The 1999 film The Matrix categorized under science fiction suggests a connection with the Buddhist religion. Many critics have perceived the picture as conforming to some of the religious ideals of the Buddhist religion (Robinson, Thanissaro, and Willard 173). However, some other scholars explain that the masterpiece does not necessary seek to cut a niche in the religious domain. The dystopian film presents the rise of machines aimed at subduing the human race (Harvey 25). Consequently, upon learning this reality, Neo, a computer programming genius rebels against the machines. Neo receives education regarding the nature of the Matrix from the young Buddhist monk. Set within the Nebuchadnezzar, the thrilling film finds itself echoing the Buddhist sentiments through its styles and thematic concerns that it raises.
Evidently, the film raises questions on the concept of reality as computer-generated which is associated with Buddhist doctrine of Maya (Robinson, Thanissaro, and Willard 237). According to Buddhism, Maya is an illusion that needs breaking for enlightenment to come forth. Remarkably, the title of the film suggests the worldview as illustrated by Morpheus as mind prison, where many people are unaware of their reality (Harvey 12). Both in the Matrix as well as in accordance to Buddhism, sensory experience subjects humans to a false reality but keeping them in some kind of mirage. The Buddhist theme of reflections is evident in the film. There are several instances when images are used in the film especially on the sunglasses that the heroes wear.
Metaphorically, mirrors in the Buddhist tradition illustrate human reflection of what lies within them (Robinson, Thanissaro, and Willard 298). That is, for people to understand reality, they must perceive it as an illusion. By extension, it means that skepticism is the beginning of acquiring knowledge. Individuals should empty their minds in order to understand their lives as well as their surroundings. Alternatively, Buddhists also believe the world exists but its conceptualization is illusionary. Arguably, the genuine world exists but it does not match with the images in people’s minds. Additionally, the film agrees to the Theravada’s arhat that explains that enlightenment is an individual’s effort (Gerner 35). Neo struggles to liberate humanity from the curse of technology by seeking to understand how the mechanical and computerized system works in order to find a solution. What Morpheus tells Neo is synonymous with what Buddha taught his followers that they should make an effort to serve as guides to the society.
Also, Nichiren Buddhists consider the connection between Neo and Morpheus as related to that of the disciple and the master (Strong 37). Morpheus’ yearning is to see Neo enlightened and attained happiness for others. At the same time, the use of machines in the film shows the attitude of enlightenment according to the doctrine of Sunyata that reality exists or not at the same time (Strong 34). Significantly, in a scene of the film, Smith and Neo run short of bullets and each tells the other that they are empty. Literarily, the ignorance and the emptiness of views are represented. Apparently, the machines are indestructible; they reemerge after some time. Hence, it speaks of rebirth and continuous suffering that human beings encounter. At some point, Neo is reminded that he does not have to learn how to dodge bullets because it will find him if they were aimed at him. By extension, the film communicates Buddhist idea of the inability to avoid samsara, that is, a condemnation of human suffering.
Further, the presentation of the “Boss” is a manifestation of the aspects that demonstrate human ignorance towards enlightenment and realization of true happiness (Robinson, Thanissaro and Willard 298). The Oracle shows Buddha with whose teachings are resourceful and whose knowledge is beyond human understanding. Considerably, the presence of violence serves as a metaphor for the internal struggle aimed at destroying one’s ignorance as explained under Shantideva in the religion. Hence, Neo’s objective is to enter an agreement with the “Boss” and promote deliverance of the enlightened in order to help other living beings. Ideally, it is the duty of every Buddhist to liberate others from the chains of ignorance and darkness. Unfortunately, the film, as much as the faith in question, demonstrates that human beings are trapped in a cycle of ignorance that renders them in a repetitive and monotonous life revolving around three major stages of birth followed by death and rebirth (Strong 23).
Despite the fact that some critics dismiss the assertion that the film is largely based on Buddhism, the various features presented in the film oppose their disputes (Gerner 23). These critics say that the movie does not conform to the religion’s ideals in entirety. For example, they explain that the religion’s ethics discourage the use of violence and unethical language as applied in the films (Strong 9). In the movie, there are lots images of blood that contradicts the peaceful teachings of the faith. Many characters are killed and the violence aims at the people, a matter that contravenes the Buddhist teachings. Further, it opposes the duty of bodhisattva that should typically return to salvage a sad situation and assist the heroes in fighting their quest (Harvey 36). In a similar sense, the demonization of the Matrix as the enemy does not conform to the ideals of the religious institution. However, the many images in the movie are conventional of the Buddhist practices and teachings. Hence, it is appropriate to conclude that there are several influences of Buddhism that have emerged in the film, whether applied consciously or not.
Gerner, Katy. Buddhism. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2008. Print.
Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.
Horn, Roger A, and Charles R. Johnson. Matrix Analysis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.
Robinson, Richard H, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and Willard Johnson. Buddhist Religions: A Historical Introduction. Belmont, Calif. [u.a.: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2004. Print.
Strong, John S. The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth [u.a., 2003. Print.