God, the Gita and Football

I am a Florida Gator and so is God -- the latter, at least, according to a great bumper sticker that could be seen throughout the streets of Gainesville that read, "God must be a Gator since He made the sun orange and the sky blue." It's an unspoken rule: If you attend the University of Florida, even if you aren't a football fan going in, you definitely come out as one. And so it is my love for football and being an alumni that has made the media hoopla over fellow Gator Tim Tebow, a for-and-against blog match of sorts, all the more interesting.

To Tebow, according to tebowing.com, is "to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different." I got to see Tebow at play in The Swamp before he became a verb. He routinely took the knee and sported biblical verses on his eye black (which he has since moved to his wrist bands to circumvent the NFL ban on writing on the eye black). It didn't seem to be a big deal back then. Everyone knew he was religious and respected his right to pray -- that was as long as it wasn't imposed on others and, more importantly, he was throwing touchdowns.

Tim Tebow and his family are evangelical missionaries. I am a Hindu who believes fundamentally in religious pluralism or the existence of more than one path to the Divine. So it is likely that we do not see eye to eye on a lot of things, but I can say that in addition to being Gators, Tim Tebow and I do agree that God graces the football field. As a Hindu who espouses an Advaita (non-dual) worldview, I understand intellectually that God is on, in and of the field. But it wasn't until last Sunday, while watching the Super Bowl, that I was jolted out of my TV-induced zombie state to experience it -- it was as if Lord Krishna himself was relaying the essence of the Bhagavad Gita through the commentators.

In reference to mistakes on the field, one of the commentators said, "It is an important aspect to this game to get yourself grounded and playing football again." Replace "playing football" with the "game of life," and all the challenges it deals us, and you essentially have one of the main Truths set forth in the Gita. Instead of Tom Brady appearing unshaken and ready to throw the ball again and again, despite a series of incomplete passes, I saw Arjuna awakened from his utter state of confusion, focused and aiming his bow toward his kin, who had wreaked havoc on the kingdom, who he ultimately conquers. The Gita teaches us to not worry about the rewards, not worry about the trophies, not worry about the post-game celebration, but to focus on what needs to be done now. It is the anxiety over the end that makes us lose focus of the means. We only have a right to put forth the effort, not a right to the fruits of those efforts. And so it is true for all of life, which includes even football.

Later, during the game, one of the commentators stated about strategy, "You hear the phrase so many times: Do your job. Don't try and do somebody else's job." When it comes to football, even the average armchair coach knows this. If the receiver isn't catching, a lineman isn't protecting, and the quarterback doesn't know where to land the ball, a loss is pretty much guaranteed. Similarly, a quarterback with his finer skills of accuracy, strong peripheral vision, and arm strength would never be placed in the position of lineman for want of brute upper body strength, iron legs, speed and agility. Lord Krishna tells us in Chapter 4 of the Gita that we must determine and then fulfill our own duties. Hindus understand this in the context of gunas (qualities) and karma, which in turn shape each of our temperaments toward a particular set of right actions. Thus, each of us will be better off when we take time to know ourselves, paying careful attention to our innate tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, and then pursuing to the fullest the action best suited for us and not that of our neighbors.

Indeed, I am not the first to see the Gita come to life in sports. There have been others before me. But I guess it should come as no surprise: Yhe Bhagavad Gita, though it is one of the sacred texts of Hinduism, offers not a religion, but a formula for life. So where there is life, there will always be the Gita at play, helping us score a transcendent touchdown every time.