Is the movie Fight Club, and the Project Mayhem idea at all buddhist? Since it predicates detachment from material possesions there's a neat point. I believe in the end it's not, but wanted to ask here for a more argumented answer

  • I loved both answers: ChrisW & BlackFlam3's. Please check them both out. 1st is more to the point of the actual negative answer. 2nd one is more on to possible and interesting derivations, also some more detail on general background zen philosophy
    – nilon
    Jun 24, 2016 at 17:14

5 Answers 5


you're best if you just leave things as are

1st RULE: You DO NOT talk about FIGHT CLUB.

you do not talk about .

you do not talk about the water is wet.

you just dive in..

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    I'd never thought of it this way. Good point actually.
    – esh
    Jun 28, 2016 at 8:07
  • you should leave ALL things as are? totalitarianism? slighty confusing perhaps?
    – nilon
    Jul 8, 2016 at 19:44

I don't think so.

it predicates detachment from material possessions

That's not enough to call it Buddhist.

  1. Buddhism might be known for what it is, rather than for what it isn't. Maybe Buddhism isn't material possessions, but, what is it?

    That ("what is Buddhism?") is addressed e.g. in many other topics on this site, for example:

    I think that these topics describe elements of Buddhism, and that you'd find it difficult to identify any of these specifically Buddhist element in the movie ... not only difficult to show that the movie identifies these elements but even that it doesn't contradict these elements.

  2. There are other (non-Buddhist) common belief-systems which de-emphasize or criticize material possessions -- e.g. communism, christianity, anarchy, and nihilism -- but these are not Buddhism ... which, is proof (a "proof by counterexample") that critiquing material possessions isn't even nearly sufficient to identify an ideology as Buddhist.

  3. Buddhism isn't entirely or necessarily against material possessions, at least in lay society (and lay society is relevant to the topic, in that I assume you won't try to argue that the movie represents Buddhist clergy). I don't know a Zen example off-hand, but for example I'm thinking of the Sigalovada Sutta which talks about not squandering wealth, and about protecting and making peaceful and secure, etc.

    There are books and essays you could read about the behaviors and attitudes recommended to Buddhist lay-folk, in summary I don't think I see these (generosity, non-violence) in the movie. I think that Buddhism was in many ways meant to co-exist with lay society, and not meant to destroy it (which, destruction, is I think more inline with what the movie is suggesting).

My impression is that the movie isn't written by a Buddhist nor written for a Buddhist audience, not intended to teach a Buddhist message. Furthermore I think it arouses passion in its audience, rather than arousing a dispassion (or compassion) which might be more characteristic of Buddhism.

To address some of the points you made in your other question ...

Narrator does bunches of haikus

Here is the haiku from the movie:

worker bees can leave
even drones can fly away
the queen is their slave

Apart from anything else I think that this isn't a good, Buddhist haiku e.g. as described in What Makes Haiku a Zen Art (I mean, "yes it's a haiku but is it Zen?"):

Haiku is an expression of direct experience, not an expression of an idea about experience. Possibly the most common mistake western haiku writers make is to use the form to express an idea about experience, not experience itself. A haiku does not present metaphors or try to explain meaning. It provides no concepts or opinions. It does not reflect on the past or anticipate the future. It is just this moment, right now. Plop! It is this directness that makes it a Zen art.

So, for example, this is a really bad haiku:

A rose represents
A mother's kiss, a spring day
A lover's longing.

It's bad because it's all conceptual. It doesn't give us experience. Contrast with:

Wilted rose bouquet
Left in new grass
By the gravestone.

The second haiku is not great, perhaps, but it brings you into a moment.

The haiku in the movie is conceptual: the queen bee represents a slave, which represents the alleged slavery of the fictional character's colleagues, which represent human office workers, which supposedly represent the movie's audience?

This isn't just a criticism of the poetry, it's a criticism of the way in which the words are or are not used to connect the audience with reality (or unreality).

Narrator's home intends to be zen-like looking

Well now you seem to be making a religion of Ikea's minimalism, which is actually one of the things the movie complained about.

Car crash scene Tyler says Stop trying to control everything and just let go!

If it's true that there's a time and a place for everything, IMO that's inappropriate (even potentially suicidal or murderous) behavior for a car driver.

The phrase ("Stop trying to control everything and just let go") sounds interesting but I'm not sure that it corresponds to what Buddhist might know as Right Intention, for example:

And what is right resolve? Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill-will, on harmlessness: This is called right resolve.

I don't think the movie does teach renunciation; for example it advocates acquiring a harder body:

A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood.

Nor is it, IMO, especially good at teaching freedom from ill-will.

Detachment is a major theme since first conversation between Narrator-Tyler

Yes the whole movie is about "detachment", which is arguably a psychological pathology ... see for example Wikipedia articles like:

I don't think this is necessarily "Buddhist".

Buddhism teaches non-attachment, which isn't quite the same thing (as "detachment"). The opposite of non-attachment is clinging.

