Questions for ... Dr. Joseph Parent

Questions for … Dr. Joseph Parent

Dr. Joseph Parent
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As the author of Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game and Zen Putting: Mastering the Mental Game on the Greens, Dr. Joseph Parent has used Buddhist principles to teach the mental side of the game for the past 40 years.

After the Dalai Lama, Tiger Woods might be the most famous Buddhist in the world after his admission last Friday that he was now going to lean on Buddhism during his long process of healing from sexual addiction and marital infidelity. What kind of Buddhist is Tiger?

Tiger was raised by his mother, Tida, in the “Way of the Elders” or Theravada Buddhism. It’s the dominant form of Buddhism in southern Asia, where she grew up in Thailand. They trace their teachings back to the elders of the first Buddhist community over 2,500 years ago.

Can you fault Tiger for having a God complex? Earl Woods did say in a famous Sports Illustrated interview with Gary Smith that his son would be bigger than Buddha.

Before you can have the influence of a Buddha, you have to become more like a Buddha. Buddha is not a god. He was a human being. Buddha literally means one who is awake. We’re all in some form of sleep and Tiger was in a dream state over the last several years. We have a saying in Buddhism, “Words don’t cook rice.” We’ve heard the words from Tiger about the path that he wants to take, now we have to see the action.

Watching him play golf do you see a Buddhist?

Yes. In Buddhism there is something called mindful awareness, which is about being completely present in the moment. From his breathing and pre-shot routine, you can see in Tiger that level of commitment, presence and focus.

What about all the cursing and club slamming?

Too often Tiger acts like a spoiled brat.

Conduct has to do with compassion, kindness and consideration. It doesn’t mean to suppress emotion, but to channel it in such a way that one could be a good example for others. People have sometimes viewed his on-course tirades as passion, but in the Buddhist path one has to learn to channel this passion into an act of compassion — compassion for one’s self and compassion for others. When he says that’s his passion that’s just an excuse for not applying any discipline.

What does this selfish behavior on the golf course have to do with his bad behavior off of it?

It’s the lack of compassion and awareness of the consequences of his actions that’s gotten him into trouble. When you start to become egotistical and entitled, you start treating people not so well. He acknowledged this in his statement last Friday.

So all this success has driven him to be a serial adulterer and a poor Buddhist?

Buddhism doesn’t say it’s wrong to have desires. It’s when these desires become out of proportion to reality that you start to cause harm to yourself and others.

How important is to have people in your life who share some of these principles like compassion and mindfulness and awareness? Tiger’s caddie Steve Williams has said that he doesn’t plan to change anything about the way he sometimes crudely protects his boss on the course.

A player isn’t just responsible for his or herself. They are also responsible for their caddie. If Steve acts like a jerk it reflects poorly on Tiger. A part of the caddie’s vigilance and responsibility is to be a protector of his player. But it’s not appropriate for Steve or any caddie to threaten or beat up a heckler.

Tiger has said that he is by nature a control freak. How can this be in sync with Buddhism?

Tiger has definitely tried too hard to control his environment and to control the world to fulfill his wants and needs. It’s an egotistical need. As a Buddhist he needs to transform that controlling energy that’s made him such a wildly successful and self-disciplined golfer into a more compassionate and giving person. For him it has to be about channeling negative energies into positive ones — passion to compassion. He’s already done a lot of that with his learning center and his foundation.

Is Tiger a bad person?

We are all inherently good people. Tiger doesn’t need to find wisdom or compassion. It’s already inside of him. It’s just been corrupted into selfishness and addiction.

Give me an anecdote from your book Zen Golf that might help Tiger on the golf course?

It’s called Chi Chi’s prayer. Chi Chi Rodriguez was once asked if he ever prays to make a putt. Chi answered, “No, I pray that I will respond well if I miss.”

Can Tiger change?

Well he’s already taken the first step by making a confession. And now through therapy, he’s made it clear he wants to make amends for his actions and ultimately to make a sincere effort to change. Yet through all of this though he can’t lose his sense of the basic goodness that we all have in ourselves. In other words, the person that he wants to be is already there.

Is Tiger’s pursuit of major championships and Jack’s record of 18 majors anathema to this process of healing?

The most important thing is putting things into the proper perspective. Having records and winning tournaments is something that you do but it’s not who you are. If you ask Jack Nicklaus “Are all of those wins who you are?” He would tell you, “Hell, no.” That’s the distinction that Tiger has to make. Tiger has to be driven more by giving than winning tournaments. Arnold Palmer won a lot of tournaments, but he was always more giving to his fans.

Could all this talk about compassion and giving make Tiger less of a menace on the golf course?

No, I think that this is a mistaken idea. I think that becoming a more complete and whole person will help him better accomplish those goals because he will have peace of mind.

How was he able then to win so much and have this double life?

He compartmentalized so that he wasn’t the same person that went around with the women in after hours when he was on the golf course. So he had peace of mind on the golf course, but I think that began to erode this past year. I’m just speculating, but in 2009 I think things began to pile up where it became very difficult for him to compartmentalize.

What will Tiger the Buddhist look like?

I think the biggest difference that we’ll see from the Tiger on the golf course is how he conducts himself after a shot and how gracious and giving he is to fans whether he shots 65 or 75. He doesn’t need to lose his intensity and focus, just how he responds to adversity and change.

Outside of your books, what three Buddhist-related tracts should Tiger have in his golf bag?

A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield; Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa; and Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh.

In your book Zen Putting you have something called the 'Sandwich of the Day,' which you believe could help Tiger through this. Could you explain it?

The Path is the goal. It’s starting every day with the intention of being aware, present and compassionate all through the day. Through the day you keep checking in and when you wander off into unhealthy trains of thought, you bring yourself back to the present and to your values. And at the end of the day you reflect on how you did.

Dr. Joseph Parent’s books can be purchased on