After Gautama Buddha had his fundamental insights into the mechanisms of the world fabric, the first thing he taught his fellows was the Four Noble Truths. The first aspect to realise is that all life is dukkha. Unfortunately, this is often translated as suffering, sometimes more adequately but also cumbersome as unsatisfactoriness. It is neither a pessimistic statement nor a nihilistic or fatalistic one. It is certainly based on Gautama’s observation that everybody – no matter if rich and wealthy or poor and disadvantaged – inevitably experiences sickness, disease, decay and death, constantly trying hard to avoid and escape these circumstances, but Buddha’s insight goes much deeper than this, as later Buddhists elaborated and explained. Driven by this fundamental fear we constantly crave for manifesting ourselves in pleasant and happy states of mind, body, and spirit. We fall victim of the illusion that there are desirable things in our lives that are worth longing for and undesirable things that we better avoid. These attachments and resistances, rooted in the ignorance of how things really are, form the mind poisons that the second Noble Truth claims to be the cause of dukkha. In this view, dukkha is not only the directly experienced suffering such as diseases, pain, misery, hunger, death, but also any form of dependence of our mental well-being on external factors that are beyond our control. This might be a bit difficult to understand. Therefore, let me give a very current example: football!
Football fans are often suffering. Earlier this year, we saw Dutch and Italian fans crying because their national teams could not qualify for the world cup taking place right now in Russia. When the football season of the German football leagues ended in May, we saw supporters of unsuccessful teams like in Hamburg, Mannheim or Karlsruhe unleash their frustration in violence and vandalism. And just two days ago, we saw German football fans in desperation over Germany’s national team dropping out of the tournament in Russia after the group phase (not making it to the round of 16 for the first time ever in the history of the world championships). The surprising failure of the Mannschaft even made it to the Breaking News with a News Special after the main evening News on TV. An outside observer might find this quite astonishing or disturbing: After all, this is just sports! Nothing really important! How can it have such a huge impact on the life of people that are not even directly involved in playing the game?
Football is a very important and ubiquitous part of the German society. More than 25000 amateur and professional football clubs are registered. Almost every Kid will, sooner or later, be asked to join a football club, and – even more important – to choose a favourite team (or, as we say, “choose your colours”). Since my grandparents lived (and still live) near Hamburg and my family went there very often to visit them, I had a strong connection to that city. This was reason enough to choose Hamburg’s biggest and most renowned football club Hamburger SV as my favourite team. In the past, they had been quite successful, and in the beginning of the 1990s it was still a big name (meanwhile they went down to the 2nd national league).
Yet, I have never been a really big football fan, never went to the stadium to watch a game (my only stadium visit, actually, was in Japan in 2010 to see a J-League match of Nagoya Grampus Eight), and since around 1999 I didn’t express any preference of any football team. Yet, of course, I got in touch with football fans in public, especially on weekends when league matches took place. Many supporters travel by train, often drunk, always loud, and sometimes extremely aggressive, violent and disrespectful. I have encountered vandalism, vulgarities, brutal affrays, and more scary and shocking scenes close to or beyond the limits of the legally allowed. Unfortunately, and certainly also misjudging a large part of football supporters, I can’t deny that my image of (serious, active) football fans is outstandingly negative: stupid, brainless, misbehaving, immoral scum! If you want an advice: Whenever you can, stay away from them!
From my perspective, making one’s mood and well-being dependent on the performance of a football team is the master example of what Buddha meant with dukkha. There is no causal relation between a team’s success and a supporter’s mental state except the fan’s attachment to the idea of supportership. Football fans often speak of tradition, Heimat (something like home or native origin), connection. Yet, there is no rational or reasonable basis for this idea. Most players of today’s professional teams are from all around the world but not from the city or region where the club is located. Moreover, today’s football clubs are economic corporations that give a shit about emotional connection between fans’ hearts and the logo or image of the club. But football fans, so to say, commit themselves voluntarily to a form of empathy with the club or the team: when the team loses, they are sad or angry; when the team wins they are euphoric and happy. Both are extremes. A detachment from this dependence would result in a more balanced and wholesome state of mind that is not dependent on an external factor. “How boring!”, some will say. “That’s not what life is about! We want that thrill!“. This is where the ethical dimension comes into play: When the attachment and the resulting dependence of the emotional state leads to unethical behaviour like violence (on, possibly, neutral bystanders and innocent third parties) and public vandalism (a violation of social contracts), the football supporters’ dukkha has to be condemned and sanctioned! When the private, personal sphere of dukkha – which can be answered with compassion and forgiveness – is exceeded towards the public sphere, it requires hard consequences.
You see, in any way, conditional commitment to uncontrollable factors like the performance of football teams causes displeasure for the supporters, the bystanders, and even non-involved third parties, caused by the fans’ suffering (dukkha) which, here, does not refer to the experience of sadness and/or anger after lost matches, but to the dependence of one’s well-being on an external factor, a connection that is chosen voluntarily and could, in principle, be different. Just understand what makes you form this unreasonable bond with a football team (pressure from peers? tradition? patriotism? psychological dispositions?) and develop a more mindful perspective (such as no matter how the team performs, your life is not directly affected by it, if you don’t give it such a power). Ideally, better have a degree of mindfulness that makes it irrelevant and unnecessary for you to form a strong emotional commitment towards anything in the world that is outside of your personal realm.