Nothing like a good religious debate to get the new year off to a lively start. On Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume said this:
Whether he can recover as a person depends on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, “Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”
This launched an inevitable kerfuffle. I wrote Fox News about it, and I’m sure that Brit will get some interesting and amusing hate mail. But Brit didn’t say anything hateful, or even ill-intentioned — just something not very knowledgeable.
I’ll grant that Buddhism doesn’t offer a transcendental superior being who can forgive sin and redeem someone. The thing is, Buddhism doesn’t actually provide the concept of “sin,” either, not even original sin. All Buddhism teaches is that there is ignorance of the way things work, and suffering that is a consequence of that ignorance. There are some things which lead to greater peace of mind, and others which lead to less peace of mind. Practicing the things which lead to peace of mind really only does one thing: it gives you greater peace of mind.
Right up there on the list of things that lead to losing peace of mind is illicit wick-dipping, which is why one of the Buddhist precepts is “avoid sexual misconduct.” This isn’t necessarily a demand for celibacy — where would little Buddhists come from? — but it is a suggestion that there are times when it’s important to know when to keep it zipped.
Tiger has recently been exposed as someone who, shall we say, might have been more diligent in keeping that particular precept. Naturally, this has disturbed his peace of mind, caused him shame, very possibly lost him his marriage, and cost him a whole lot of money.
But there’s more. Think about Tiger’s life prior to his sexual misconduct being revealed. Listen to the voice mail where he begs one of his lovers to change the caller ID on her phone because his wife has found her number. He sounds frightened, harassed, breathless. Lacking in peace of mind.
Imagine his life before the story came out — at home with his beautiful wife and kids, but thinking about his cocktail waitresses and how to continue his affairs. Or on the road, with one of his girlfriends, looking for dark corners and knowing what he was risking.
And then there was the part where he got the crap beaten out of him with a nine iron.
Hume’s right that Buddhism doesn’t offer Tiger forgiveness from a deity or redemption. All Buddhism can do is remind him that he’s responsible for his actions and the consequences of those actions (the real meaning of karma) and remind him that his suffering now is one of those consequences. With that comes the recognition that you need to make amends to those you’ve hurt and try to remedy your behavior in the future.
Maybe that’s not as good as being forgiven and redeemed, but to me it seems a lot more productive.