Reconciling Buddhistic Practice and Poker

assume-the-position_fade_whiteThe meaning of “reconcile” in play here is “to make consistent or congruous.” In other words… How can someone walk the path of harmlessness if it has poker tables on it?

I anticipated that I would be asked this question after The Eightfold Path to Poker Enlightenment came out. The title alone begs the question. Yesterday I was asked the question twice. In the previous weeks, about five other times. During the previous 6 years or so, I have asked myself the same question a few times.

Let’s say there’s a guy who plays poker, and he starts meditating every morning and doing mindfulness stuff all day long and reading about it and talking to knowledgeable people about it. He goes all-in with the practice and the teachings. He learns about harmlessness, intellectually, and it makes sense. He learns about harmlessness, experientially, and he watches himself and his world change. He likes where it’s leading. Eventually a day comes when there are no poker tables on his path. It might have happened suddenly, a quick turn: “Poker harms me and others! Therefore I shall no longer do it!” Or it might have happened gradually, with no forethought, just a natural weaning. In either case, it was the move toward a life guided in part by an attitude of harmlessness that made him move away from poker, which, by his definition, causes harm.

Let’s look at another guy. He is a poker player, and last week he heard some things about meditation. He heard it would improve his concentration and make him less emotionally reactive. He thinks this would be great for his poker game. So he learns more, and he starts doing some of the practices, the ones that he thinks will help him focus better and therefore do better at poker. Over the next ten years, he builds his repertoire of mindful breathing and concentration exercises that he does while he plays poker, and he occasionally does them in regular life during high-stress situations. He and his life are made better (more tiltless) by the practices that he rightly thinks of as stemming from his poker life, in the same way that a businessman might think of poker as something that hones his people-reading skills. The concept of “harmlessness” is nowhere in the mix. Yet when he plays poker now, he harms himself much less than he used to. And when he plays poker, he harms his opponents less than he used to. The things he says. The things he does. The things he thinks. The vibe he sends out. The bitterness is gone. The meanness is gone. The need to make others small is gone.

The first guy quit poker. The second guy has no plans to quit poker. Both are walking the path of harmlessness.

 

20 Comments

  • Manny Posted September 18, 2009 1:28 pm

    We could also remember that we are playing game. I think people get harmed when it becomes more than a game. Even if you pay your rent with it, its still just a game.

  • Jeff Posted September 18, 2009 8:26 pm

    I’m not sure what you mean by “just a game” even if you pay your rent with “it” (assuming “it” is money used for playing the game.) There are games you play for free. There are games you pay a fee to play, the same as everyone else. And there are games where you are harmed if you lose, whether it be kickboxing or poker.

    If I play chess, I can’t really harm anything other than my ego. If I play chess somewhere that requires a fee (such as a USCF sanctioned chess tournament), then I can also harm my wallet, but I can’t be harmed relative to my opponent so it is not “part” of the game. If I play poker, I could harm my ego, I could pay a fee (rake) that harms all players, and I could also be harmed in my wallet either by bad luck or bad play.

    If you can lose money, or get hurt, would you consider that by definition already “more than a game”? (I think it would be difficult to console the widow of a boxer who just died in a match by telling her “it’s just a game”.)

  • Dayne Posted September 20, 2009 11:55 pm

    Great post, Tommy!

    What if I used to play with fear, no longer play with fear, and take my game to another level… because I’m fearless?

    What if I have a friend who played with fear, but learned not to play with fear, which earned him more money than he could dream of… but quit because making that much money made him scared? (True story).

    -Dayne

  • PokerAnon Posted September 22, 2009 10:17 am

    Both walking the path of harmlessness, the difference being that one is further along the path? Or is that too dualistic in thinking?

    I’m not sure that I’m on the path at all, but lately I’ve been wondering about the people that get harmed when I participate; those that tilt themselves when I win, or those that are addicted and continue to lose and lose.

  • Anon Posted September 26, 2009 6:58 pm

    In the end, we all have to have a preference. You can’t have both equally. One favors harmlessness, and it becomes the context in which poker is seen. The other favors poker, and it becomes the context from which harmlessness is seen. They are infinitely far apart.

    A seesaw with a small weight on it does not find balance; it leans one way or the other, and in the end, one of the seats ends up on the ground. Even if the weight is small. The notion of balance is just a trick to convince yourself you can have your cake and eat it too! 🙂

  • Buyinpoker.com Posted October 3, 2009 12:22 pm

    Yeah it is just a game…people does not need to give away or spend much money on the the game.

  • bastinptc Posted October 8, 2009 12:18 pm

    I have a friend, a practiced Buddhist for 30+ years. He once told me that in the realm of human interactions, compassion must be a reciprocal practice. If none is forthcoming from the other party, none need be given back. As poker players, we are taught there is no room for compassion in the game. Compassion equals less money. Yet, it is a small sacrifice to occasionally indulge with those more tragic. If then they gloat, meaning they have no understanding of their circumstances, mercy time is over.

  • xeromidas Posted October 13, 2009 11:49 am

    i liked a lot ur article. Am starting into this thing thing. I want to become a pro i hope soon, thats why am reading a lot, and also bulding a free poker bankroll, cause i dont want to risk anything yet.
    Gl and am looking foward for another article

  • play poker online at titan poker Posted December 11, 2009 5:45 am

    I have a friend, a practiced Buddhist for 30+ years. He once told me that in the realm of human interactions, compassion must be a reciprocal practice. If none is forthcoming from the other party, none need be given back. As poker players, we are taught there is no room for compassion in the game. Compassion equals less money. Yet, it is a small sacrifice to occasionally indulge with those more tragic. If then they gloat, meaning they have no understanding of their circumstances, mercy time is over.

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  • Pokerice Posted February 4, 2010 6:04 am

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  • Frank Posted September 6, 2011 4:05 pm

    Bushido (the way of the warrior) as practiced religiously by Samurai is deeply founded in Zen and other Bhuddist teachings.

    Being one with your opponent, winning even in defeat, perfecting one’s path…these are concepts that resonate whether it’s sitting Zazen, drawing to a backdoor flush or severing his sword arm as you turn beneath his cut.

    Life is suffering. Learn to see beyond this.

    Conflict is imaginary – there is not as much distance between your stack and his as you think.

    Live in this very moment as perfectly as you are able – walking, driving, raising, slicing, breathing.

    Stop being fixated on the morality – did you really think you were taking those chips with you when you depart this world? Do you think your opponent is taking his?

  • Football News Posted September 13, 2011 1:54 pm

    Wow, this was great information.

    I have a friend that also converted and moved into a compound, never saw him after that as i returned home 🙁

  • Harriett Ruthledge Posted July 7, 2014 1:19 am

    Very nice article and straight to the point. I am not sure if this is in fact the best place to ask but do you guys have any ideea where to get some professional writers? Thx 🙂

  • Michael Posted May 13, 2015 7:11 am

    Well, actually I think the question might be a little more complex. While you are correctly pointing out that walking the path of “harmlessness” doesn’t necessarily include quitting poker, one might argue this from an ethical point of view.

    Does playing poker really imply no harm to yourself or to other? Is poker really an ethical thing. The profane will say that poker is bad in itself since it is gambling. However, us poker players will totally demolish this statement, since we do know that it has helped us better develop as a person, it has developed our thinking, our mentality. We have learned to be winners and to better succeed at life. (however it is not valid for all poker players)

    Really complex issue to thing about, thanks for the food for thought 🙂

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