The Buddha and the Rugby Player

I picked up The Times newspaper on Saturday, October 22, 2007. It had a rather large picture of Johnny Wilkinson, the handsome and much loved English rugby footballer, who was playing with the English team in the World Rugby Finals in Paris that afternoon.

In the previous World Rugby Finals in Australia, four years ago, Johnny scored the winning points in the very last seconds of the match against Australia. English fans went ballistic. Wilkinson joined the Realm of the Gods in sport.

In large print on the photograph on the front page, it said: “Buddha and Me. Johnny Wilkinson exclusive. I had to buy a copy of the paper.

What Johnny told The Times reporter will be familiar to many Dharma friends. He said: “I’ve been dealing with emotions that I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand how I could sit there with all these thoughts going through my mind. Nothing was going the way I wanted it to and I was thinking: I can’t deal with feeling like this ….

Johnny Wilkinson continued: “Don’t get me wrong. Don’t think ‘Johnny’s now a Buddhist.’ I am not. I have just been finding a direction, learning different ways at looking at life and taking bits I could use and discarding bits I could not.

“The Buddhist principles have been fascinating. How does all of that impact on a game of rugby? I can’t answer that. All I know is it’s enough to help me to proceed to make me happy…I’m trying to think for the moment right now. Turning my mind to the consequences of them is not the right place for me to go.”

Later that day England played South Africa in the final. And lost. It was a huge disappointment for Johnny Wilkinson and the rest of the team.

Other newspapers picked up on the story in The Times. Reporters asked him how he responded to the defeat. He said he joined his team mates and consoled himself with a few drinks.

Phew. Good to know, he’s human!

Mind you a little inquiry into the two worldly conditions, namely winning and losing, could be insightful to establish equanimity.

Johnny could also have reflected on the delight of the victory for South Africa in the poor townships of Soweto. Most of the South African players are white. The rugby facilities for the majority of poor South African citizens are minimal. The win will encourage more young men in the black community to develop their rugby skills.

Perhaps one of them will join the Realm of the Gods. It’s a man’s game.

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