ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The religious bracelet on Tiger Woods’ left arm during his brief television interviews is a fairly common symbol of Buddhism, experts on the faith say.
The two thin bands encircling Woods’ wrist came up Sunday, near the end of his interview with Golf Channel reporter Kelly Tilghman. Woods also spoke to ESPN. The interviews were his first since Woods’ serial infidelity became known late last year and he began undergoing therapy.
Tilghman said she noticed the bracelet and asked what it meant.
“It’s Buddhist,” Woods said, referring to his childhood faith. “It’s for protection and strength. And I certainly need that,”
Woods explained that he had been wearing the bracelet since before he went into treatment, and that he would wear it during the Masters. Beyond that, he didn’t further discuss its significance or origin.
However, it is common for Buddhists to wear such items as a reminder of their faith, said Jimmy Yu, professor of Buddhist and Chinese Studies at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
“Sometimes Buddhists, when they receive some kind of initiation into a certain practice, especially in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, they would be given a red thread, (to) go around the wrist,” said Yu. “It sounds like this is what he was wearing.”
Wearing bracelets, necklaces or other reminders of their faith are fairly common for practitioners of Buddhism, Yu said.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Web sites sell Buddhist jewelry, from 24-karat gold Buddha necklaces to simple wooden malas, or prayer beads, that practitioners can use while meditating.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong created a sensation with his yellow Livestrong bracelets, which the cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France winner has used to promote a healthy lifestyle. But those wrist bands are decidedly secular.
What Woods was wearing, experts say, was a “protection cord” that was likely blessed by a Buddhist monk or lama. Sometimes Buddhists receive one if they have made a donation to a monastery, or if they have participated in a ceremony.
The Dalai Lama, the world’s best-known Buddhist, sometimes gives red protection cords to people who attend his talks and teachings.
“The protection cords are pretty pan-Buddhist,” said Sara Blumenthal, director of student service and public information for the Portland, Ore.-based Maitripa College, a Buddhist school. “They are particularly popular in Thailand. Even many Thais who may not particularly identify as Buddhist, many may also wear protection cords. Culturally, they have power.”
Blumenthal explained that the cords are usually worn until they fall off, which could explain why the strings around Woods’ wrist were a faded pink hue.
Woods, who was raised Buddhist – his mother is Thai – told the Golf Channel that he had “quit” being a Buddhist, and that’s when his troubles started.
“And my life changed upside down. I felt I was entitled, which I never had felt before. And consequently, I hurt so many people by my own reckless attitude and behavior.”
Darren Littlejohn, a Buddhist and Portland, Oregon-based author of “The 12 Step Buddhist,” a book about addiction recovery, said such protection cords are reminders of a Buddhist’s faith and evolving spiritual path.
“If it’s worn, whether as a gift or given specifically from a teacher, it’s kept in close contact with the skin,” said Littlejohn. “It’s a conscious reminder of faith, and it’s most definitely not to show the world ‘I’m a Buddhist.'”