Notes on a Buddhist path

The Agony of Defeat

February 23, 2014 By | 5 Comments

Victory leads to hatred,
for the defeated suffer.
The peaceful live happily,
beyond victory and defeat.

Dhammapada, v. 201

Defeated soccer player on shoalA few hours ago, Canada won their third gold medal in the last four Olympics in men’s hockey. To some this may be a blip on a passing news feed, but here in Canada it is the stuff frenzy is made of.

We as a society honor our victors, the winners, the ones who beat our agreed upon opponent, our enemy. Yet at what cost do our celebrations over the loss of another aid in our consciousness, our minds and our hearts?

The Olympics are a prime example of the wedge competition can drive between us and the other. Countries from all over the world come together to offer up their young athletes to face other equally hungry competitors in bouts of will and talent, to beat their competitor. Each sporting event becomes not just an individual endeavour, but a stage to prop an entire country’s worth and stature on the shoulders of a being just trying to do their best.

In the context of Buddhism, nationalism is seen by some to be the lowest form of the self. It can take on demonizing and vitriolic platitudes, borders and sanctions, invasions and wars. It enforces the illusion of “other” and in the process the illusion of a separate self. We can see its Jekyll and Hyde persona mirrored in the mad jubilation spreading right now over much of Canada juxtaposed against the shameful violence that erupted in Vancouver several years ago in the wake of loss at the Stanley Cup.

Not too long ago I wrote an article about competition and particularly a certain Amazon tribe who played a very special game. The point of the sport was not to win, not to defeat the other team, but to tie with them.


Imagine an Olympics where no medals are given out, where athletes greet each other on the playing field to play, not to beat or defeat the other, but to celebrate their mutual love of what they do and more so to celebrate each other.

Oscar Wilde once said “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.” In honour of each and every Olympian, may all beings reach beyond their borders and extend a hand of golden peace to one another. May our virtue reside in our actions and not in medals hanging from our necks. May our compassion dissolve our need to win and in victory’s place our happiness for another’s joy become our goal.

Just imagine…

Imagine by John Lennon via YouTube

Photo Credit:

Defeated soccer player on shoal by Koen Cobbaert via Flickr Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.


  1. FINALLY, a voice of sanity amidst all the Olympic hyperbole!! Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Although writing this posting in Canada may lead to some nasty looks from people on the bus on Monday. We used to be such a nice country, now we strive to “Own the Podium®”.)

    Vince Lombardi, historic American football coach, said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
    Krishnamurti said, “Nationalism is a form a violence”.

    Sorry Vince, love those Packers, but I’ll go with the Krish.

    In your “Amazon tribe” article you say “The aim of compassion is not to win or to lose or to even tie; it’s to let go of the goal entirely.” Amen to that gold medal.

    • David, thank you for assuring me that I’m not the only person who finds the Olympics befuddling. I hadn’t heard of Own the Podium® until now. Gad-zooks! What I have been missing in my little meditative corner of the world.

      That Krish. You gotta love him.

  2. On the other hand, perhaps sports channel nationalism in acceptable forms…

    But for sure there should be more “gala” events at the Olympics, like this… just showing off skills without scoring:

    • okei, thank you so much for the link to Yuna Kim and that beautiful performance. Yes to more gala events, imagine that…


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