A Karmic Comeuppance

'Gosford Park' brims with well-defined characters, all of whom have a part to play in the murder, says Lama Surya Das.

In a budding Beliefnet tradition, we're celebrating Oscar season by talking with five religious thinkers (listed at right) about each of this year's Best Picture nominees. Beliefnet's Anne Simpkinson talked recently with Tibetan Buddhist teacher Lama Surya Das about "Gosford Park."

Lama Surya DasSet in England in 1932, "Gosford Park" is a sumptuously shot, cleverly written murder mystery that focuses more on manners than on murder. As Sir William McCordle's guests--and their servants--gather for a weekend of pheasant shooting, it becomes apparent that the lord of the manor has exploited or is exploiting many of his guests and servants--financially or sexually. Almost everyone on the grounds would like to see him dead. Eventually, they do. Spoiler note: If you haven't seen the movie, you won't learn the ending here. But if you want no hints at all, come back after you've been to the theater.

One of the spiritual themes of the movie is karma.

Well, as Buddhists say, "Everything is karma." So it's no surprise that a murder mystery would have something to do with that.


"Gosford Park" is not just a who-done-it, with a trail to the clues, Sherlock Holmes-style. It's about the karmic weave of what these people have in common, what the linchpins of their being together are. In this case, it's the owner of the house, Sir William McCordle.

I thought it was really interesting the way it emerged that his "sins," his karma, came back to get him. It's not only what goes around comes around. All these people came to play their part. It's like Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express," where Hercule Poirot is trying to find out which of 12 people did it. You find out they all participated. That's the karmic thing; everybody has their piece in the karmic puzzle reaching back into the past.

In this case, the crucial line for me was when Jane Wilson, the head housekeeper says, "I'm the perfect servant. I know what they want before they know it themselves."

She was the great anticipator.

It wasn't just that she could anticipate what her employer wanted, before he wanted it, but she knew what her son would do even though she never saw him during his lifetime.

Buddhism is a religion of non-violence. Does the fact that the murderer will probably never be brought to justice, bother you as a Buddhist?

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