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Little Buddha is a 1993 Americanmarker movie by director Bernardo Bertolucci and starring Bridget Fonda and Keanu Reeves.


Little Buddha is a story about the quest of a group of monks, led by Lama Norbu (Ruocheng Ying), to seek out the reincarnation of his great Buddhist teacher, Lama Dorje (Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen). Lama Norbu and his fellow monks believe they have found a candidate of Dorje's reincarnation within a boy named Jesse Conrad (Alex Wiesendanger) in Seattlemarker. While Jesse is fascinated with the monks and their way of life, his parents, Dean (Chris Isaak) and Lisa (Bridget Fonda), are wary, and that wariness turns into near-hostility when Norbu announces that he would like to take Jesse back with him to Bhutanmarker to be tested. Jesse's father changes his mind however, after one of his close friends and colleagues commits suicide, seeming to realize that there could be more to life than work and money. He then decides to go to Bhutan with his son. In Nepal, two children who are also candidates are encountered, Raju (Rajuh Lal) and Gita (Greishma Makar Singh).

In the story, the Lama Norbu relates Buddha's life story from a book entitled "Little Buddha," which is also enacted as a story within the movie. In the story, a Hindu prince called Siddhartha sets on a journey to achieve his goal. Mara, a jealous demon, senses that Siddhartha (Keanu Reeves) is about to attain enlightenment and sends his daughters to distract him. Failing to do so, he attempts to shatter Siddhartha’s resolve and thus begins an onslaught of threats, intimidation and temptation. Mara summons a terrifying horde of monsters of every conceivable description but even something as horrific as this still leaves Siddhartha unmoved, unperturbed. Instead he transforms the weapons which these hosts throw at him into lotus petals which exude a lovely fragrance as they gently float down to earth. Mara decides that Siddhartha will not deny himself and turns into his image in a reflection on a pool of water. Instead Siddhartha reaches and pulls the image out of the water. The classic Buddhist dialogue between Mara and Siddhartha takes place:

Mara: "You who go where others dare not; Will you be my God? The architect of my house?"

Siddhartha: "Finally I meet the illusion of self; Your evil house will not be built again."

Mara: "But you live in me; I am your house."

Siddhartha: "O, trickster; phantom of my own ego, you are pure illusion. You, self, do not exist. The earth is my witness."

Lama Norbu explains that Siddhartha defeated an army of demons, simply through his observance of patience and tolerance. He achieved great peacefulness and compassion, through self-detachment from illusions.

In the end, it is found that all three children are reincarnations of the Lama Dorje, separate manifestations of his body (Raju), speech (Gita), and mind (Jesse). A ceremony is held and Jesse's father also learns the facts about Buddhism. Lama Dorje's reincarnation represents the three most important aspects of life. His work finished, Lama Norbu enters a deep state of meditation and dies of his own will. As the funeral ceremony begins Lama Norbu speaks to the children, seemingly from a higher plane, telling them to have compassion. just before the credits roll the children are seen distributing his ashes in various places.

At the very end of the film credits, the sand mandala that was seen being constructed during the movie is destroyed, "with one swift stroke."

Technical point

The Buddha flashback scenes of Little Buddha were photographed in 65 mm Todd-AO by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The rest of the film was filmed in 35 mm anamorphic Technovision.


The soundtrack for the film was entirely composed by Japanese pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Track listing

All compositions are conducted by Sakamoto.

  1. "Main Theme" 2:50
  2. "Opening Titles" 1:47
  3. "The First Meeting" 1:50
  4. "Raga Kirvani" 1:28
  5. "Nepalese Caravan" 3:01
  6. "Victory" 1:45
  7. "Faraway Song" 3:18
  8. "Red Dust" 4:38
  9. "River Ashes" 2:25
  10. "Exodus" 2:33
  11. "Evan's Funeral" 4:28
  12. "The Middle Way" 1:50
  13. "Shruti Sadolikar - Raga Naiki Kanhra - The Trial" 5:25
  14. "Enlightenment" 4:28
  15. "The Reincarnation" 1:52
  16. "Gompa - Heart Sutra" 2:38
  17. "Acceptance - End Credits" 8:57

Casting of Tibetan lamas

Sogyal Rinpoche and Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche — both Tibetan teachers identified as reincarnated lamas or tulkus — appeared in the film. Sogyal Rinpoche plays in the earlier segments the role of Khenpo Tenzin, and Khyentse Rinpoche appears near the end when Lama Norbu is shown meditating overnight. Khyentse Rinpoche served as a consultant to Bertolucci for the film. In a later documentary about Khyentse Rinpoche entitled Words of my Perfect Teacher, his role in the film is discussed along with a short interview with Bertolucci.

The Venerable Khyongla Rato Rinpoche plays the part of the Abbot of the monastery.


The film received mixed reviews and was only a moderate box office success. It was nominated for one Razzie Award, Worst New Star for Chris Isaak.

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