  • Wow! One of most thorough answers I've seen in quite a time!
    – nilon
    Jun 23, 2016 at 2:30

I think it has heavy Zen undertones if you take it in the context of the Ultimate Reality. It may also be nihilistic. This is not Buddhism per se, but it is somewhat related.

IIRC, there was this guy at the convenience store who actually wanted to be a vet, but instead he was giving himself excuses not to do that course because college/tuition fees for that is expensive and some other reasons. Possibly he isn't trying hard enough. So Tyler Durden gives him an ultimatum, death or be a vet. If that's what the convenience store person wants to do then he should just chase it and go off with a bang if it fails at all, instead of just whimpering about at the convenience store. I think it makes sense. We need to embrace failing gloriously to really feel ourselves. I hope I made sense there.

It brings in concepts of consumerism which is definitely a problem we are faced with in the modern world. We are stuck in a rut in society. Trying to be a perfect/complete person with IKEA furniture or that great body because we are constantly fed with it through advertisements/media.

We think too much, rather over-think. And we think that through thinking, we can have a controlled environment which is what the Western world tries to do. I think it was Réné Descartes who said "I think therefore I am". I think it is okay in reality but it seems to be a fallacy, because there is certainly something beyond our limited thinking. Too much importance has been given to thinking. Thinking is great, sure. But there is always that mental-wobbling and deliberation in choice, to quote Alan Watts. Do we really have a choice? Or are we just consoling ourselves with the pseudo-control we think we have? We are no more respecting our intuition, or pure nature if I may say so. We are trying to be politically correct which creates more layers, more religions, more useless communities and takes us farther and farther away from the Ultimate Truth/Reality. We are afraid of that naked truth. In Buddhist meditation, we just let our thoughts come and go. We try not to give them importance. Because that's all they are. Thoughts.

I can say that there should be a willingness to let ourselves die. You have to be ready to give something up, let go, lose control to really experience something. The car crash scene in the movie is just a way of depicting it. Of course we don't have to do that literally. Its symbolic. Its a movie with a situation so take it as such. We are slaves to our minds. The mind is a bad master, but an excellent slave. So if we sort of let go of the steering wheel of life per se, we can let our minds work FOR us rather than against us.

There is this part where Tyler Durden says to the narrator that he is smarter in more ways than the narrator, more capable, free in ways that he is not. This is because Tyler lives free. There is this feeling of true freedom. The only thing that stops you from achieving enlightenment or ultimate reality, call it whatever you like, is YOU. There are many Zen stories which if we read, we sort of get this "Aha!" moment where we realize it is just us living in our mind, overthinking, rather than just taking it all in, partaking in the present moment. There is no other reality. There is only the NOW. Our mind creates all that other bullshit if I may say.

There is another part in the movie where Tyler Durden says self-improvement is masturbation, how about self-destruction? which is rather strongly the point in Buddhism. Maybe I should use the word Dissolution rather than destruction. We get in our own way. This self-consciousness that we created of our own thinking.

So there are a lot of parts in the movie which seems to hit Zen aspects heavily. Some of it is nihilistic too like destroying buildings etc., I don't really approve of that of course, but again that's Hollywood. Has to be a show piece a little bit ;)

Adding certain clarifications:

"Death or be a vet": The idea is to just go ahead and try to accomplish that which you have been wanting to, without stopping to think too much. When you think unnecessarily, you have slowed down. The thinking might be in terms of what may happen or what happened in the past. You already know what you'd want to achieve. So proceed without unnecessary doubt. These are covered in right action in Buddhism.

"a willingness to let ourselves die": This is to sort of "kill" your self-consciousness. For example, when you were a kid you used to be joyful and playful. (Were you? I'd like to think so) As we get older, we start to live in our mind more rather than just how we are or where we are. Questions like "What would others think about us?" start to crop up. An inhibiting self-consciousness starts to creep into everything we do. It stops us from being spontaneous and lovely human beings. So the idea is to give yourself a little slack and room for failure and just barge into things as a kid would.

You may have noticed how when you involve yourself into an activity, you automagically start thinking about necessary things and solving problems that lie ahead. Rather than cooping yourself in the mind, which is an endless interminable chatter.

tl,dr zen/buddhist elements in Fight Club:

  • accomplish what you want to, without stopping to think too much. [right action in Buddhism]

  • "kill" your self-consciousness. It stops us from being spontaneous and lovely human beings.

  • "death or be a vet": interesting idea. what is the principle behind this. also on "there should be a willingness to let ourselves die": seems cool too, but auto-destruction is not a buddhist/zen idea, correct? Just checking to learn :)
    – nilon
    Jun 23, 2016 at 12:39
  • that's an excellent response!!!
    – nilon
    Jun 23, 2016 at 14:02
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    just perfect! please include comments into the answer! very valuable!!
    – nilon
    Jun 23, 2016 at 14:10
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    "Wanting to be a vet" isn't exactly being in the moment. Imagine trying to write a haiku about it.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 23, 2016 at 15:38
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    You're thinking about it in the moment. Because you calmed yourself down to fundamentals of what you want to do. Then you spring into action. What's the problem? If haiku writing is your thing, something like I opened the window and a breeze blew past my face. It brought me an invigorating feeling of pursuing my career in veterinary sciences.
    – esh
    Jun 23, 2016 at 15:49

Anarchist, nonmaterialist themes do not make something Buddhist. Buddhism goes WAAAAAAAY deeper than that: actual immortality and freedom from suffering!

