by Alfred Bloom, Emeritus Professor, University of Hawaii
Widespread attention has been given to the suggestion by Brit Hume that Tiger Woods should turn to Christianity for forgiveness and redemption said not to be present in Tiger’s Buddhist background. Some Buddhist responses have asserted that Buddhism is quite adequate to deal with his spiritual and social problem, without commenting on the difference between Buddhist and Christian approaches.
Buddhism and Christianity operate with differing understandings of spiritual reality. Many Christians believe fervently that God is the supreme judge and savior. Our human problems come about because we violate God’s laws. Without accepting the salvation offered by Jesus, the incarnation of God’s love, we stand under his judgment with its attendant consequences. If we do not accept his love, we will receive his wrath. The dilemma is how can we love someone we fear?
In the Buddhist approach we are fundamentally ignorant and deluded about our true natures. We are caught up in our egoism, misunderstanding our lives and the world. We believe that we are independent beings, charting our own course of life. We fail to see that we are consumed by lust, greed and hatred arising from our own egos. Consequently, we blindly cause suffering to ourselves and others.
Buddhism does not view salvation is given by a God, but is an emancipation or liberation from the egoism, fundamental ignorance and delusion that engulf and enflame their lives. Not sin, but ignorance, spiritual blindness is the issue in Buddhism. We do not rebel against God so much as violate our true nature as human being. The consequence for error is interwoven with the error itself and called the law of karma or cause and effect. Here the punishment fits the crime.
Therefore Buddhism does not talk about forgiveness for violating the law of God or Buddha, but rather that the Buddha accepts us as we are and guides us through meditation and spiritual discipline in the direction of fruitful or beneficial actions to help ourselves and others, by creating good karma. Acceptance is not condoning an act. Things are wrong for Buddhists as they are for Christians. Further, punishment and retribution from a God are not always the most effective means to prevent wrong actions.
Forgiveness is a-symmetrical. The forgiver is always superior to the forgiven, standing above the forgiven. Acceptance recognizes that the difference between the perpetrator and myself are the life conditions that brought about the opportunity for evil. We all have the same potentiality for evil. By acceptance, we acknowledge the essential equality of the person and judge with fairness and understanding in dealing with the crime.
Tiger Woods’ seclusion from the public is acknowledgement of his error. Acceptance by the public would indicate that any of us could be in that position. Therefore, we should express our hope that Tiger can return to society through self-inspection with a teacher and direct his life positively toward restoring his family and benefiting society, rather than pursuing his own egoistic goals.
Buddhism, as well as Christianity, is capable of bringing about the inner transformation which Tiger requires to set him on a new path. Hopefully he will receive adequate spiritual and personal counseling that will renew his life.