As Justin Whittaker points out (along with every sports page), it has been 108 years since the Cubs last took the World Series. So, Whittaker reasons, the Cubs have become “Buddhism’s team.”
For non-Buddhists out there, 108 is an auspicious number, appearing everywhere from the number of beads in a mala (the Buddhist equivalent of a rosary) to the number of questions Mahamatmi asks the Buddha in the Lankavatara Stura. Some schools teach that there are 108 feelings, a number the renowned Sri Lankan monk Bhante Gunaratana arrives at through a string of multipliers derived from Buddhist teachings on the nature of experience. In Japan, the new year is rung in by striking a bell 108 times. You get the picture . . .
We’d like to take Whittaker’s observation a bit further: If the Cubs are Buddhism’s team, baseball may be the Buddha’s sport. As Tricycle founding editor Helen Tworkov wrote in the summer of 1993:
A member of the Theosophical Society, [Abner] Doubleday was familiar with Buddhism through his close friendship with Madame Blavatsky. But he is best remembered for laying out baseball’s diamond field in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York, which today is home to The Baseball Hall of Fame. Sometimes referred to as “the father of baseball,” Doubleday has been claimed by some Buddhist enthusiasts as one of their own for infusing this quintessentially American game with mystical Buddhist numbers—nine (innings, players, yanas), three (strikes, jewels, vehicles), and four (balls, bases, noble truths). Even the field has been touted as an esoteric reference to the Diamond Sutra. According to modern historians of the sport, however, Doubleday’s association with baseball is more mythic than actual. Yet one great mystery remains: the 108 stitches (as in suture or “sutra” ) on the hardball. This is the total of 9 x 3 x 4: the same number of Buddhist prayer beads on a sacred mala as well as the number used ritually and repeatedly throughout Buddhist cultures. And even if history does disprove Doubleday’s influence on baseball, Buddhist sages tell us that there are no coincidences. Play ball!
The Doubleday myth is indeed a myth. He is an interesting character, though. A Union general, he fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter exactly 108 years before Gil Hodges Amazin’ Mets dragged themselves out of the divisional basement to take the Series in 1969. Second place in the National League East that year? The Cubs, who collapsed late in the season. Let’s see if the Buddha’s team can make up for that tonight with an amazing comeback of their own.
(UPDATE: The Cubs won)
Start your day with a fresh perspective
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.