Buddhist master says French boules is an exercise in meditation

by Adam Sage, BBC, August 24, 2009

Paris, France -- It is the quintessential French pastime uniting millions around dusty courts and bottles of aniseed liqueur. Now la pétanque — boules — has been elevated to a higher plane by a Buddhist master, who has been hailed across France for his theory that the activity is a helpful tool for meditation.

<< La pétanque - The French have always thought that their national pastime, la pétanque, was a game on a higher plane

The thoughts of Maître Kaisen have been well received in a country that has always believed the national sport to be a superior discipline. Journalists have flocked to his retreat in southwest France to record his wisdom since the publication of his book on the art of throwing metal boules.

“If pétanque is practised in a just frame of mind, then yes, it can help you to grow,” he said. His words earned plaudits from amateurs on internet chat forums, but also from the country’s greatest boulistes, including Philippe Quintais, who has won the world championship 12 times. “I am not an adept of Buddhism, but people like that, they help you to recharge your batteries,” said Mr Quintais after visiting Ho Sho Ji, the temple founded by Master Kaisen in the Dordogne.

The master, who was born Alain Krystaszek to a family of Polish immigrants in northern France, says his book L’Esprit de la Pétanque (The Spirit of Pétanque), is based on 35 years of practise. “I play once a week and I have a lot of friends who are top-level players,” he told The Times. ”I wanted to do the book for them.”

He believes that similar qualities are required for la pétanque and Buddhist meditation — such as an ability to ignore outside distractions. “Excellence is achieved by letting yourself go and by not identifying yourself with illusory aspects,” he said. “At a certain moment, there is a unity of body, soul and breathing. You forget yourself and others. You’re not here, you’re not there, you’re everywhere.”

His advice comes as the French Pétanque Federation tries to clamp down on the distinctly secular behaviour that has marred competitions. Brawls are becoming common, fuelled by alcohol, combined with wider social problems. The federation has told players to limit their consumption of pastis — the favourite tipple — and introduced rules to protect referees.

Although Master Kaisen, 56, teaches disciples how to improve their game, he warns against the dangers of competition. “When you are naturally focused things go well, and when you are naturally unfocused, the boule goes off any old where — and you just have to accept that.”

The game is played on an occasional basis by about 20 million French people and regularly by 380,000 paid-up members of a local clubs. Buddhism may not be as popular but is reported to be gaining ground in a country fascinated by eastern spirituality. The French Union of Buddhists claims 800,000 followers, three quarters of whom are of Asian origin.