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The Spiritual Side of Celebrities: Tiger Woods on Losing and Finding Buddhism

Tiger Woods. From Wikimedia Commons

The name “Eldrick Tont Woods” probably doesn’t ring a bell in anyone’s mind, even though it’s the given name of a modern-day legend. Add in a few white balls, a lush green golf course and the bright smile you vaguely remember from any of the world golf championships . . . and lo! The memory bells ring Woods. . . Tiger Woods?

Indeed, the sports icon from California is one of the best professional golfers to have emerged in recent times. Born in California in 1975, Woods’s parents were Earl Woods, a lieutenant colonel in the United States army, who passed away in 2006, and Kultida Punsawad, originally from Thailand. Woods rose to golfing fame when he turned professional in 1996. A smart choice, as there was no looking back for the ace sportsman. His website states that to date he has won no less than 105 tournaments, and after “winning the 2000 British Open . . . became the youngest to complete the career Grand Slam of professional major championships and only the fifth ever to do so.”

Putting aside the clubs, a closer look at Tiger Woods’s life reveals his personal and spiritual beliefs. Unbeknown to many, Woods was raised as a Buddhist by this Thai mother. He claims that the religion profoundly affected his childhood. In an article exploring the sportsman’s religious affiliation, CBS News reported that Woods told Sports Illustrated in 1996, “I believe in Buddhism. Not every aspect, but most of it. So I take bits and pieces. I don’t believe that human beings can achieve ultimate enlightenment, because humans have flaws. In 2008, he revealed to Reuters and The Sunday Times that he practiced meditation and had attended a temple with his mother. Woods spoke more about Buddhism as a fundamental undertaking for each of us: “In the Buddhist religion you have to work for it yourself, internally, in order to achieve anything in life and set up the next life.

In a downturn in his personal life, Woods’s comments from 1996 were reflected in his actions when, in 2010, he was accused of being unfaithful to his wife, Elin Nordegren. It was during this tumultuous period that he connected most strongly with his spiritual upbringing. In his public apology, Buddhism shone as the force that made Woods realize his mistake. According to CNN, he explained that “Buddhism teaches that a craving of 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.” 

Apology accepted or not, Woods clearly has a strong connection to the ancient religion. His marriage ended in 2010, amid a shower of public accusations and personal misgivings. Through the emotional upheaval and disappointment to his fans, Woods turned to his spiritual side for comfort and strength.

As a child, Woods’s mother had made a point to make the Buddhist teachings, with their emphasis on mindfulness, an integral part of his life. He even slept near a mother-of-pearl Buddha, a gift from his Thai grandfather. When on shaky moral ground, he turned to the traditions and beliefs of his past. Woods’s apology was deemed heartfelt by those who felt they saw his spiritual side truly awaken. In an interview on his religiousness, John Kornfield, a well-known Buddhist teacher in California, told CNN, “You’re always beginning again in the Buddhist tradition. . . . You see that you’re causing harm, you repent and ask forgiveness in some formal or informal way, and you start again.” Buddhism’s focus on the cessation of suffering and harmlessness has been reflected in Woods’s actions ever since.

Quoting from The Hollowverse, a website discussing the religious and political views of celebrities, Woods once said, “Buddhism teaches that a creation of things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security.” By following the Buddhist path, it is certain that one can achieve a simpler and more mindful path in life. Woods was destined to carve himself a place in golfing history, and his choices and beliefs have helped him do so. His parents always had a strong belief in him, and on one occasion his father reportedly stated, “Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity. . . . He is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations.”

Whether or not he has changed the course of humanity, Tiger Woods has made it more than apparent that his life choices have propelled him to the top of every (golfing) nation.

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