Unless The Wings of Awakening are addressed in a movie, it is not a totally Buddhist movie.

Needless to say, with these high standards, even most overtly labelled Buddhist movies are not truly Buddhist (leading to the actual practice of actual Buddhist Three Trainings--not just ethics) because they get caught up in the drama of family life, never touching on stream entry.

It would be cool to one day see some phantasmagorical movie that goes through The Stages of Insight, pitfalls and triumphs through samadhi, powers, and some visual representations of Enlightenment. I think Cloud Atlas was the closest so far.

  • immortality? Is Un Buda (2005) no good?
    – nilon
    Jun 28, 2016 at 23:44
  • Anarchist, nonmaterialist themes do not make something Buddhist because ...
    – nilon
    Jun 28, 2016 at 23:46
  • @nilon I haven't seen that one. "doing vipassana doing time" might fall under my somewhat extreme categorization of Buddhist. Also "anarchist, nonmaterialist themes do not make something Buddhist because..." Buddhism isn't anarchist (see Eightfold path which encourages social formation and liveilhood).
    – Ahmed
    Jun 29, 2016 at 0:54
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    One point of anarchism is don't follow rules just because of custom, or authority. In that sense I think it may be in sync with Buddhism since each person has to seek their own path of illumination, searching for the inner way. Yes? Also: anarchism has many variants: social formation and livelihood is part of many of them that are more peaceful than the contrary.
    – nilon
    Jul 13, 2016 at 15:05

The movie, Fight Club, and the Project Mayhem is no more or no less Buddhist than Hermann Hesse’s Novel “Siddhartha”. Please read it if you have not. Also do not forget to read “Narcissus and Goldmund” – its Christian equivalent. Just like Hermann Hesse came up with the novel “Siddhartha”, David Fincher’s Fight Club has similar undertones. For those who are not familiar with Hermann Hesse’s book, Siddhartha here is not the historical Buddha, though he too is a character in the book. This Siddhartha is a Brahmin youth who leaves home in search of the truth, as the Buddha himself did.

Fight Club is a movie that is difficult to understand as there are many layers to it. But it is very unlike the True Dhamma, though some may think that it alludes to the Paccattam veditabbo viññuhiti quality of the Dhamma - to be realized by the wise, each for himself, or "To be personally known by the wise". The Dhamma can be perfectly realized only by the noble disciples (Ariyas) who have matured and enlightened enough in supreme wisdom. In Fight Club, the narrator challenges self to break out of the world, but it is nothing compared to the difficulty of our struggle stay in the Dhamma path in a quest for attaining the state of Sotapanna. In the process we have to learn what are the pre-eminent qualities of a Sovan (stream entrant); What defilements should be eradicated to attain entry to the path; How can we tread to the beat of a different drummer unlike the worldings - the great many beings-in-the-world, that measures success by the yardstick of worldly achievements.

Unlike these great many beings-in-the-world a Stream Entrant always sees things in their proper perspective. i.e. in the light of Anicca (Impermanence), Dukka (Suffering), and Anatta (Absence of “I”). This firm basis is a part and parcel of his/her personality and remains with him/her all the time. In our case we see fleeting glimpses of the truth, similar to lightning illuminating a dark sky. In the case of the Sotapanna, he/she has this right vision as a permanent acquisition. He/she sees things as being impermanent, unsatisfactory and without a permanent soul.

  • Thanks for Hesse's Budda! I've read it and agree it's valuable. On the rest didn't fully understand. Tldr version please?
    – nilon
    Jun 23, 2016 at 2:32
  • Here is a good review of Hesse's "Siddhartha". (Buddha in the Business World - by Satya Chaitanya) boloji.com/… Jun 23, 2016 at 2:54
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    I bolded the actual answer (in middle). Good answer. These "Buddhist" movies--even the ones that are overtly Buddhist have usually nothing to do with The Factors of Awakening and ACTUAL BUDDHIST PRACTICE. Just some worldly drama mixed with nonmaterialism (which in itself does not make something Buddhist).
    – Ahmed
    Jun 28, 2016 at 16:03
  • Thank you very much, @Ahmed for your editing on the post. I like the highlighting. I have to learn how to do it. But for the next 6 day I will be extremely busy to do anything. I found a couple of errors that I'll correct shortly. Jun 29, 2016 at 2:09
  • "Fight Club" seems to be rather unrelated to Buddhism, as explained by ChrisW. And you're putting "Siddhartha" at the same level of non-relatedness? I find that hard to accept; I thought it contains a lot of Buddhist teachings, which is why Siddhartha discusses with The Buddha himself - but I'm no expert. So, could you elaborate on your opinion, or give some reference to justify it?
    – hmijail
    Nov 8, 2017 at 11:49

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