Tiger Woods, Buddhism, and Atonement

Unless you live under a rock, you know about Tiger Woods’ apology last Friday.  Many people have said many things about this apology and about his well-publicized dalliances.  I want to focus on only two portions and point out what I believe to be an inconsistency.  I am not critiquing his sincerity or even the quality of his apology.  I am only looking at the logic behind a couple of his statements. First, let’s look at a quote regarding Tiger’s Buddhist faith.

I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don't realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. 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.

Tiger has accurately stated the point of his faith.  Buddhism teaches that the major problem with the world is suffering, suffering comes as a result of desiring, and the way to end suffering is to stop desiring.  I will only point out briefly here that if Tiger ends his desire to be the greatest golfer of all time it would do major damage to his career.  So I doubt that he will end all desire.  Desire is where ambition comes from and ambition has made him a truly great golfer.

The greater inconsistency in the speech came earlier when Tiger said the following:

“For all that I have done, I am so sorry. I have a lot to atone for”

Atonement means making up for the wrong a person has done.

Here is why I see a great inconsistency with Tiger’s statement.  According to Buddhism, there is no need for atonement.  That is what karma and reincarnation are for.  If what you have done is wrong, the universe will handle it.  There is no need to try to make up for bad deeds and no point in trying.  Also, the universe, or the oneness of Buddhism is impersonal and therefore cannot be wronged, again making atonement unnecessary..

This is one of the many reasons that Christianity is beautiful.  When we do wrong, we know innately that we have wronged God.  The message of Christianity is not that God will “get even” that way that karma will, but rather that, through faith in Christ, all the work of atonement has been done already.  We cannot atone for our wrong actions, but Christ already has.