But that will only happen, ironically, if he loses the egotism at the center of his craving to be the greatest golfer ever and reenters life’s stream of impermanence.

Whatever the limitations of his public statement and self-presentation were–and I think there were some if he is really serious about his return to Buddhist practice–I am interested to see if the kernel of a Buddhist Tiger I saw this morning will be a reality in the future and what effects it will have in his life generally and golf specifically.

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