In Little Buddha, how does the basic concept of "impermanence" work in the story?

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I certainly would suggest that any film about Buddhism might not be able to capture the intricate sensibilities of it.  Impermanence is one such element.  While we can use the film as a discussion point here, it should be noted that no commercial film should be used as a representation about a religion.  In Bertolucci's film, the destruction of the sand mandala at the end of the film is a representation of impermanence.  It had been constructed throughout the film and in one "sweeping" motion, it is destroyed.  This speaks to the Buddhist idea of not clinging to external structures and of embracing detachment.  This idea of impermanence is also seen in how Dean Conrad sheds his initial apprehension and understands a more "truer" nature of being once he allows Jesse to go to Bhutan to see if he is the next incarnation.  The fact that death is not seen as an ending, but rather as a portal or opening also represents how impermanence is present in the narrative.  It is death that enables Dean to "do some thinking" and death is not what enables Jesse to become the next incarnation.  Rather, it is a highlight of our impermanent condition that allows individuals to recognize what actually is as opposed to the "maya" or illusion to which individuals might cling.

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