Monday, February 22, 2010

Tiger, Buddhism & America

A fascinating article by Stephen Prothero looks at Tiger Woods & his apology in the light of his religion.

Some excerpts:
Until Friday, when Tiger Woods stood up in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and apologized for his sexual infidelities, the American public confession was a Christian rite. From President Grover Cleveland, who likely fathered a child out of wedlock, to Ted Haggard, who resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals after allegations that he had sex with a male prostitute, our politicians and preachers have bowed and scraped in Christian idioms. Jimmy Carter spoke of "adultery in my heart." Jimmy Swaggart spoke of "my sin" and "my Savior." In any case, the model derives from evangelical Christianity — the revival and the altar call. You confess you are a sinner. You repent of your sins. You turn to Christ to make yourself new.

The key moment in Woods' statement came at the end, when, in an effort to make sense of his behavior, he turned not to Christian theologies of sin but to Buddhist teachings about craving. Whereas Christianity seeks to solve the problem of sin, Buddhism seeks to solve the problem of suffering. Buddhists observe that suffering arises from a 12-fold chain of interlocking causes and effects. Among these causes is craving. We crave this woman or that car because we think that getting her or it will make us happy. But this craving only ties us into an unending cycle of misery, because even if we get what we want there is always something more to crave — another woman or another man, a faster car or a bigger house.

In an elegant distillation of the Buddha's dharma (teaching), Woods said, "Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security." Here he is obviously describing his craving for sexual encounters with beautiful women. But he is also describing our collective obsession with the next new thing.

As Woods recognized, the money and fame that came with celebrity made it easy for him to fulfill his temptations. But we Americans who can only dream of such money and fame also possess an unparalleled ability to satisfy craving upon craving. Ours is the richest country in the history of the world, and our core values derive at least as much from consumer capitalism as from Christian faith. Advertisers are forever conjuring up new desires and promising us that their products will satisfy them. Our cravings, however, are endless good news for big business, not such good news for human happiness.

When Woods said he "stopped living by the core values" he was "taught to believe in," he was referring not to Christian values but to the Thai Buddhist values instilled in him by his mother, who was in the room with her son in Florida in a show of support. When he vowed to change his life, it wasn't to turn to Christianity but to return to Buddhism. He actively practiced Buddhism from childhood, he said, but "drifted away from it in recent years," forgetting its crucial observation that craving is overcome not by self-indulgence but by self-control. Buddhism "teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint," he said. "Obviously I lost track of what I was taught."
Read the whole article here. (Its worth it!)

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