Asked and Answered

Tiger Woods Practices Near His Home In Orlando

There may be hundreds of millions of Buddhists in the world, but pick up an American newspaper and you're much more likely to read about Uma Thurman than her father.

A few months ago there was the minor controversy over Brit Hume's statement that Tiger Woods should turn to Christianity to help recover from his adultery, and the result was a flurry of stories about how Buddhism deals with the big theological questions. But how members of the Buddhist faith live and practice their still isn't something that gets a lot of coverage. So that's why I found this Reuters report, "Woods promises to wear Buddhist bracelet forever," so frustrating:

Although dressed in typically conservative fashion, Woods also wore a thin Buddhist bracelet, which he showed to Golf Channel viewers and said he would be wearing when he returned to golf at the U.S. Masters on April 8. "It's Buddhist, it's for protection and strength and I certainly need that," he said, adding that he began wearing the bracelet before he went into rehabilitation and that he intends to wear it forever.

The article makes more general observations about Tiger's recommittment to his faith, such as regret over how he had stopped meditating. However, I was not aware of any connection between Buddhism and bracelets, and the article says very no more about Woods' newfound public display of faith. Apparently, Buddhist bracelets are very common -- or at least you can buy scores of them at Amazon. I wanted to know more, and fortunately a quick Google search turned up this terrific little article by the Associated Press:

Woods explained that he had been wearing the bracelet since before he went into treatment, and that he would wear it during the Masters. Beyond that, he didn't further discuss its significance or origin. However, it is common for Buddhists to wear such items as a reminder of their faith, said Jimmy Yu, professor of Buddhist and Chinese Studies at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "Sometimes Buddhists, when they receive some kind of initiation into a certain practice, especially in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, they would be given a red thread, (to) go around the wrist," said Yu. "It sounds like this is what he was wearing." Wearing bracelets, necklaces or other reminders of their faith are fairly common for practitioners of Buddhism, Yu said.

The article has more interesting details, such as the Dalai Lama's practice of handing out bracelets:

Dalai Lama Holds Press Conference During Washington Visit

What Woods was wearing, experts say, was a "protection cord" that was likely blessed by a Buddhist monk or lama. Sometimes Buddhists receive one if they have made a donation to a monastery, or if they have participated in a ceremony.

The Dalai Lama, the world's best-known Buddhist, sometimes gives red protection cords to people who attend his talks and teachings.

"The protection cords are pretty pan-Buddhist," said Sara Blumenthal, director of student service and public information for the Portland, Ore.-based Maitripa College, a Buddhist school. "They are particularly popular in Thailand. Even many Thais who may not particularly identify as Buddhist, many may also wear protection cords. Culturally, they have power."

Blumenthal explained that the cords are usually worn until they fall off, which could explain why the strings around Woods' wrist were a faded pink hue.

Big kudos to Tamara Lush at the AP for recognizing that there was more going on here. In an era of Livestrong bracelets and whatnot, I think a lot of people may have just viewed such a bracelet as a generic token of dedication. I was really happy to see somebody answer some basic questions about the deeper religious significance.

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