LOS ANGELES — Buddhism is one of the historic religions of Asia, and today its influence remains strongly felt throughout the world. One has only to scratch the surface of this religion that originated in India in the fifth or sixth century B.C. to know that it has much to say about suffering.

Suffering emerged as a primary focus of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama because the true Buddhist understands suffering to be a constant of existence.

In effect, Buddhism tells you that there is no easy escape from the reality of existence, other than coping with present reality through Buddha’s consistent (if rather severe) teachings.

With this as a necessary preface, let us now examine the strange case of an American news-television personality who made a splash last week by advising Tiger Woods, with all his troubles, to forswear Buddhism and turn to Christianity. Yes, Tiger received that unsolicited advice from a mainstay of the Fox News cable network.

The golfer Woods, by his own testimony, inherited Buddhism from his mother, a Buddhist born in Thailand. He has said it has been invaluable as a corrective for his faults. It’s been said that some of his faults include stubbornness and impatience.

What’s so interesting about Buddhism, in this context, is its unwavering emphasis on desire as a prime cause of suffering, and thus the need to escape the imprisonment of desire in order to achieve the transcendent state of Nirvana.

The TV personality in question is Brit Hume, a proud and avowed Christian. But wearing his Christian cross on his sleeve by inviting Woods to convert to Christianity seemed to move this TV journalist far from the Walter Cronkite model and uncomfortably close to a televangelical Billy Graham.

Hume made his pitch on “Fox News Sunday” about the superiority of Christianity to Buddhism: “Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer. Whether he can recover as a person, I think is a very open question, and it’s a tragic situation for him.

“He’s lost his family. It’s not clear to me whether he’ll be able to have a relationship with his children. But the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal, the extent to which he can recover, it seems to me, depends on his faith.

“He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith, so my message to Tiger would be ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the ‘world.’ “

We need to repeat a few facts here. First, the same U.S. Constitution that requires separation of church and faith from government also protects its content from government censorship. That’s a tremendous privilege we American journalists are given. Not many countries offer it. We American journalists should thank whatever god we worship at night for this great gift.

Not every U.S. journalist or news outlet merits this protection, however. Both print and video/TV at times abuse the privilege. The U.S. news media is awash with gossip, innuendo, bad information and outright slander — and now starting to reek with religious preferment.

What’s more, even as it greatly pains this print journalist to admit, the fact of the matter is that, on the whole, TV news media is terribly influential. And thus the responsibility of the TV journalist not to abuse his or her position is great. Woods, who remains in hiding, has had no public reaction to Hume’s bid that he convert to the “better” religion.

But the non-Christian world sometimes looks at the United States with great wariness on the religious issue. It imagines that some wars, like Iraq, are Christian crusades, with the crusaders always ready to mount offensives against infidels — the many millions of Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus and Taoists and so on. A lot of Christians wish everyone would convert to the one “true religion,” as some proselytizing or evangelical Christians rather aggressively define Christianity.

Then you have the world’s atheists who believe all these religions are for crazy people. Those ruling Chinese atheists in Beijing, for example, would sure love to snuff out resurgent Tibetan Buddhism.

That’s why the Brit Humes of the world and the communists play, in a sense, in the same league: The league of religious intolerance. Rather than live and let live, they want everyone to be more like them. This is very dangerous — and the mere thought of it utterly depressing.

Author and syndicated columnist Tom Plate is working on a trilogy of books on Asian political figures. An archive of past columnists is posted at: www.pacificperspectives.blogspot.com. © 2010 Pacific Perspectives Media Center

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