Little Buddha is a story about the quest of a group of monks, led by Lama Norbu
(Ruocheng Ying), to seek out the rebirth 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 rebirth within a boy named Jesse Conrad (Alex
Wiesendanger) in Seattle.
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 Bhutan 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, which is also enacted as a
story line within the movie. In this depiction, a Hindu prince called Siddhartha
(Keanu Reeves) sets on a journey to achieve greater awareness. As he progresses,
he learns profound truths about the nature of life, consciousness, and reality.
Ultimately, he battles Mara (a demon representing the ego), who repeatedly tries
to divert and destroy Siddhartha. Through concentrated non-attachment and final
realization of the illusory nature of his own ego, Siddhartha attains enlightenment.
In the end, it is found that all three children are rebirths 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 rebirth 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.