BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day
13th June 2002
Like many others, I organised yesterday around the England-Nigeria match. Although delighted that England are through to the second round, there wasn’t quite the rush I experienced the day before when Ireland beat Saudi Arabia.
Call me a football romantic, but I think the beautiful game is a powerful force for world unity. There are more nations affiliated to FIFA than the UN. And this World Cup competition has seen small and developing nations competing on a par with the old dominant teams making the world seem a smaller and fairer place. Issues between countries, if not resolved on the football pitch, at least have an outlet. And if you could distil down all of mankind’s tribal and nationalistic aggression to a few outbreaks of hooliganism, we’d be making progress.
As Bill Shankley said, “football isn’t a matter of life and death – it’s much more important than that.” Hence, its attraction – it’s both important and yet not important. Still, it’s incredible how we indulge ourselves in such an emotional rollercoaster ride - dismay after Sweden, euphoria after Argentina and a sort-of-OK-job-done after Nigeria.
The ancient text, Bhagavad-gita, provides no clarification of the off-side rule, but does warn us that although these see-saw emotions give life a sense of excitement and purpose, they can easily carry us away – the riots in Moscow last Sunday are an extreme example. It’s not just football, all day long our feelings go up and down with every little incident, comment, news, gossip, fear and anticipation.
Allowing such minor things to determine our state of happiness or distress is called Maya or illusion. At best, we are in a constant state of emotional flux. At worst, it can drive us insane.
Hinduism offers a choice of two paths. The way of the ascetic claims that happiness with a cause is actually misery. One should try to be like a lake which, although fed by streams of desires and feelings, is always calm and still – think Sven Goran Eriksson on Valium. On this path, happiness is found not by achieving, nor by doing, but by “being”.
The path of devotion, however, says that the reason for being is to love. Rather than isolating ourselves from the world or being bewildered by it, we can let life’s events enrich our connections to others. This is spiritual life with passion, but without the jingoism. There is still pleasure and pain, but the difference is that in love, your pleasure is what gives me joy and your pain is what causes me to grieve. So, as much as we may appreciate the heart and skills of the England and Ireland teams, we’ll feel a twinge for Argentina, France and all the others on their long journey home.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.