If, as Samuel Johnson noted, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then religion is the emergency contingency plan of the discovered philanderer.
Whether it’s a president redefining “sexual relations” or a governor redefining “hiking the Appalachian Trail,” you can bet there will be a huddle with a religious advisor followed by proclamations of rediscovered faith.
So it came as no surprise as Tiger Woods wound down his prepared statement Friday that he invoked his Buddhist upbringing, lamented straying from its Eightfold (Cart) Path and vowed a return to adhering to the tenets of his religion.
(Must be nice for all the people of faith who lead moral lives, knowing that whenever one of these lying, cheating rakes gets caught he’ll shove his way into their temple and ask to be sprayed with the disinfectant of forgiveness.)
“Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security,” said Woods. “It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught.”
And lost track. And lost track. And lost track. Presumably to the point of chafing.
Tiger, you see, is Siddhartha, the Buddhist seeker accumulating human experience on his way to enlightenment. Dominating at Augusta, breaking Rocco Mediate’s heart in a playoff, clandestine assignations with Jaimee Grubbs, Holly Sampson, Joslyn James, et al., were all part of his spiritual journey.
How can you know where the Tantric Path leads if you don’t go down it again and again and again? (And one has to admit there is an allure to a belief system that posits, “The hidden potency of sexual union is the seed of all creativity.”)
In Hermann Hesse’s novel, young Siddhartha begins his journey by leaving the comforts of his Brahmin family and becoming an ascetic, denying himself all worldly pleasures.
These are Tiger’s solitary hours, days, years on the range, monotonously perfecting his game through mind-numbing – mind-clearing? – repetition. Self-denial and discipline, combined with his extraordinary talent, made Tiger the greatest golfer of all time.
He even refers obliquely to this sacrifice in Friday’s statement.
“I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me,” said Woods.
And so he did.
In Hesse’s novel Siddhartha strays from the ascetic life of a Samana and indulges in matters of the flesh with the prostitute Kamala.
“Siddhartha said nothing, and they played the game of love, one of the thirty or forty different games Kamala knew. Her body was flexible like that of a jaguar and like the bow of a hunter; he who had learned from her how to make love, was knowledgeable of many forms of lust, many secrets. For a long time, she played with Siddhartha, enticed him, rejected him, forced him, embraced him: enjoyed his masterful skills, until he was defeated and rested exhausted by her side.”
(Kamala wore out Siddhartha the way Hesse wore out commas.)
Siddhartha emerges from this self-debasement, no doubt wobbly in the legs, and returns to the righteous path.
And so, too, did Tiger disappear into a lust as deep as a St. Andrews pot bunker.
Tiger didn’t want to cut any corners on this leg of his journey. So he lay down repeatedly, exhaustively with, what, 14 Kamalas just to make sure the self-debasement took. This is not a guy who was ever going to be satisfied by a medium bucket.
Siddhartha learns that experience is the best way to achieve understanding of reality and attain enlightenment. And if experience moves one toward enlightenment, then – perhaps as Tiger has learned — kinky, ravenous, prodigious experience can only speed the process.
When the desires of his body rage out of control, Siddhartha flees Kamala in shame and contemplates suicide at the river’s edge. But upon seeing his reflection in the water he is reminded of the innocent boy he once was and decides instead to live a simple life at the riverside with the ferryman, Vasudeva.
And this is where we found Tiger on Friday. He has renounced the previous chapter of his life and appears to crave not just forgiveness, or a mulligan, but a simple life by the river with his family.
“Experience is a brutal teacher,” remarked C.S. Lewis. “But you learn. My God, do you learn.”
And of all the teachers Tiger has had in his life – father, mother, Butch Harmon, etc. – none could have conveyed the brutal lessons of these last few months the way experience has.
Hesse said in an interview, “My Siddhartha does not, in the end, learn true wisdom from any teacher, but from a river that roars in a funny way and from a kindly old fool who always smiles and is secretly a saint.”
A funny river and a kindly old saint? Rae’s Creek and Arnold Palmer?
Whatever Tiger’s faith, whatever his path, let’s hope it leads him back to a golf course soon.