"Wanted" by the Law of Karma?

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, July 3, 2008

Dharma-Inspired Movie Review: www.WantedMovie.com

Singapore -- In the film "Wanted", a fraternity of assassins believe that they are the "weapons of fate". Their cause was to kill those deemed fated to die - especially if their existence endangers the lives of many others. The process of determining the kill bill is bizarre though.

It stems from a thousand years ago, when a group of weavers began seeing self-inspired codes and signs in miswoven cloth to represent names of those who "had" to die. A case of reading too much really - because chances are, names will turn up if one looks long and hard enough. Anyway, the cloth doesn't say what the "accidentally" named implies.

The seemingly random names that turn up could be taken to mean anything under the sun. If something meaningful is demanded, it would be more constructive to think they are those we should transform with goodness. It was a simplistic way to forcefully justify killing. The murderous intentions probably arose from inner streaks of self-righteous violence. Imagine what would happen if everyone read signs of who to kill all over - in the shapes of clouds, songs of birds, shadows of trees... The world would be a terrible place - with us terrorising one another with murder and suspicion.

The idea of fate brings up many questions... If fate is the way things will inevitably be, why is there a need to be the "weapons of fate" - since no one escapes fate anyway? This calls to mind the phenomenon of wrathful extremists, who believe what they do to be willed by a higher being they believe in... when it is only their wills at play, while the being they believe in remains silent - neither granting blessings nor hurling curses on their beliefs. The idea of having a divine but really self-chosen destiny is often overly-romanticised - with deadly results. If all is fated, it is easier and wiser to sit back, relax, and let whatever will be to be!

As such, the deliberate choice of action really betrays one's disbelief in fate - since fate requires no players, since it is fate that plays us all. The Fraternity also does not explain how do they choose who to kill when the wanted list has common names. Must all by the same name die? Or does the Fraternity decide who deserves to? It boils down to faith in one's decision, not fate itself. This reminds me of horoscope forecasts in the papers - as if all the Virgos in the world will similarly experience what is predicted in the week to come. We all know this cannot be true, yet many cannot resist the possibility that it could be. 

The Fraternity later realises that they have been betrayed by their leader, manipulated to kill those he saw as profitable to. So much for blind belief in fate. Interestingly, we don't see the Fraternity members being wise enough to wonder if they were fated to be fooled. If they believe they were, they ought to take it graciously! Fate couldn't be wrong, could it? If so, how could they have killed anyone wrongly? And if none was killed wrongly, why blame the "traitor"? Can killers be trusted? Is there really honour among thieves? There is honour that fluctuates I guess, according to what's in it for them!

In Buddhism, the belief in predestination is seen as a delusion - other than confidence in prophesies that some are bound for enlightenment by virtue of their already substantial spiritual practice. While we are subject to the experience of karmic causes created in the past, the attitude with which we experience them in the present is up to us. The potency of negative karma can be diluted by the creation of more positive karma too, just as the wealth of positive karma can be diluted by the creation of much negative karma! As such, our "destinies" are fluid, up to us to shape now. It's literally a case of fate being in your hands.

When disclosed to have bluffed the organisation, the Fraternity's leader reveals that all their names had long turned up in the weavings. The dilemma - if they were to dogmatically adhere to their "(im)moral" code, they ought to kill themselves. Hmmm... how do they decide if this proven liar was not again lying to them? The member who believed in warped "poetic justice" fires a curving bullet, that dramatically goes around the room - through every one of their heads - including hers! Fatalism can be fatal! Killers who killed out of delusion being killed out of delusion - in a "roundabout" way! What goes around karmically comes around?

The antithesis of fatalism is the protagonist, who was initially frustrated with being insignificant. He was encouraged by the Fraternity's leader to inherit "the sins of the father", who convinced him that he was capable of being a cool killer like he was. However, he was tricked into killing his real father, who ironically wanted him to choose his own path in life - not to follow in his "sinful" footsteps. Just when we assume the "hero" to have realised this, he takes control and kills the Fraternity's leader. This could perhaps be justified - as the unrepentant leader's existence was too dangerous for all? Maybe yes; maybe not.

It is too easy to point fingers at certain persons to blame for the problems of the world - though we should also point at ourselves for not being able to transform them in time. Killing problematic persons is often mistaken as a quick and easy solution, though it can worsen matters - when the interweavings of vengeful karma become entwined into a mangled mess. Only in rare cases is it skilful to kill one to save many - as a last resort too. Even so, the karma of killing one is incurred, though the karma from saving many can alleviate the results of suffering. Such was the case of the Buddha in a previous life as a Bodhisattva.

"Fate" decides - but we decide what our "fate" is. Just as the Fraternity read convoluted self-concocted meanings into their weavings, after which they voluntarily chose to do what they did, we too weave our own "fate" by choosing our destiny. Careful though! No one is an island. As the world is interdependent, our interaction with others via our thoughts, words and deeds creates an interwoven web. May we be mindful of what we weave. Every thought is a fine thread, which makes the fibre of every word spoken and action taken a thicker strand. Weave well! If not, it could lead to knotty negative karma!