RtO: Ultimate Reality

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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: “Ultimate Reality”
To delve a little more deeply into konomama, which is a Zen concept, let’s look to the source from which this Japanese idea developed, Siddhartha’s notion of ultimate reality. Siddhartha observed and taught that all of nature existed in a state of permanent change. Like a river flowing toward an ocean, nothing is ever the same for more than a moment. All moments change. This disrupting notion highlights the illusion under which people live, that things will forever stay the same.

Much of my understanding of this comes from What the Buddha Taught, by Walpola Rahula. Rahula says that Siddhartha wondered, ‘Well, what is the opposite of permanent change? What is the one state that would never change?’ And he decided that the changeless state existed in ultimate reality – nothingness. He said that human beings would return to that nothingness which occupied them before they were born and came to consciousness, and that Nature too would someday cease changing and become empty. The ultimate reality is emptiness.

Siddharta Gautama Buddha

Siddharta Gautama posited that the end of all things was nothingness.

That is a pretty honking huge idea to latch onto and contemplate. Siddhartha knew that understanding of it would only come after years of diligent meditative and physical work. In modern Western society, we often look to athletes to dedicate themselves to years of a priestly traveling life and then to reveal the glories and secrets therein. But really, besides Kevin Millar, there aren’t any true philosophers in baseball.

Siddhartha’s hope and expectation, when one chooses to follow the path he followed, is that a person can be both fully aware of each konomama that passes and in close contact with the emptiness that encompasses our time on earth. Knowledge of each informs the other. If one disciplines the mind and body to a task, then when the occasion comes to take up that task, one knows how to commence and succeed. We train ourselves because we want to be ready for the konomama of our lives, to take advantage of those moments when we need to fulfill our tasks.

When we know that emptiness is nothing but the ultimate destination of all reality, perhaps standing in a chalk rectangle on a baseball diamond and swinging cylindrical lumber at round leather isn’t any more absurd than anything else. It certainly isn’t as arduous as Sisyphus and his rock. With the familiarity and facility which come with discipline, a baseball player relaxes into greatness. Because they hardly know where their will to discipline and success come from, you hear athletes and ballplayers thank God for their gift and blessings. But I’m aiming for a secular morality, and I prefer to take my succor from emptiness.

But I also take my succor from baseball. Even if I’m not capable of knowing the konomama in my own life, I can sure see it on the baseball field. As the play begins, all the defensive players stand in one place, waiting. “Here’s the wind-up, and the pitch…” Everyone must be on their toes, prepared for anything, anticipating each possible move. When the big moments come, every pitch is a moment of great possibility, fileld with hope and meaning. That is the best kind of baseball, and it can happen at any level in any leagues. But, all respect to Asian and Caribbean baseball, Major League Baseball is where baseball is played best.

Great players who persevere like Ichiro Suzuki demonstrate Buddha's 'Ultimate Reality.' (Martinez/Getty)

Great players who persevere like Ichiro Suzuki demonstrate Buddha’s ‘Ultimate Reality.’ (Martinez/Getty)

The people who succeed the longest–your Ichiro Suzukis, Albert Pujolses, Greg Madduxes–are the ones who overcome their distractions, who stay in the moment, who, I like to think, face the emptiness within, and do what is needed: a great outfield assist, a huge three-run double, a stunning nine-inning shutout.

Werthquake remains a touchstone for me, a thirteen-pitch at-bat by Jayson Werth ending in a walk off home-run in an elimination playoff game, at home. Some of the reasons this moment so enthralls me are that it demonstrates the probability of failure, it reveals that emptiness can be a balm to our excitement, and it shows how to face such moments ourselves. The actuality of that moment was the complete fulfillment of the task at hand, the konomama supremely manifest.

But in a regular season, these moments come in every well-played game. That’s why there is an entire television network devoted to MLB. Digital imagery means having every game available, every highlight play, within minutes. And the highlights can occupy hours of time (which my wife rues). Each one shows a man who is taking up the existential emptiness in an athletic contest and succeeding due to skill and will: a man who has accepted and internalized discipline.

Siddhartha and Zen philosophy both encourage us, everyone, to realize the emptiness within, and to allow that knowledge to make your life better. If nothing else, my life is better when I see the konomama of a timely hit and strong bullpen work, which us Nationals fans are finally beginning to see this June. Now is the time to focus on your team and how they play. As the summer truly gets under way, teams get healthy and become Zen baseball machines. This will be an ultimate reality worth meditating upon.


Y.S Fing loves baseball the way that his parents wish he loved Catholicism.