Usually, searching for films about spirituality and religion will bring up a lot of documentary viewing – and while that’s great (and a wonderful way to learn), it’s not always what viewers want. Sometimes it would be nice to see a fictional (or biographical) film with a spiritual bent – something that can be light, funny, or dramatic, rather than purely informative.
These ten films explore Buddhism in multiple ways – and none of them is a documentary. Some might use fictional stories to explore the way of life or principles of Buddhism, while others might include Buddhist monks in a comic fashion, or take a theatrical look at famous real-life Buddhists.
ten Spring, summer, fall, winter … and spring
This beautiful South Korean film examines the cyclical nature of life (a very Buddhist concept) against the backdrop of a Buddhist monastery on a small island. Taking place over a year, the film centers on a young monk who explores love and sexuality as well as his faith. It is a wonderful film to directly refer to the Buddhist path while simultaneously embodying a Buddhist idea.
9 Bulletproof monk
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is Bulletproof monk. It may actually fall into the âSo bad it’s goodâ category, rather than being a legitimately great movie, but anyone who wants to see a Buddhist monk in a mind-blowing action comedy alongside a wise American pickpocket to protect a mystical scroll … has come to the right place. This is certainly not the true Buddhist path, but it is a fun movie nonetheless.
8 Buddha collapsed in shame
Despite the title, this film does not fully focus on Buddhism but includes some wonderfully Buddhist ideas on the pursuit of wisdom and the importance of education for all. Buddha collapsed in shame takes place in Bamiyan (Afghanistan), where the Taliban destroyed massive and ancient statues of Buddha.
The film centers on a young girl and her dreams of being able to get an education – and although it might not quite be I am Malala, it is a beautiful and inspiring tale.
This award-winning film festival offering explores the complications of spirituality and sexuality, as a young monk attempts to achieve enlightenment. The film centers on Tashi, a man raised in the spiritual life, who falls in love with a woman. He struggles to decide whether he needs to truly understand the other side of life to achieve enlightenment, and follows his heart – but to unexpected ends.
6 Hector and the search for happiness
Simon Pegg stars in this movie about a bored psychiatrist who sets out on a worldwide quest to discover the true meaning of happiness … and finds wonderfully unexpected results. And unlike many films that claim this, the film’s ending is likely to be actually unexpected, in a wonderful way.
While Buddhism is not a major part of the film, Hector does spend time going to a monastery and learning a few lessons there – and the overall meaning of the film certainly matches some Buddhist beliefs.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, Kundun is a visually stunning look at the early days of the Dalai Lama’s life. From his childhood in Tibet to the Chinese invasion and his flight to India. The film is more beautiful than political, and explores the mystery of Buddhism through the story of the most famous Buddhist in the world. It might not be the best (or most well-known) of Scorsese’s works, but it’s definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in the personal history of the Dalai Lama.
4 The mug
Not all films about Buddhism have to be serious and spiritual, because The mug clearly proves. This comedy takes place in a monastery, but follows the adventures of a group of monks and novices torn between their love of spirituality … and their love of football! Most of the movie follows them as they try to find a way to watch the World Cup, and it’s a sweet, fun reminder that even monks are human. A must for lovers of the beautiful game, or the Buddhist path.
Another film about the life of a famous Buddhist figure, Milarepa talks about the Tibetan Tantric yogi of the same name. The film is a moral fable and one of the best known in Buddhism, so viewers shouldn’t expect any dramatic twists and turns. Instead, this is a film with a lesson, and a wonderful one for anyone interested in the stories of Buddhism told through the film.
2 Maxwell Bright’s Civilization
Patrick Warburton stars in this lesser-known film which gives a Buddhist touch to the classic story of Beauty and the Beast. The film begins with a deeply angry and misoygnistic man deciding that the answer to his dating problems is a mail order bride. Assuming that his new wife will be submissive and totally submissive, Max Bright is surprised to find that there is a lot more to her than he expected, and that she is, in fact, a Buddhist nun. As his own life goes through major changes, the two discover that they may have something unexpected to offer for each other – and that it might not be too late for Max to find a side for himself. more spiritual. (Be careful, this is not a typical romantic comedy.)
1 Seven years in Tibet
What would a list of Buddhist movies be without this’ 90s classic starring Brad Pitt? Also centered on the life of the Dalai Lama, Seven years in Tibet is based on the true story of Heinrich Harrer, a mountaineer who ends up in Tibet, and the unlikely friendship that flourishes between Heinrich and the Dalai Lama. Unlike many others on this list, Seven years in Tibet was a big budget Hollywood production, but like many similar films based on true stories, manages to be inspiring rather than cheesy.
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