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Author of this essay:

Abbot John
(June 14, 2007)

by Abbot John

Editor's note: Abbot John's adventures on the greens have touched the hearts of our Irish brethren. With pleasure we reprint a little compliment to Erin's golfing opportunities.

I like to think there was a nice golf course in Benares where the Buddha went whenever Ananda's amorous exploits or the hierarchical infighting that plagues every religious organization got a bit too much for him to handle. And with his supreme powers of concentration and projection he could pack those troubles into a little white sphere, perch it on a tee, and whack that sucker a few hundred yards straight down the fairway. I'd have given a lot to see him with his driver resting on his shoulder as he cupped a hand over his eyes to shade his view of trouble's flight. Hell, I'd have caddied for him.

You can learn a lot on a golf course. And when it comes to pacifying the psyche, it is better than Thorazine.

In my former persona which I abandoned last week, I was always too busy with the things of the world to take up golf. So when I finally attained the spiritual backbone to turn away from mundane things, I gave myself a new name - "Abbot Hu" (pronounced "who"). The choice was no doubt influenced by my fondness for an old Abbot and Costello routine. Ok. Ok. So "hu" means Tiger in Chinese. That has to be a coincidence.

golf ball http://www.discovergolf.info/

At any rate, let it be known throughout the Triple Worlds that I, Abbot Hu, have taken up golf. I can be found walking around cultivated yet strangely wild parks in silence, trailed by an amused load bearer.

On my first foray onto the links, I engaged a caddy named Vic. Vic practices Zazen; a detail I learned when he commented that I swung a club like a Kyosaku stick. "Maybe you're trying to awaken the ball's inner nature," Vic said. It gave me something to think about.

As in life, itself, weird things can happen on a golf course. On my first day I learned a lesson that is applicable to many disciplines: Expect nothing, and you will not be disappointed; and be prepared for everything. I had thought that especially since I was playing one-on-one, I was prepared to play myself. Over a few days' time, I had whacked seven buckets of balls at a driving range and putted with amazing accuracy on my bedroom carpet. Confident, then, I drove to a public course to make my debut. And that is when I engaged Vic Roshi. We walked side-by-side, talking softly, in the old tradition of master and disciple. He, unlike my wife, admired the new clubs I had acquired at no small expense. Like Virgil and Dante, we did our peripatetic thing for a few holes, the word "mulligan" being incorporated seamlessly into our conversation.

red_fox http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/

Then, as I took my second or third shot on a particularly wooded hole, a baby fox ran out of the woods and attacked my golf ball. He jumped on it like it was a mouse, tumbling over with it in a nice tight summersault. Then he dropped the ball and jumped back into the bushes. A moment later he poked his head out and attacked the ball again. Brazenly, he kept the ball in his mouth and looked me straight in the eye just before he lept for joy, heading right to the edge of the trees to watch me finish the hole with a different ball. Vic and I, but not the players behind us, thought this was an amusing incident.

groundhog http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/

On the very next hole, one of my shots went a little to the right and disappeared for moment into the rough. As Vic and I walked towards the area in which it had vanished, it reappeared with a fuzzy head pushing it up out of a hole. It seems the ball had rolled down into the vestibule of a groundhog's home; and she didn't welcome the trash. Like Sisyphus she struggled until with a final effort she got the ball over the opening's rim. Although she could not be sure it was I who put the trash there to begin with, she looked at me suspiciously as I walked by and casually bent over to swipe the ball from her doorway.

whitetail_fawn.jpg http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/

By now you may be looking at me just as suspiciously, but the story isn't over. On the very next Tee box, I was setting up to hit my drive when a deer comes out of the thicket and begins to have a light supper of the more succulent grasses at the edge of the wood. Still munching and fearless, it strolled forward, stopping a mere twenty yards directly in front of me and in my direct line to the hole. I was transfixed. The deer had no fear. Neither had the guys behind me who were waiting for me to get moving.

Vic gave quiet encouragement. "Take the goddamn shot." I continued to stare - you might say "like a deer in the headlights." There was some karma at work here... stuff was happening that needed a little pondering. I had watched a lot of golf on TV and never had I seen a game turned into a day at the zoo. I remembered my other existence. What did the Dharma have to say about this? The guys who were waiting began to take those threatening postures in that peculiar 'golfer way' by pounding their clubs on the ground directly in front of them. It was getting late and before the moon rose they wanted to complete the course. I said, "What the hell..." and feeling like Casey in the batter's box, I grasped my club, stepped up to the plate and gave a mighty swing. Ping, drip, tumble, dribble, dribble, skid, plunk... the ball slid along the ground like a lazy sidewinder, stopping about five yards on my side of the deer with no fear.

Now I looked at the grass chewing herbivore with a different eye. Not pleased, I found myself thinking of venison. As I meaningfully strolled towards my ball near the deer with no fear, the deer, like a sneering Bogart, a blade of grass hanging out of its mouth like a cigarette, nonchalantly turned away and left me alone by the ball. The guys behind me stood in the box looking down at me, snickering and whispering a mere twenty yards away. I looked back at them smiling, knowing there was no way that I could explain to them that my terrible predicament was due to my compasssion and kindness and desire to demonstrate Buddhist non-violence.

My recovery shot was a thing of beauty - it landed on the green, a foot from the cup. Naturally, all was right with the world. The jeers turned to gasps of admiration. The transmission had been given... and with a warning... to always walk in humility no matter what the circumstance. I sank the putt and by Vic's reckoning, parred the hole. Par. On my first outing. I began to wonder, "In this life is Par good enough?"

Humming Bird