Karma Chameleon Dept.

Review: Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown flounder in the complete failure of Winters Tale

I feel like films that grapple with theology can either tend to the esoteric or they can end up being overly complicated or they can take the tact this film does: they can end up being gooey, pandering, simple-minded garbage. And in the final five minutes of the film, they wrap it all up with some narration that made me violently angry. It is the sort of feel-good affirmation garbage that can only be delivered or believed from a position of enormous privilege. When you start babbling about destiny and fate and say something like "What if the universe loves us all equally, so much so that it bends over backwards across the centuries for each of us?" Well, what about it? Sounds great. How about we go to a pediatric cancer ward and you can explain it to all the children there who are dying? Or maybe we could sit down with survivors of sexual abuse, and you can tell them how everybody gets to be a star and it's all going to work out just fine. Maybe you can explain to me sometime how your philosophy accounts for the vast majority of people who don't get what they want and who the universe truly could not care any less about, because I'm confused.

There's little that's more repulsive than genuinely profound philosophies in the hands of rank amateurs. The stuff Drew is skewering here sounds a lot like bastard Buddhism — the "Buddhism" of pop-culture wish-fulfillment like The Secret, where we are all children of the universe and all the rest of that horse puckey. The word that's being danced around furiously is karma, one of the most misused and misunderstood terms in all of spiritual study, and it makes my own blood volcano over to see such tired canards trotted out as storytelling chesspieces.

One of the first things you learn about karma if you study Buddhism from anyone with a halfway decent reputation is what the word actually means. The literal translation of word is "activity". Karma is a way of saying that anything that takes place, causes other things to take place. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and no tree falls in a forest without making a sound. It's meant to be cautionary and inspirational at the same time. Yes, we are all connected and all that groovy jazz, but that brings with it at least as much (I'd say more) weighty responsibility as it does warm fuzzies. If you tell off the guy in front of you at the checkout counter, he might end up being put into such a peevish mood that he plows his car into a concrete pillar. Those things are at least as likely to happen (again, I'd say more) than a random hat-tip to some stranger garners you a $156 million inheritance.

The other tricky thing that people get wrong is that nobody comes to a real understanding of this stuff by just having it told to them. No wisdom has any real meaning or effect if it's just delivered like a candy bar from a vending machine. This is why what Drew is describing makes me angry: it's as if the movie was constructed as this vending machine to pop out nuggets of allegedly deep wisdom that we're then supposed to feel endlessly thankful to be able to pocket and savor. But real spiritual wisdom doesn't work like that, because it's not something you can give people. The most you can do is awaken within them the capacity to come to such wisdom on their own within themselves, and even that is not something you can give wholesale. All you can do is create environments in which such things can germinate, and then light the touchpaper and get the hell out of the way.

Why do we get this wrong? Because we want to believe that it is possible to give it to people, and because we want to believe that it's also possible to receive such things just as blithely and mechanically. If we can give it to others without any real effort, than it becomes all the easier to be seen as a wise person. And likewise, if becoming wise (or for that matter, profound) is just a matter of hearing the right words, then "getting wisdom" — or "getting enlightenment", while we're at it — becomes a passive process rather than an active one.

But these things aren't artifacts you can collect and trade like Pokémon. They're expressions of a part of one's existence, and regarding them as an artifact is deceptive. It's like looking at a drawing for ten seconds, and not realizing that an artist took four hours of work to produce it. You see your ten seconds; he sees his four hours.

Every time we tell someone — directly or indirectly — that they can have it all just by hearing the right words, we're repeating a lie that only takes them further from anything like the truth.

Tags: Buddhism philosophy spirituality

comments powered by Disqus

About This Page

This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2014/06/24 10:00.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

About Me

I'm an independent SF and fantasy author, technology journalist, and freelance contemplator for how SF can be made into something more than just a way to blow stuff up.

My Goodreads author profile.

Learn some more about me.

My Books

Out Now

Coming Soon

Previously Released

More about my books

Search This Site