Buddha wasn’t talking about high-stakes poker when he said “Develop the mind of equilibrium,” but it’s advice that seems to be working out pretty well for Scott Wellenbach.
The 67-year-old Canadian, who converted to Buddhism as a young man, won $671,240 at a poker tournament in the Bahamas on Wednesday and plans to give it away, as he does with all his winnings. Wellenbach, who works as a translator of Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhist texts, jokes to the CBC that his deal with the “poker gods” is that they give him results beyond what his ability warrants in return for him giving his winnings away.
He donates to Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders, as well as Buddhist charities and local charities in Nova Scotia.
Wellenbach says he’s won hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, but the Bahamas win was his biggest by far. He tells the BBC that he was more disciplined than usual in his meditating during the poker tournament, since he was “desperate for a little glimpse of sanity in the midst of all this.”
He admits that it’s tough to reconcile Buddhist practice with the rush of playing poker, though the game itself contains the “contradictions of existence.”
“Poker gives you a tremendous opportunity to work with the heavens and hells of your mind,” he says. “You’re winning and losing every minute-and-a-half, and so some sense of how your hopes and fears go up and down with the passing circumstance of the world is brought to fore at the poker table.” (Buddha would definitely not approve of cheating with radioactive cards.)