By Acharya Samaneti
The UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Euro brings European nations and its diaspora together.
Yes, it causes many a broken limb and tear, yet the spirit the competition ignites in people from all walks of life is undeniable. Many can be seen, in the stands, in public viewing venues, or in their homes, cheering on their favourite teams. The goal is to connect people as a community, united and accepting each and every person in equality.
Jishou Handa, a Buddhist monk once interviewed during the World Cup in Sao Paolo, offers the view that soccer is connected to our basic human nature, and that we need to accept our natural reactions: “Buddhism is training to calm our spirits. In the case of football [soccer] it is quite the opposite,” he says, soccer ball in hand. “There is an exacerbation of spirits . . . that is also a part of what human beings are.”
Football ignites me with struggle and the anxiety about anatman—the fact that we do not exist in any definite way.
But when I am watching the game, I am flooded with the identity of England —for those 90 minutes plus stoppage time, I am as English as the players on that pitch. Being a member of the group defines me—as a member—and thereby proves that I do actually exist.
This is a big part of football fandom, as far as I can make any sense of it in a Buddhist context. It is intrinsically meaningless which team wins. Fans give it meaning by cheering their team and booing the other team. Being on the side of the English team (for me) defines me as a particular sort of person. Supporting the England team and hating their rivals makes me a good person—among England fans. This is not too harmful, as long as fans recognize (at some level) the emptiness of their feelings. Occasionally, when that emptiness is misunderstood as form, there can be some violence between the two camps of supporters.
Unfortunately, people do this with religion, too. It is not enough to be happy with your sect. Dissing the members of other sects proves that you are a fervent and upstanding member of your own.
I personally do not practice proselytizing, I believe that I have found the best path for me and that no path is superior to another; there are just some that are better suited for us and our spiritual needs. Unfortunately, I do not share this same view when it comes to football.
I cheer on the best teams, with the best history, and obviously the best fan base. I know that I am completely subjective, and that is half the fun honestly. I enjoy my blind support for my team, how I can not imagine liking any other team or group of players. Also, that is the fun of international tournaments, when we cheer for country; we get to cheer for players that we usually boo on the pitch. For this month I can finally acknowledge that talent that plays in my biggest rivals, but only for that sacred month.
For some religions, this might possibly make sense. In the case of Buddhism, it is silly and self-defeating.
Buddhism isn’t football. Recognizing that I am not any particular sort of person is one of the most important aspects of the path. Bearing good will to all sentient beings is one of the most important aspects of the path. And yet I struggle with this the most when it involves a football pitch; I am not a patriot by any means, but the beautiful game seems to bring this identification out ten fold! This games makes me feel the biggest peaks of joy, just to be shot down the next minute; football is one of the greatest analogies of life.
I feel my attachment to victory and pleasure (in its purest form) and my aversion to defeat and my pushing against what I can not change. This really is the beautiful game, for what happens on the pitch and also my heart and mind.
Right now, my life can be summed up with four simple words:
Eat. Sleep. Dhamma. Football.
Photo: author provided/Pixabay
Editor: Dana Gornall