Apr
17
2010
My Buddhist Tiger Column at ESPN.com
By Stephanie Wei under General

It went live on Saturday morning. Read it here. The comments are kind of entertaining to read over, too.

One of the most interesting things I discussed with Buddhists was whether Tiger Woods’ cursing was contradictory to the religion’s teachings. For good measure, I have excerpted the paragraph leading up to it (because I enjoyed writing it and I feel like being narcissistic):

Surrounded by the intoxicating dogwoods along the hallowed fairways of Augusta National, Nantz expressed his “disappointment” and presented a flurry of biting questions to analyst Nick Faldo about what he perceived to be Woods’ breaking his word. Simultaneously, the Twitter-sphere exploded with 140-character sound bytes, ranging from outrage to jokes to snarky criticism that Woods’ language was contradicting Buddhist values.

Before Woods could stomp up the seventh fairway, where another, less pronounced “Dammit!” slipped, the now-infamous “Tiger Woods, you suck!” video had been posted on YouTube and was making its way around the blogosphere — along with fiery comments both defending and chastising him.

Would a Buddhist consider Woods’ outburst to be against the religion’s teachings? Not necessarily.

“People shouldn’t be too harsh on [Woods],” said the Venerable Dhammadipa Fa Yao, the abbot — or spiritual leader — of Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, N.Y. “If he wants to yell, it’s his way of expressing his emotions. It doesn’t mean he’s not Buddhist. As a human, we can’t expect him to be perfect.

“From a monk’s perspective, there are two thoughts, the first being that he shouldn’t have done that because it spoils the image of Buddhism. Another would say everyone has their own karma. He should do as they like as long as it doesn’t intentionally hurt anyone else.”

Another interpretation? Live and learn.

“Everybody makes mistakes, but it’s how we react to them,” Bradley added. “Buddhism leaves you with ways to reflect on them. When the outcome of our actions isn’t ideal, we’ll try to act differently the next time. It’s not a good idea to have temper tantrums. But it’s not a moralistic thing; it’s just a piece of advice.”

As for my favorite deleted scenes from my research? When I sat down in Fa Yao’s office — he was kind enough to grant me some of his valuable extra time during the meditation retreat — I asked him, “Do you know about what’s going on with Tiger Woods?”

He chuckled (a lot), “I just know he slept with lots of women.”

So, let’s say, Tiger is at a tournament without his wife and feels the impulse again. What should he do? Fa Yao candidly said he wouldn’t be surprised if Tiger messed up again.

“[Tiger] didn’t do this once or twice,” said Fa Yao. “He really has to put more effort to stop. If he can really do it, then it will be really great because that will show he’s really determined and the power of meditation. If he doesn’t have much time at meditation, it shows he’s really good at it…meditation, I mean.”

“When I say I’m not surprised, I think he’ll definitely try to reduce [the number of women he sleeps with],” Fa Yao explained.

Yeah, I seriously had that discussion with a Buddhist abbot. He’s awesome. Thanks to Fa Yao for teaching me meditation techniques and taking the time to explain Buddhist principles — particularly how they apply to Tiger.

Oh, who knew Buddhist spiritual leaders were adept in text messaging, too? Earlier in the week, I tried to call him to ask him follow-up questions and left him a voicemail. Later that night I received a text from a number I didn’t recognize, saying, “Sorry, just got back to CYM. Just let me know when you like to call again. Hope I still can help.”

It took me a second to realize CYM stood for Chuang Yen Monastery and it was Fa Yao.

Another interesting tidbit — in my first meeting with him, he offered without my prompting, “I think he meditates. I can tell. I’ve watched him on TV before. It’s easy to know that he meditates. When someone does something and their eyes don’t move much, it means he’s doing meditation.”

He went on to say it was hard to explain, but anyone who practices meditation on a high level, like a Buddhist monk, would be able to tell. He said, “[Tiger] has a heavier feeling. His eyes are sharper, it’s a powerful look. Sometimes the eyes can kill you. You can almost feel a dart shooting through.”

What about redemption?

“There’s no ‘redemption’ in Buddhism,” Fa Yao said. “We believe that once you do something, it’s always there. But you need to understand what you do and that will make the difference of your future karma. Nobody can forgive you. There’s no God where you ask for forgiveness. What Tiger can do is determine his karma by what he does in the future. If he changes, the bad karma still carries over, but it will not affect him as much.”

That’s it for now. I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on Tiger’s temper. But as I say in the ESPN piece, I think we should give him a bit of a break — he’s not going to quit habits overnight that have been 34 years in the making. And yeah, shit, I can’t believe I’m actually defending him. The meditation retreat must be working.