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Christian themes and symbolism in The Matrix have been discussed at length, but having a number of acquaintances that subscribe to Theravada Buddhism (which is the oldest and generally the closest to the original version), I was struck by a number of parallels between its teachings and concepts in the Matrix:

  1. There were six versions of Neo. The present eon has six Buddhas. Number six is due to arrive.
  2. The Matrix is an illusion. This version of Buddhism says that our current way of life (called Samsara) is an illusion.
  3. Neo sees beyond the Matrix and help others escape. The Buddha pretty much does the same thing.
  4. Those who are aware of the Matrix have varying degrees of powers. Those on the path to enlightenment gain various powers such as levitation.
  5. Once he sees the Matrix fully, Neo has the ability to fly, see people in code, see the future etc. The Theravada version of Buddha too, has these abilities (he cannot see code, but he apparently sees 'auras' of people).
  6. The Matrix is cyclic. "Samsara" is cyclic.

The things that don't add up:

  1. Zion
  2. The use of violence

The question is, were these coincidences or did the Wachowskis select some elements from this religion when they were writing the sequels?

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    Hindi beliefs also state that life is an illusion called Maya. As for Number Six arriving, he's in The Village. – Tango Mar 6 '12 at 1:59
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    I suspect this is mostly confirmation bias - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias. You could just as easily say the Matrix is based on "Illusions" by Richard Bach. These ideas are fairly common philosophical tropes. – Christi Mar 6 '12 at 2:08
  • As for "aura seeing": If we were living in a Matrix-like world and the Theravada Buddha was seeing it like Neo, how would he describe it? :-) – Aaron Digulla Mar 6 '12 at 8:37
  • Regarding "The use of violence"; Could be a pure selling argument for the bosses-with-the-cash. – bitmask Mar 6 '12 at 12:35
  • So you are saying that Keanu Reeves has played the Buddha twice? – Kevin Howell Mar 6 '12 at 14:55
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I think the strongest point is that all realities inside the Matrix are illusions but the discussion as a whole doesn't really make sense.

We tend to see things in works of others that we recognize - even if the other people didn't put it in there for the reasons we assume.

The Wachowski brothers probably were influenced by everything they know but often, you don't realize when you learn something - or at least you don't memorize the learning itself, you just integrate knowledge somehow and it has an influence even though you can never recall where it came from.

So unless the Wachowski brothers explicitly state that they took some X in their movies from source Y, this is pure speculation, even more so because a lot of other people influenced the movie as well.

You can find all kinds of symbols everywhere because the same questions move all mankind. In The Matrix, the basic question is: How can I be sure that something is real?

Scientists and clerics all over the ages have struggled with this question, so if you dig enough, you can find connections to all of them even though the Wachowski brothers are probably not aware of most of them.

This is also a form of esoteric thinking (making connections where none are) but that doesn't prove anything.

  • True. The concept of the world being an illusion Maya also exists in Hindu philosophy. It wasn't from one philosophy only. They unknowingly draw elements from several philosophies. – Stark07 Jan 7 '14 at 11:55
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I too was struck with the number of parallels but not specifically to the Theravada but just to various Eastern religions/philosophies. To add to your list:

  • In Matrix, 'Clubbed to death' scene - Neo is struggling through the crowd while Morpheus (his guru) navigates through it flawlessly and by intuition only. Best fits Taoism's Wuwei concept
  • 'There is no spoon' scene - best fits Zen
  • All the fighting bows to Chinese 'wuxia' fiction but wuxia in turn draws from traditional Chinese concept of Qi and Chinese art of Qigong. Which again have roots in Taoism.
  • Matrix: Revolutions finale track have a number of passages from Hinduistic texts, like 'Asato ma sat gamayaa, tamaso ma djotir gamayaa, mryotir maamritam gamajaa' - 'From non-being bring me to being, from darkness/ignorance bring me to light, from the death bring me to immortality'
  • cycles of Matrix appear to have more to Hinduist Kalpas than Samsara concept. Chiefly because at the end of Kalpa the world is destroyed.

And so on. Given both yours and mine evidence I'd say that indeed, 'The Wachowski brothers probably were influenced by everything they know' to provide some pointers on question of reality of our experience. But, unlike Aaron, I'd say that even if attribution of some symbols can be unclear (is it Theravada or rather Hinduism or Taoism), there is no doubt that the connections to body of mutually intertwined Eastern philosophy were made consistently and consciously thorough the all three films. And Wachowskis are likely aware of most of them.

If not, why in finale choir sings passages from Upanishads not simply Ahs and Ohs? :)

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