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Barbara O'Brien

Worsts and Bests

By December 28, 2008

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Via the Rev. Danny Fisher, elephant journal has a list of the Ten Worst Buddhist Movie Characters.

The list includes The Monk With No Name (Chow Yun-Fat) in Bulletproof Monk -- I love Chow Yun-Fat, but yeah, that was a dumb character -- and Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, which I admit I never watched. Ace is Buddhist?

How about Best Buddhist Characters? Per the "worst list" rules, these have to be "movie characters who identify as Buddhist—not the Buddhish ones, like The Matrix’s Neo or Groundhog Day’s Phil Connors, but the ones who actually wear the mantle of the three jewels." And since the "worst" list include The Sopranos, I'd like to broaden it to television series.

Are there any characters you can think of that truly represent Buddhism in a way that doesn't ever make you wince? Even a little?

December 28, 2008 at 10:14 pm
(1) cmartini says:

Chow Yun Fat from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon comes to mind…except for that little precept about killing.

I would suggest the Dalai Lama in the movies Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet, but these are based on an actual person rather than a fictional Buddhist character.

Also the character of the Master? in the movie Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring really personifies the character of a Buddhist in a respectable way.

December 29, 2008 at 9:08 am
(2) Elizabeth says:

Hi Barbara,

Another one that comes to mind is the senior Teacher in “Why Has Bodhidharma Left For The East?”

January 1, 2009 at 5:34 pm
(3) Chugai says:

Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda

January 1, 2009 at 6:47 pm
(4) cleagubs says:

Perhaps Tashi (Shawn Ku) from the movie “Samsara”.

January 1, 2009 at 8:51 pm
(5) Jun says:

Master Yoda of Star Wars

January 1, 2009 at 9:40 pm
(6) Kaz says:

I think Takuan Soho in the Samurai Trilogy with Toshiro Mifune was great. Again, based on a real person though.

January 1, 2009 at 9:50 pm
(7) Rob says:

Seibei, the lead character in _The Twilight Samurai_ (2002). In the movie, he is definitely struggling with that sticky no-killing precept, and I seem to recall him reciting the Heart Sutra in one scene…?

I want to second the nomination for Yoda, too. I’ve heard that he’s physically based on Joshi Sasaki Roshi (who is now 101 years old!) I also recall reading that some folks were disturbed because some of Yoda’s comments in _Empire Strikes Back_ were based on “Buddhist philosophies.” (Those folks forbade their children from seeing the movie. It’s always been my favorite. ;-)

January 1, 2009 at 10:29 pm
(8) Rob says:

Oh! I forgot you included TV! My very favorite is Lisa Simpson. The episode where she converts to Buddhism was very well-done: Touching, funny, and even lightly educational for non-Buddhists. Richard Gere guest-stars.

January 1, 2009 at 11:33 pm
(9) Rev. Danny Fisher says:

Lisa Simpson would definitely be at or near the top of my “best” list. : )

January 2, 2009 at 3:07 pm
(10) sandythehippy says:

good buddhists on tv? here’s one, but you might not see it- Cesaer Milan, the Dog Whisperer.

sounds lame, but watching this show has taught me as much about the Dharma as any Sutra ever has.

What do you think?

January 4, 2009 at 6:54 pm
(11) Kim Rubio says:

What about Nick Nolte’s character in the movie “Peaceful Warrior” based on a true story

January 5, 2009 at 6:51 am
(12) Brigid says:

I totally agree with Sandythehippy about Cesar Milan. I have no idea what religion he ascribes to but what an amazing Dhamma-teacher-in-disguise he is!

I’ll have to put on my thinking cap to come up with a true answer though, an answer according to the criteria.

January 6, 2009 at 11:13 am
(13) Bodhiboots says:


A film by Jurosawa called Dod dod Ka den (iffy spelling, sory). Not only the main character, a yound ausistic boy who decorates his home with streetcar darawings, but also runs an imaginary streetcar route through his village, and his neighbours…including a blind man who washes and hangs colourful scarves on the washline, a dying child and delerious father who live in the shell of a car…and the father pictures and describes a radiant and peaceful palace for the child…etc.
It is actually a post apocalyptic film…after Hiroshima. Kurosawa won a lifetime acheivement award at the oscars.

January 6, 2009 at 11:14 am
(14) bodhiboots says:


January 6, 2009 at 11:38 am
(15) bodhiboots says:

Master Yoda and any of the Jedi, Willy Wonka (any Raold Dahl hero), Dustin Hoffman in anything, Lisa Simpson (agreed) and Rosanne’s daughter Diane, Barney Rubble.

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