Book Review: Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game
Joseph Parent, Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game, Doubleday, New York, 2002.
All the major religions of the world have divisions and subdivisions, and Buddhism, the fourth largest religion of the world with some 376 million adherents, is no exception. As Buddhism developed in India, from the death of the Buddha in the early fifth century B.C.E., and found is way into China, in the first century, a more accommodating form of Buddhism emerged. This more accommodating expression became known as Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) Buddhism, and the Mahayana division, consisting of about fifty-six percent of the Buddhist population, is the largest of the three major divisions of Buddhism. As Buddhism developed in China and Japan, in the fifth and sixth centuries, a subdivision found expression into the form of Ch’an (in China) or Zen (in Japan) (Click the link for an audio pronunciation of Ch’an). Both terms, Ch’an and Zen, relate to meditation, the central practice for this form of Buddhism.
Ch’an or Zen Buddhism emphasizes the importance of meditation for the attainment of Nirvana, referring to the Buddha’s own enlightenment experience while meditating under a large fig tree and to a character known as Bodhidharma, the founder of the Ch’an or Zen school. Bodhidharma, according to the story, silently meditated in a cave, facing one of its walls, for nine years. In the seventh year, he fell asleep and became so angry with his lack of discipline that he cut off his eyelids to prevent his eyes from ever shutting again. As his eyelids hit the cave floor, tea plants appeared. Tea, with its caffeine, became a popular means to prevent sleep during meditation, and tea became a popular drink throughout China.
Readers are not going to learn a lot about Zen Buddhism from Parent’s book, but they will learn how Parent seeks to apply Zen principles and techniques to the game of golf. As the subtitle suggests, Parent wants to help us master “the mental game.” Parent provides readers with a lot of sound advice and tips that are worth trying. Whether they all work is something that readers will have to decide.
One of many very short chapters is entitled “to care or not to care.” Parent relates the Buddhist story of three Tibetan beggars arguing amongst themselves about whom they would rather be and who was the richest man in the area. One wanted to be the governor, the second wanted to be the king, but the third wanted to be Milarepa, the Buddhist meditation master. The third beggar explained that Milarepa “has tamed his mind, so he is always comfortable. He knows his own nature, so he doesn’t need confirmation from others. He is completely content with whatever he has, so he never needs anything. That makes him the richest man in the world.” Parent advises golfers not to worry about the shots they make and their results. “If you don’t need anything, you can appreciate everything. If you have a sense of humor about how things go, the universe loves to dance with you” (p. 115).
In the next little chapter, entitled “how to make every putt,” Parent makes a distinction between “making a putt and holing a putt.” He advises us golfers to choose “the best line for the putt that we can,” get “the best feel for the pace that we can,” and make “the best stroke we can.” “This is all we can do; after the ball is on its way, the result is beyond our control.” “”You may not hole every putt, but you can make every putt.” (p. 118). Knowing that you made the putt releases you from any attachments to the results. Knowing that you made the putt frees you from worry and gives you peace of mind. Elsewhere Parent writes that “a putt is a ball, a few feet of grass, and a hole” (p. 130). Any other significance we add to the putt comes from the past or the future. The putt may either make up for a previous bogey or give us chance to win the championship. Parent urges us to forget about the past and the future. Focus on the present which simply involves a ball, some grass, and a hole. Make the putt; let the results be what they will.
I was not sure I liked Zen Golf at first. Having been a golfer from a young age, I have been exposed to all kinds of advice, and most of Parent’s counsel was nothing new. The more I read, though, the more I found to appreciate. I am awarding a full sleeve of balls to Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game.