RtO: Siddhartha Gautama

Y.S. Fing | E-MAIL | Roaming the Outfield Archive

Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “Siddharta Gautama”

His first name was Siddhartha, and that’s what I call him. His family name was Gautama and his father was a leader in the tribe of Shakyamuni (although not exactly the King we would think of in western terms — the families of the tribe rotated leadership). Siddhartha was raised in the civilized luxury of his day (northern Ganges River valley, 2500 BC) and would have become a leader of the Shakyamuni tribe himself, if that had been the life he had chosen.

But he chose a different way, and it was not a way of holiness. It was a way of teaching and of grinding. It was a way against what I think of as a tsunami of dukkha (simply defined: suffering; less simply defined: impermanence) in this world. It was the way to slowly and steadily overcome the influence of dukkha, to learn about and gain your own enlightenment in this world. Anybody can do what Siddhartha did. His genius was that he systematized the way, without miracle or righteousness, to attain the best that one can attain in this world, with wisdom and compassion. It also happens to be the way to play and enjoy baseball.

Gautama Buddha baseball

The life chosen by Gautama Buddha is the pursuit of spiritual perfection among imperfection.

Baseball is a wonderful grid upon which to place Siddhartha’s ideas of dukkha and the way. Dukkha is the game itself, the rules, the equipment, the positions, the direction of play, the action, the plays themselves, the players, the coaches, the triumph, the despair … Dukkha is baseball. So when one participates in baseball (and by this I mean Major League Baseball in North America generally) ones knows that all these component parts of the game add up to a finely controlled chaos that moves in alternating currents of slow motion and violent randomness.

The players themselves understand that they undertake an unrelenting challenge. They know that only the very best of them will succeed at the bat one in every three times, meaning for the rest of them, they will average less than three hits in 10 at bats. That means they know for their entire careers, they’ll be walking back to the bench with their heads down at least seven times per ten at-bats. If that hasn’t crushed their will to play the game, then I say more power to them. It’s for that reason that they know to be effectless when predicting the future or interpreting the past. Chaos doesn’t move in just one direction.

Perhaps, for the fan more specifically, dukkha is the idea of perfect play in baseball, as in the desire to see a team play perfectly at all times, to win every game. Of course we know they have to win more than half of their games to compete, but we want them to win every game. Siddhartha’s way against this very natural, and in some ways pleasing, manner of thinking, is to observe the instance of perfect play in baseball, and then adjust the expectations accordingly.

Every single game offers the possibility of perfection, but very few games ever achieve that title, and even those which we call ‘perfect’ are of course only perfect for one side in that game. For the other side, I’m sure we can all agree, that game was imperfect.

Buddha Siddhartha Gautama Statue

One of many likenesses of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama.

Siddhartha also wanted individuals to see how they themselves are a part of a vast cosmos, which has its counterpart in nothingness. And he said that it was given to human consciousness to be aware of these contradictory universal facts on such a regular basis that one can modify and control one’s own psychology in relation to the ever present, ever-pressing dukkha of life. By discipline, he said, people can be ready for each present moment that comes to them.

And that is what baseball has in eternally replenishing abundance: dramatic present moments. Each pitch is a dramatic present moment, each swing, each hit, each diving catch, each stolen base, each triple, each outfield assist, and on and on. Siddhartha encouraged people to train themselves to push through the tsunami of dukkha that engulfs everyday life. Baseball teaches us that lesson in microcosm.

And just to give an example from this week — the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche double-stealing in the eighth inning against the Pirates on Saturday. If that isn’t the definitive present moment of the hope for the rest of the year, then I don’t know what is. Of course, Zimmerman knew that the pitcher had a slow windup to the plate, but Zimmerman stealing third is so audacious a conception that the last time he did it was his rookie year. And so he exploited that present moment, so that Tyler Moore could exploit the next present moment with a sacrifice fly. And so they won the game.

But it’s already a new day. Another set of present moments that deceive us into thinking that things can go perfectly is going to begin again today. What happened yesterday is over. What happens tomorrow is anybody’s guess, but things are bound to be imperfect. What we have to do is face today’s tsunami of dukkha with trust in ourselves and wisdom and compassion for others.

That’s how Siddhartha said we would achieve our enlightenment. That’s how 30 teams hope to take October by storm.