Will The Buddha Bless The Evil? (Moral Contradictions Within ‘Infernal Affairs’)

The evil curse themselves continually with their remorseless evil thoughts, words and deeds.

— Shilashanti

Perhaps the most disturbing scenes of the ‘Infernal Affairs’《无间道》trilogy are those featuring an evil triad leader in the presence of Buddha images. In the opening scene, before a Buddhist shrine in a temple, he places his joined palms (合掌) above his head and gives them three short vigorous shakes, after which he passes an envelope to a henchman casually, who offers it to a ‘monk’ with joined palms. He then gives a ‘motivational’ speech to a line of new henchmen, concluding by exclaiming, ‘May the Buddha bless!’ (佛祖保佑!), as he shakes his palms thrice again, wishing them smooth success. The occasion was a tea ceremony for committing to become undercover triad members in the police force.

Much is wrong. First, while all Buddhas are able to know all matters at all places, surely, none will gladly witness or endorse any wicked agreement between the evil. Second, placing the palms together is to express reverence, not for pleasing or appeasing the enlightened for favours. Third, it is not a proper practice to wave joined palms to express respect, which should be done with stillness calmly. Fourth, the intense but brief shaking might express more impatience and greed for blessings than respect. Fifth, mere monetary offerings from ill-gotten gains will not ‘work’ in neutralising ill done or to be done. Sixth, no Buddha will offer any blessings to facilitate those about to do evil, what more hope they succeed.

In the third instalment, the same triad leader, before the big outdoor Buddha’s image at Lantau Island, offers three big incense sticks, while discussing ‘business’ matters, replying that, ‘I am truly from a triad’ while smiling. After looking up at the huge Buddha image, the potential partner asks, ‘Do you truly have faith in the Buddha?’ He grins and says, ‘Āmítuófó!’ (阿弥陀佛!) It is hard to tell if he was being sincere or sarcastic. More likely, he was all along, just abusing the Buddha’s image, to create awe and intimidate, pretending that he has the Buddha’s backing. Or he was blatantly showing that he is even capable of contradicting basic Buddhist principles, thus not to be trifled with. This truly creates even more evil karmas.

Much is wrong again. First, even if he offers three thousand gigantic joss sticks, this does nothing to atone for his misdeeds, as he remains insincere in turning over a new leaf. This is expressed by his smiling while affirming that his business is dirty. The Buddha surely prefers that he relinquishes his immoral business, than to receive any of his offerings. Second, his reply to the question of his faith is more snarky than serious. If he recited the name of the Buddha properly, he would not be using it ambiguously, in jest, what more in the midst of discussing how to further his evil business. It is obvious that he did not even really believe in the workings of karma, of doing evil begetting suffering, much less with true faith in the Buddha.

Beyond ceremonies lavish or otherwise, if doing evil, while not really doing good, not mindful of upholding the precepts, or the Buddha’s name, how is one able to receive any holy protection? One is simply sowing the karmic seeds of one’s eventual downfall… in hell, if indeed evil. Those who were sincere in having done some good will not do self-defeating evil, as if they are entitled to, for ‘compensation’. Likewise, those who were seriously evil will not do more good to ‘balance’ things out, if they are remain mainly evil in nature. Even if there is a iota of sincerity when praying to the Buddha, it is just that – a dust mote of good karma created, compared to the mountains of great evil karmas unrepented for, with no remedial actions taken.

The triad leader is later killed unceremoniously by one of his trusted undercover henchmen, who turns on him. In one of the last scenes, due to failed suicide, this killer is in turn trapped in his own body and mind, punished by guilt for causing death of a loved one, and not being able to be with one who loves him. His fingers tap this out in Morse code — ‘H-E-L…’ Such is his ongoing ‘hell’, even before death and falling into an actual hell. It is a hell that he is not being able to escape from, with his anguish barely communicated, but not read and understood by anyone, not even most of the audience (in the last 20 years). This brings us back to the title of the trilogy in Chinese, which means ‘Uninterrupted Hell’ and the featured quotes on it.

The good bless themselves continually with their sincere good thoughts, words and deeds.

— Shilashanti

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