You just knew it was coming, with yet another celebrity in trouble, this time billionaire golfer Tiger Woods, the now all too familiar solutions to personal struggles has again raised its head. In the cyclical world of media fascination the famous for being famous thrive in the intense light of media praise, and when the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune turn the media against them, every good celebrity knows, you head to Rehab.
The modern history of celebrity rehab only began a few decades ago. Betty Ford, wife of Former U.S. President Gerald Ford, became one of the first celebrities to undergo rehab for prescription drugs and alcohol abuse and then to issue a press release about it. However, the complete history of rehab dates back to the ancient Vedic civilization.
Kedar Nath Tiwari, author of Classical Indian Ethical Thought, describes the origins of rehab in the Vedic civilization:
“A survey of the Indian thinking about the problem [the problem being whether to judge the morality of one’s action on overt acts or inner motives] shows that the Vedas in general seem to teach an externalistic view of morality, where only acts performed are of any real significance”¦One is free from sin not by changing his heart, his intention or motive, but by simply repeating rituals directed towards gods. The Vedas in general seem to give us an ethic of overt duties rather than inner virtues, an ethics of doing rather than being, and all duties are clearly directed towards worldly ends, such as health, length of life, offspring, etc.”
Two problems with modern rehab are evident from Tiwari’s statement: one, rehab tends to be cosmetic; and two, because rehab doesn’t address the inner issues the problems tend to repeat themselves.
This is why I take issue with the prescriptions given for Tiger Woods by ESPN The Magazine’s Rick Reilly. In his December 9, 2009 column Reilly has unveiled a seven point image-rehab plan. Hmm”¦image-rehab tells you right where Reilly is going, toward the same “externalistic view of morality” that Tiwari speaks of. Anyway, here’s a look at the most telling of Reilly’s prescriptions: 1. go directly to the media and confess your sins on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show; 2. change the people around you, fire your agent, caddie and get some new friends; 3. give some charity, say $5,000,000 to your own foundation; 4. be polite, no more temper tantrums on the golf course; and 5. be tolerant when people show you scorn, it will pass.
In addition to the fact that I am not convinced that his cosmetic approach is even sentimentally worthy, nothing in Reilly’s circular reasoning addresses what got Tiger in trouble in the first place. So he ends up with his image back in tact, has he really changed as a person or will we see him back in rehab again like so many other celebrities going through the revolving doors of private rehab facilities?
There is a story from the Vedic tradition that provides a useful analogy for celebrity rehab. The story tells of an elephant’s bath. Apparently, upon emerging from the water reservoir where they bathe, elephants immediately use their trunks to throw dirt all over their cleansed body. The lesson: why repeated go through cleansing only to throw dirt on yourself again.
Great sages in the Vedic tradition also have wrestled with this question, how to get out of samsara, the repeating cycle of birth and death in this material world. Such sages have declared that the answer lies in how not to be bound by one action’s, whether such actions are good or bad. Tiwari differentiates between the Vedic view described above and the Upanisadic view:
“In the Upanisads and later in the Bhagavad-gita and other systems of Indian thought what is more important in ethical considerations is not the external acts, but the inner dispositions which prompt the acts. Sin is not merely failure to do the right, but failure to let good intention to act. Actions do not bind, what binds is the evil disposition.”
Liberation, or freedom from the troubles of this world, is thus the result of deeply felt motives, motives that go beyond a cosmetic approach to life to the very soul of one’s being. Interestingly, this view is also shared by today’s #1 New York Times Best Selling Author John Bradshaw. In a section of his book Reclaiming Virtue entitled “Escaping the Trap of the False Self,” Bradshaw speaks of the necessity of “deep feeling work.”
I had such a “deep feeling” experience when I first took up the life of a devotee of Bhagavad-gita. I distinctly remember crying on the airplane as I left home in search of my life’s goal. I knew at that point that my life would never be the same, and I can honestly say nearly forty years later that my life changed for good while crying on that airplane.
Face it Tiger, if you actually want to straighten your drive, you need to change your inner life, not make cosmetic adjustments to your swing. Of course, maybe you don’t want real change, for that there’s always rehab.