Question

Does not competitive sport produce discord? If so, should it not be avoided by a seeker of the Way, whether as participator or even spectator?

If people play golf or soccer or chess or judo, without counting points to make a match of it, that is not sport but healthy exercise (mental in the case of chess). It may create no discord, but it is tasteless and ultimately boring.

If they count points, but are competing to make money or reputation, this is not sport but business. It does create discord among players and also often among spectators too.

The essence of sport is that two or more agree to PLAY at being enemies, on a fixed field under fixed rules. They try with intense seriousness to win. If the sides are fairly evenly matched, so that sometimes one wins and sometimes the other, there is a special zest. They have voluntarily entered a closed field of opposition where they exercise will-to-win; if luck plays some part (like gusts of wind in golf), then ingenuity is taxed also.

One of the few real pleasures in life is to adopt the role of antagonist seriously, yet knowing that there is a unity at the heart of the situation. After the match, the contestants smile at each other. Regular contests between closely matched opponents should make a strong friendship. Think of Dickens’s portrait of Sarah Battle at whist.

I may add that in Zen the traditional British notion of the good sportsman, who tries very hard but yet transcends winning-and- losing, is highly esteemed. (Japanese, and many others, are often furious when they lose, and exultant when they win.) Some teachers say that life itself is a game to be played in this way: with serious

efforts, and yet an underlying transcendence of life-and-death.

So true competitive sport is a temporary make-believe discord in an underlying real concord, and it is a good way of refining the instinctive drives in human nature.

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