The 1999 movie film The Matrix directed
by the Wachowski’s is a dystopian future themed movie where the world has been
destroyed due to the arrival of Artificial intelligence. Artificial
intelligence has taken over the minds of humanity making them believe they
exist in 1999 instead of the present. The Matrix is famous for its symbolism
and references of a variety of religions such as Christianity, Hinduism,
Buddhism, and Gnosticism. The main point that will be analyzed will be focused
on Buddhism symbolism in the film.
In the beginning of the film, have been
introduced to Neo a computer hacker who has fallen asleep in front his
computer. Neo struggles with feeling imprisoned in a world that is in fact
computer stimulated created by Artificial Intelligence. This is where the first
Buddhist symbolism can be seen because the materialistic world Neo is living is
seen as misleading. Eventually, Morpheus explains that the real world where he
associated with his senses are just simply electrical signals of the brain
(Haris 2003). The life Neo knows is only as part of a brain simulation that is
called the matrix. This illusion can be translated into Buddhist terms,
“‘The world is empty.’ And what is empty of self and what belongs to self?
The eye, material shapes, visual consciousness, impression on the eye — all
these are empty of self and of what belongs to self,” (Conze 1945). The
connection between Buddhism and The Matrix draws is from the illusion humanity
lives, based on sensory experience, ignorance, and desire which keeps it alive
and diminishes identity.
to this concept Buddhism teaches this cycle seen in the matrix as samsara.
Samsara is the entrapment of human life in a cycle of illusion and the
ignorance that keeps human in it. The concept of samsara can be seen in a scene
were Cypher no longer tolerates the reality and begs to be reinserted to the
matrix. Cypher in a scene states:
know; I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth,
the matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine
years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”
fully accepts that everything is an illusion but he wants samsara the ignorance
in Cypher’s eyes it’s more important than ever reaching enlightenment.
Enlightenment is the goal for Buddhist and as well in the movie. Neo must reach
enlightenment to free his mind from the matrix/ illusions and save the human
race to the be in the real world. This process Neo must do on his own because
Morpheus explains that he himself must see the matrix. This is similar to
Theravada Buddhist as well where they state, “man’s emancipation depends
on his own realization of the truth.” Also, this concept is found in the
Dhammapada which tells Buddhist followers that Buddha can only teach his
followers but they must make an effort. This is similar to Morpheus role in the
film as the guide to the path of enlightenment which only Neo can recognize the
This brings me to my final point of how Neo
can be representative of the Buddha. Neo responsibility was to destroy the
matrix, end the war, and bring freedom to the enslaved humanity. Similarly, the
Buddha had powers to help all civilization reach enlightenment. Both Buddha and
Neo goal is to free the people from the illusion/matrix and teach others how to
reach the awakening. In the film, Neo reawakens and has the ability to see
reality just like the enlightenment within Buddha. Overall, Neo learns he, in
fact, has no weakness which is the exact experience of enlightenment in
The underlying themes of Buddhism were
purposely chosen by the Wachowski’s siblings. When asked during an interview by
fans If the Buddhist ideas influence the production the siblings both said yes
(Wagner 2001). In the end, the matrix can be Samsara where the hero Neo can be
seen as Buddha. Then in order to save the world, they must awaken in other
words reach Enlightenment. The Matrix has several underlying religious themes
that are expressed and can be interpreted differently.
RLG233- Haris. “Buddhist Symbolism in The Matrix – RLG233- Haris Javed –
Medium.” Medium, Medium, 19 Dec. 2016, medium.com/@Rlg233HarisJaved/buddhist-symbolism-in-the-matrix-b116339ade13.
Lana and Lilly Wachowski, directors. The Matrix.
F., & Wagner, R. (2001). Wake Up! Gnosticism and Buddhism in the Matrix. Journal
of Religion and Film.
Samyutta-nikaya IV, 54. In Edward Conze, ed.
Buddhist Texts Through the Ages (New York: Philosophical Library, 1954)