Saturday, February 20, 2010

Beating It to Death With a Golf Club

Buddhists are all about letting go, not clinging to things, it is true. But we're also all about understanding things, which we believe is what leads us to be able to give up clinging. If you don't really take the time to understand something, you can't really expect to give up clinging it. So, it shouldn't come as a really big surprise to see the Buddhist blogverse seeming to beat this story to death. And I'm not about to give up, of course. Here's some more in the way of understanding Tiger Woods.

Q. Why is what Tiger Woods did wrong from a Buddhist point of view?

One of my readers comments that "there are many stories of male and female Boddhisattvas who made many people happy by similar means." I am unaware of one true (niyata) Bodhisattva who acted in such a foolish way, but I suppose there could be many self-acclaimed (aniyata) Bodhisattvas who did. Why is it wrong? It's important to start off understanding that a single mental instance of greed is "wrong" from a Buddhist point of view, since it has suffering as its fruit. What Mr. Woods, and people like him, have done with their acts is not bring happiness to anyone - they bring, rather, greed and addiction, two things that are of no use to anyone and of great harm besides. I was just reading one of the great Buddhist suttas on this very difficult (only because we are so mired in our greed) subject, the Discourse on the Great Mass of Suffering (MN 13):

"Again, with sensual pleasures as the cause, sensual pleasures as the source, sensual pleasures as the basis, the cause being simply sensual pleasures, kings quarrel with kings, nobles with nobles, brahmins with brahmins, householders with householders; mother quarrels with child, child with mother, father with child, child with father; brother quarrels with brother, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend. And here in their quarrels, brawls, and disputes they attack each other with fists, clods, sticks, or knives, whereby they incur death or deadly suffering. Now this too is a danger in the case of sensual pleasures, a mass of suffering visible here and now, having sensual pleasures as its cause, sensual pleasures as its source, sensual pleasures as its basis, the cause being simply sensual pleasures."

(Bodhi, trans. Full translation (Thanissaro) here)

There is nothing to be gained from sensual pleasure in the first place, except for the great sorrow that can be attributed to addiction. As for infidelity, the suffering caused is invariably worse, and I find it quite difficult to understand from where the confusion on this matter might come. Mr. Woods' mother and children have certainly suffered terribly as a result of this affair, not to mention his wife. Can someone really be so insensitive as to suggest that such a thing as this actually brings happiness? Or that the ephemeral pleasure afforded to Mr. Woods and his mistress(es) can somehow weigh against the lifetime of shame to be born both by Mr. Woods and his family?

Many of my students, mostly Thai women to begin with, have suffered this sort of affair at some point in their lives. Many Thai men seem to think it a cause for boasting that one has many "junior wives" - a euphemism for mistress. There would really be no problem if one were open and honest about such things, giving all parties involved equal footing and opportunity to engage or detach as they choose. Doing this behind someone's back is worse than improper, it is downright sinister. Marriage is a promise, a reassurance, a moral endeavour, if you will, taken on by two individuals as a guarantee of a stable and peaceful life together. If one wishes to engage in such affairs as these, there is no reasonable stance to take apart from the requirement that one break any previous engagement first.

Q. How can Buddhism help someone in this situation?

It is really incredible that Buddhism seems to have received some of the flack for Tiger Woods' infidelity, as though, at the least, Buddhism has nothing to say about this subject or any teachings to offer as a means to avoid or address this sort of thing. The first thing anyone, anywhere, learns about Buddhism is the four noble truths; that craving leads to suffering, and that the only way out of suffering lies in giving up craving. The fourth noble truth in Buddhism is not just a statement of fact, it is a systematic breakdown of the entire eight-step program to freedom from craving and freedom from the suffering it brings. EVERYTHING we teach in Buddhism is aimed at dealing with these sorts of problems. The only criticism one might have of Buddhism in this regard is not that it doesn't teach a way out of this sort of mess, but rather that it is, or has been in this instance, ineffective.

I think Mr. Woods' earlier quote (July 2000) that "I believe in Buddhism. Not every aspect, but most of it. So I take bits and pieces. I don't believe that human beings can achieve ultimate enlightenment, because humans have flaws." really answers this question. As I've said before, he seems to have thought at the time that it is impossible to become free from such addiction, and so it should be of little surprise to Buddhists that he acted out on his personal addictions. He seems to have changed his mind, though, having entered into addiction therapy - let's hope it's not just to appease the Christian public.

Q. Why doesn't Tiger Woods undergo Buddhist practice as a means to overcome his addiction?

This is my own question. Here Mr. Woods has the finest system of addiction therapy known to the history of humankind. It has proven so effective as to produce a celibate monastic lineage which, though full of examples of failure and simple fraud, is also full of examples of human perseverance where human beings have managed to separate physical hormonal systems from the mental reaction to them and totally overcome all craving and addiction. And instead, he's in Mississippi? What gives? If Tiger really wanted to find answers to his life's problems, lust and anger inclusive, my advice, and it's only a drop in a very large barrel of advice, is to go to Wat Metta in San Diego where his mother is already one of the biggest sponsors, and ordain under Ajaan Thanissaro. Spend a month meditating in solitude and actually find some answers to these questions. Man, that would really show he was sincere.

And it would certainly beat these silly Christians who seem to think that somehow God is going to come down and help this man with his temptations if only he accepts Jesus Christ into his heart... oh, wait, I forgot... to Christians, these sort of things are inconsequential, as long as you're Christian. Sorry, Elin.

Finally, here's another Tiger Woods quote I posted some two years ago:

"I can see now how some of the pivotal points of Buddhism are applying to my life," says Woods, who wears a gold Buddha around his neck. "Staying balanced and calm and internally strong. The key thing is that you meditate to discover and rectify the faults within yourself, and not rely on others to bail you out. In my position, that's very important."


If only he had taken himself seriously.