Phil Jackson: How Can Athletes Take Inspiration From the Zen Master’s Ideas?

While one might usually seek baby names from Gwyneth Paltrow before asking for philosophical advice from a professional athlete, one individual, Phil Jackson, coach of the LA Lakers, has shown that they can have a place together.

Nicknamed the Zen master because of his approach to the game and his players, he is the most successful coach in NBA history, having won a combined 11 Championships with the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers.

So how can other athletes and students of sport learn from Zen, part of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, and apply it to their own game?

A wise start would be with karma, probably the best known element of Buddhism, although not exclusive to the Buddha’s teachings. A simple definition is that an individual will be punished or rewarded for all their actions, dependant on whether they have negative or positive motivation.

From this, athletes can learn that taking negative actions onto the field of play will eventually lead to negativity biting them in the derriere. What separates karma from the "what goes around, comes around" mind set is that it isn’t that simple. Just because you sneak in a sly elbow, you won’t necessarily be elbowed back.

But when the individual is sitting in the locker room after the game and his team has won, and he can’t feel happy because his conscience is telling him he shouldn’t have done it, you might call that karma.

So taking positivity into a game, and not setting out to hurt the opponent is definitely something that athletes should do anyway, and Buddhism reinforces it.

Buddhism’s four noble truths focus on the existence of suffering as a constant theme of life, and the ways in which humans beings can work past it. Often, as a people, we are obsessed by more.

More pleasure, more possessions, more everything; often these wishes are not fulfilled. And always we are aging, becoming ill...

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