The Zen Teachings of Bagger Vance

A few nights ago, we re-watched The Legend of Bagger Vance in which Rannulph Junuh, played by Matt Damon learns the Zen teachings of Bagger Vance, played by Will Smith. Junuh is in a golf tournament with two top players in Savannah, Georgia and has fallen 12 stokes behind. Bagger Vance gives Junuh the following lesson:

Captured from movie

Bagger Vance: “I think it’s time!”

Junuh: “Time for what?”

BV: “Time for you to see the field.”

J: “The field? I see the field. It’s 445 yards long. It’s go a red flag at the end of it. It’s 12 strokes ahead of me. Come on.”

BV: “That ain’t it. ‘Cause if you was seein’ the field, you wouldn’t be hackin’ at that ball like you was chopping weeds out from under you front porch.”

J: “Just give me the club.”

BV: “Sorry I bring it up. Here. You’re gonna take that. Hack away.”

J: (begins to line up the ball for his stroke) “All right. What’s the field.”

BV: “Fix your eyes on Bobby Jones.” (another golfer) “Here’s a piece of work right now.” (Bobby’s tune to tee off, chatter omitted.) “Look at his practice swing. Almost like he was searchin’ for somethin’. Then he finds it. Watch him settle himself right to the middle of it. Feel that focus. He got a lot of shots he can choose from. Duffs and tops and skulls. But there is only one shot that is in perfect harmony with the field. One shot that’s his. Authentic shot. And that shot is going to choose him. There’s a perfect shot out there tryin’ to find each and every one of us. All we have to do is get ourselves out of its way. Let it choose us. Mm. Look at him. He in the field. Can’t see that flag as some dragon you got to slay. You got to look with soft eyes. See the place where the tides and seasons and the turnin’ of the earth all come together. Where everything that is becomes one. You got to seek that place with your soul, Junuh.

“Seek it with your hands. Don’t think about it. Feel it. Your hands is wiser than your head ever gonna be. I can’t take you there, Junuh. Just hopes I can help you find a way. Just you, that ball, that flag, and all you are — seek it with your hands. Don’t think about it. Feel it. You’re lookin’ at it, Junuh. Just one shot that’s in perfect harmony. Your authentic swing. That flag. And all that you are.”

If you want to see how the match turned out, watch the movie. It is playing on Showtime.

But if you want to discover the Zen teachings of Bagger Vance, look carefully at what he calls “the field.” He says, “All we have to do is get ourselves out of its way,” and everything in life will flow from our awareness “of all that is.” This is the insight of interbeing – the insight of the interconnectedness of all that is, or as Bagger Vance says, “Where everything that is becomes one. You got to seek that place with your soul, Junuh.”

Bagger also says “I can’t take you there, Junuh.” This is like what Robert Aitken Roshi wrote, “It is essential at the beginning of practice to acknowledge that the path is personal and intimate. It is no good to examine it from a distance as if it were someone else’s. You must walk it for yourself.

This whole scene has significant meaning for me because I play tennis as part of my practice. I have given talks about this and you can read more about it here. I’m always looking for the “only one shot that is in perfect harmony with the field,” or tennis court.

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