Brit Hume To Tiger Woods: Drop Buddha, Try Jesus

Earlier this week Fox Correspondent Brit Hume suggested that amidst the Tiger Woods scandal, that Tiger should look toward Christianity for redemption rather Buddhism. But aren't both practices capable of offer it followers redemption? Host Michel Martin speaks with Buddhist Blogger Ethan Nichtern to find out more about Buddhism and redemption.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And finally, we want to talk a bit more about Tiger Woods. His marital problems, which have now become professional problems, have been much in the news. Earlier this week, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume offered some on-air spiritual advice.

Mr. BRIT HUME (Fox News): It's a tragic situation with him. I think he's lost his family, it's not clear to me whether he'll be able to have a relationship with his children, but the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal � the extent to which he can recover � seems to me depends on his faith.

He's said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, Tiger, turn your faith, turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.

MARTIN: Needless to say, the remark sparked an online debate about whether Hume's evangelizing was appropriate, given that it took place during a news and public affairs show. And it has to be said, I don't know that we know what Tiger Wood's particular faith commitment might be, if any.

But the remarks prompted us to ask: what do most Americans really know about Buddhism, its beliefs and its practice? We thought perhaps not that much. So to learn more about Buddhism, we called Ethan Nichtern. He's the host of Beliefnet.com's Buddhist blog, One City, and founding director of the Interdependence Project. That's a nonprofit organization dedicated to Buddhist-inspired meditation and psychology, and he joins us from New York.

Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. ETHAN NICHTERN (Interdependence Project): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Can I ask if there has been a reaction in the Buddhist community to Hume's comment?

Mr. NICHTERN: Yeah. Definitely there's been just among friends and among some of the Buddhist blogs and definitely on our blog on Belief.net, there's definitely been some questioning of, first of all, why he made such a comparative statement and also I think a lot of people felt that him saying that Buddhism doesn't offer a practitioner forgiveness and redemption and healing struck some of the Buddhist friends I have as being a bit off.

MARTIN: You used the word practitioners as opposed to the word believers. Why is that?

Mr. NICHTERN: Because Buddhism is meant to be an actual path of working on one's own mind. It's a practice. I think it's more, especially the way that people, many people practice it at least that I know, it's more akin to, you know, something like a path of yoga. It's in a sense - I think you could draw a correlation between what yoga a practitioner's doing with their body and what a Buddhist meditator is trying to do with their mind, which is to open it, make it more at ease and more available to other people around them.

So to view yourself as a Buddhist means you're actually doing Buddhist practice, and so there's not really an emphasis - not to say that there's any negation, but there's not an emphasis on external sources of belief. It's more a path of self-inquiry and self-examination, and I think that's why it's sometimes been called a science of the mind.

MARTIN: But there hasn't been a kind of a - there's been no sort of central spokesperson figure talking about this. And for example, one can imagine if he were to have said something about Judaism or Catholicism, for example, if he - assuming he's a Protestant - that one would've heard from the Catholic bishops or some large organization, and I wonder whether we haven't heard a similar response from Buddhists speaks to the organization of the religion in this country. Is there any central spokesperson?

Mr. NICHTERN: Well, there's so many, I think, different sects and types of Buddhism and so, you know, obviously the central spokespeople for Buddhism if there are such a thing these days is the Dalai Lama, who's basically the head of Tibetan Buddhism in exile, and then somebody like Thich Nhat Hahn maybe, great Vietnamese Zen monk and activist.

But I'm not sure that there's one central voice because Buddhism is a pretty diverse spiritual or psychological, or if we want to call it, religious tradition. So I think it's a more - leads to a multiplicity of voices.

MARTIN: Is there a central tenet of Buddhism? As you just described, they're several branches, there's a number of different schools. Is there a central tenet?

Mr. NICHTERN: Yeah. Well, I think, you know, I think one way to approach this conversation is to say that some people who practice Buddhism definitely relate to it as a religious tradition, and I think in Asian cultures that's definitely more the case. I think a lot of people who are getting interested in it in the West and in America, and especially in a cosmopolitan place like here in New York City, relate to it more as a psychology, and as some Buddhist teachers have called it, as a science of mind and an ethic system about how you treat yourself mindfully and compassionately and then how you treat other people around you.

So definitely, you know, if we had to break down the most central tenets of Buddhism, it's the Eightfold Path, which is sort of the most central way of saying it. And I often say as a teacher that people have a hard time remembering eight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NICHTERN: So it condenses into sort of three aspects I think that all Buddhists would share, that these three aspects are a part of what it means to be a Buddhist and the sort of central tenets that are shared, which is the study of what the mind is and what reality is; ethical conduct, which is based on acknowledging the truth of interdependence, that your actions matter and that nobody's living in a vacuum separately from the lives of everyone else; and meditation and practice, to try to actually work skillfully with your own mind and open your heart and work with emotions and stress. So those three aspects of ethical conduct, self study and study of the mind and meditation practice are one way of sort of crystallizing what the, I could say, central practices of most or all Buddhist traditions are.

MARTIN: Finally, what about the point that - you've touched on this already, but I wanted to ask you just more explicitly about the point that Brit Hume was saying, that Tiger Woods is unable to, would be less likely to find a path to forgiveness and redemption through Christianity as opposed to Buddhist practice. What would you say about that?

Mr. NICHTERN: Right. Well...

MARTIN: Not commenting so much on his perception but on yours.

Mr. NICHTERN: Yeah. Well, first of all, I think, you know, in fairness to Tiger Woods, I've watched a few of the interviews where he's asked this question and it seems like he says more that he meditates to help on the focus and stress of working with his golf game. That was one interview that I saw, and that's something that I think is accessible to anybody who wants to find Buddhist meditation, is that it could just be a series of techniques if people want to connect with it for working on stress and mindfulness and being more focused in whatever tasks we're doing in our life.

But if in terms of a more in-depth Buddhist practice, you know, I don't want to get into any comparative spiritual religion study. I know that half of my extended family is Christian and I think probably and hopefully both paths offer great forgiveness and redemption. I think the only thing that some Buddhists took exception to is when Brit Hume sort of seemingly assumed that Buddhism does not offer those things, and I'm not sure where that was, what his sort of sense of where he was coming from with that was or why he made that claim.

MARTIN: And do you - and forgive me, I understand that you don't engage in this kind of competitive spirituality, but if Brit Hume offered Tiger Woods some advice, do you have any for him?

Mr. NICHTERN: I really don't have the ability to analyze that situation. I do think he's a powerful voice in the world, and so it'd be nice if all people who have powerful voices in sort of our strange celebrity-obsessed culture, you know, use those voices to bring out the truth of interdependence and more mindfulness and awareness in everybody, but I don't have any specific advice. I'm not really a golf fan. I'm more of a basketball fan myself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Ethan Nichtern is the host of Beliefnet.com's Buddhist blog One City, and he's founding director of the Interdependence Project. That's a nonprofit organization dedicated to Buddhist-inspired meditation and psychology and he joined us from New York.

Thank you so much for speaking with us, a Happy New Year to you.

Mr. NICHTERN: Thanks for having me. Happy New Year.

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