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Tiger's Faith-Road Home

By Rusty Wright, Founder of Rusty Wright Communications
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Tiger gets religion?

Tiger Woods publically apologized to his family, friends, and fans for behavior he labeled "irresponsible," "selfish," and "foolish." He confessed to unfaithfulness, affairs, and cheating, calling them "wrong." He expressed remorse and took responsibility. "It's up to me to start living a life of integrity," affirmed the Associated Press' Athlete of the Decade.

Debates about his scripted, no-questions-allowed announcement method aside, I must admire his admission of blame and commitment to change. I wish him success and hope he and his family get the space and support they need to heal.

Matters of belief and faith figured prominently in Tiger's statement. His request of friends and fans who once believed in him: "I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again." Central to his recovery, he explained, would be Buddhism, learned at his mother's knee, from which he admitted drifting:

"Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught."

Straying Son

Not the first son who's strayed from his parents' counsel.

"In therapy," he continued, "I've learned the importance of looking at my spiritual life and keeping in balance with my professional life. I need to regain my balance and be centered so I can save the things that are most important to me - my marriage and my children."

Television political analyst Brit Hume ignited a firestorm in January by recommending Christian faith rather than Buddhism for Tiger. Hume himself had embraced faith in Christ in the wake of his son's suicide.

Years ago, on an island in the middle of a river in Seoul, Korea, I heard a wise and influential spiritual leader from India explain that actually there are several intriguing similarities between certain types of Buddhism and Christian beliefs.

Intriguing Similarities

To paraphrase his lesson, many Buddhists believe in Four Noble Truths. The first is that suffering is universal. Followers of Jesus also believe that suffering is everywhere and needs a solution.

The second noble truth is that suffering is caused by evil desire or craving, as Tiger mentioned. Jesus and his disciples also spoke of selfishness and "sin," meaning self-centeredness or "missing the mark."

The third noble truth is that we eliminate suffering by eliminating craving. Similarly, a biblical perspective maintains that solving the selfishness problem could alleviate much suffering.

Buddhism's fourth noble truth is that we eliminate craving by following the Eightfold Path: right understanding, right aspiration, right behavior, etc. Here is where a Christian might suggest an alternative to self-improvement based on human efforts alone.

Power to Change

For many years, I tried to improve myself by seeking to think and do the right thing. I was frustrated because I lacked the power to completely control my attitudes, thoughts, and actions.

Then some friends in university told me the biblical God could forgive me as a free gift, based on Jesus' death and resurrection, and provide the inner strength I needed. One early believer wrote of his life's challenges, "I labor, struggling with all his [Jesus'] energy, which so powerfully works in me."

Of course, just as no Buddhist is perfect, so no Christian is perfect. Sadly, nowadays some Christian politicians rival fallen televangelists in the sexual hypocrisy sweepstakes. Someone who discovers a source of strength still has to choose daily to tap into it.

I pray that Tiger can mend his marriage and his life. He may find that he needs an inner power that transcends human capabilities, something supernatural.

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

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