Part 1: The film selected for this paper is Little Buddha, staring Bridget Fonda, Chris Isaak, and Keanu Reeves. The movie is two stories in one: it tells of the journey of Siddhartha to his enlightenment and transition to Buddha, a story told within the larger story of the monk Lama Norbu to locate the most recent incarnation of the important Buddhist teacher, Lama Dorje. The story of Buddha is told to an American boy named Jesse Conrad who, along with two other children, is a candidate for Dorje’s reincarnation. Norbu locates Jesse in Seattle and declares his intention to take Jesse back to Bhutan to be tested to determine if he is Dorje’s reincarnation. Jesse’s parents are understandably uncomfortable with this – they don’t appear to be particularly religious. However, Jesse’s father Dean changes his mind after one of his good friends and colleagues commits suicide after going broke. Dean travels with Jesse to Bhutan, where they meet the two other candidates for Dorje’s reincarnation, Gita and Raju. It is discovered that all three children are reincarnations of Dorje, with each child representing a different aspect of the teacher. Jesse represents Dorje’s mind; Gita represents his speech; and Raju represents his body. A ceremony takes place. Dean (and presumably the audience) learn some of the essential truths or tenets of Buddhism. Following the ceremony, Norbu begins a deep state of meditation then dies. During Norbu’s funeral, Norbu’s spirit speaks to the children, advising them to have compassion. The children then scatter his ashes, and the sand mandala that could be seen being constructed in the course of the film is destroyed. The underlying message of this movie appears to be a sharing and reinforcement of the principle tenets of Buddhism with a particular emphasis on compassion and an avoidance of materialism.
Part 2: Many of the critical tenets of Buddhism unsurprisingly appear in the movie Little Buddha including the renouncement of material attachments and cravings, practicing meditation, and a significant emphasis on compassion. All of these appear with no little significance in the film. Dean decides to allow Jesse to be tested after Dean’s friend commits suicide as a consequence of going broke. This situation casts materialism and material things in a negative light, underlining the Buddhist practice of renouncing material attachments and cravings. Meditation plays a critical role throughout the film, especially as demonstrated in Siddhartha’s enlightenment to the Buddha. Compassion is a critical tenet and a recurring topic in the movie; it is the last message Norbu delivers to the children after his death. These are just some of the beliefs and practices of Buddhism, and while they seem simple, their true fulfillment is a complex process, ultimately leading to enlightenment, as Siddhartha is shown achieving in the movie. That scene is very intense, with Siddhartha facing Mara and his many illusions, demonstrating the discipline and devotion that Buddhism requires of its practitioners.
Part 3: Watching this movie was intense but very inspiring. While I am not sure that I could or would full adopt Buddhism as my system of beliefs, I can see the goodness in it. I see a lot of parallels between the Buddhist monks and Catholic priests, nuns, and monks as well, especially in terms of renouncing material things and cravings. The death of Dean’s friend and the impact that death had on Dean was quite eye-opening; it is hard for me to imagine reaching a place where I would commit suicide just because I had no money. But Dean’s friend was clearly attached to those material things, and it cost him his life. That is a terrifying thought but a meaningful lesson about the dangers of materialism, one that I appreciate. I also much more clearly see the value and benefit of meditation, a practice I have always been attracted to but felt strange about doing. I feel like Little Buddha has inspired me to give meditation serious consideration. To cultivate compassion is also a good lesson. I appreciate the reminder. It can be very easy to get lost in one’s own concerns and forget other people.