Kung Fu Panda and the Secret Ingredient

Buddha teaches that everything is projected by our mind; and of course this is clear when it comes to movies! But we like to be drawn into them as we like a good story, just as we usually allow ourselves to be sucked up by the drama of our own lives even if we know it is not real.

For me movies can be a time-wasting distraction or they can be helpful. It depends on whether I’m watching them out of some delusion/unpeaceful mind such as attachment or laziness, or out of some positive motivation such as the wish to expand my horizons to empathize with others.

Nothing is completely untransformable if we have the wish, capacity and methods to do it – even violent movies could be seen as a battle against delusions. Of course, it is risky to watch movies that may engender unpeaceful, uncontrolled reactions such as hatred or anger in us, so it is worth being honest to ourselves about our level of mindfulness and our ability to transform appearances to stay peaceful. It is worth protecting ourselves by not straying over certain boundaries (as in the practice of moral discipline).

If we’re going to watch a movie, some movies are probably easier for us to transform and derive meaning from than others, and I personally count Kung Fu Panda as an example. I watched it on the airplane and found a lot of uplifting Buddhist teachings in it. So I thought I’d share a few seeing as Kung Fu Panda 2 is coming out on May 26 and no doubt some of you will be watching it, especially if you have the excuse of kids!

Masters and students

My favorite theme is the transformative relationships between the Masters and their students. The Panda Po says to Master Shifu, “You are not my master!”, but that changes when he believes he can learn to be a great Kung Fu warrior and that Master Shifu can teach him. Similarly, we only need a Spiritual Guide if we decide we want to follow in his footsteps along a spiritual path.

Shifu maintains great devotion to his own Master Oogway, even when he seems to be behaving erratically and appointing a very odd choice for the Dragon Warrior. He questions his Master but listens carefully to his replies and is inspired by them. “Obeying the master is not a weakness” says Shifu to the snow leopard Tai Lung. Tai Lung shows the treacherous contrast of what happens if we let our pride and self-cherishing run out of control, and how feeling superior to our own teacher inevitably ends up sooner or later in hubristic disaster.

What can we control?

Master Oogway says we have to accept that we cannot control everything. Shifu replies that we can control some things and shows this by hitting the Sacred Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom to get the peaches to fall and planting a peach seed from which a tree will grow. Master Oogway points out that we can only get a peach tree not an apple tree from that seed, teaching the definite relationship between cause and effect (karma). But then he shows the manner of passing away into the Dharmakaya Truth Body by dissolving into emptiness, showing that for whom emptiness is possible, anything is possible, as the famous Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna said.

Just believe

Po is lumbering and clumsy, at least for as long as he identifies with “me”, a limited self, in his case a big fat lazy Panda. But he doesn’t want to be “me” any more, he wants to change. And Master Oogway gives both Master Shifu and Po the confidence to believe in Po’s ability to do it, and believing is what we need to do if we are to let go of our ego, fulfill our potential and make spiritual progress. (However, unlike in the movie, we are all “chosen”). And Master Shifu also realizes there can be no cookie cutter approach to teaching one’s students, especially these days. The teacher and student sometimes need to think out of the box and find other ways, even if these are unconventional (and involve dumplings).


Po’s humility is what enables him to succeed. He has an ingenuousness and zest for life that is very refreshing for the five great and good warriors who have gotten slightly institutionalized and by the book in the Jade Palace. Po is down to earth and unobsequious but at the same time entirely and humbly in awe of Kung Fu and its masters. For me he was an example of staying fresh on our spiritual path, devoted to the teachings, teachers and living beings but not rigidly going through the motions, becoming sycophantic and/or developing a superiority complex in an ivory tower. We need discipline, but we also need lightness of touch and the ability to respect each others’ differences.

Even at the end when Po has defeated Tai Lung and the whole valley are prostrating to him and chanting “Master”, he doesn’t develop a trace of pride or identify with that praise. That word simply reminds him of his own master, so he turns around and rushes back up the steps to see him.

What is the secret ingredient?

And the other thing is that Po realizes something very important when he enters the mystery of the dragon scroll – he does not need to add anything at all from the outside to fulfill his potential. As his father, the goose Mr. Ping, finally confides about his Secret Ingredient Soup, the secret ingredient is …. that there is no secret ingredient! We don’t need a secret ingredient. We don’t need to be someone “special”. We all have the potential already to be great. This is our Buddha nature.

Movies and us

Okay, I know, I have read far too much into this movie! And a cartoon to boot! But I guess that’s the point; we can and do see anything anywhere because nothing is really out there, it is all projection of our own minds. I cannot find a world outside of my experience of the world, and when I change my mind, my world itself automatically changes. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, my own Master Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says:

Milarepa said that he regarded everything that appeared to his mind as a Dharma book. All things confirmed the truth of Buddha’s teachings and increased his spiritual experience.

So, if we are going to watch movies, we might as well make them into spiritual teachings!

Have you got a favorite example?

By the way, if you want a free Buddhist meditation book from a world-renowned Buddhist master and author, you are in luck! Click here: www.eModernBuddhism.com

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

128 thoughts on “Kung Fu Panda and the Secret Ingredient”

  1. what i appreciated about the film was that it challenged perception. It was interesting that although all of the fantastic 5 were different they segregated and oppressed Po based on his size mostly. They judged and stereotyped him and he was forced to confine himself into his current environment. I feel like this is an important philosophy to be embraced by this film. That we do not have to fulfill roles because they are their that there is a duty that we need to provide in following our dreams and that they tie in with our destiny. If Po was to submit to his role and what was expected of him then none of it would be possible. I also feel like its important to acknowledge the I DONT KNOWs in this film although they were MASTERS there were moments where they didnt know the answers to everything including master shifus master that in being a master doesnt make one all knowing…. Most importantly i was a lesson that was taught in the film that when the water is still we can see the answer but we must allow ourselves to not let our emotions get carried away with the situation.
    This makes me think back to the sutra of patanjali and this would be pride as posing an issue with the material world. Po doesnt show pride (although he did mention that he was awesome )
    Another point that I wanted to bring was DOUBT
    I felt like it was such a great way to introduce doubt and its ups and downs how Po goes in and starts strong then he doubts himself even when he sees the scroll is empty and after all he had accomplised he doubts
    It was in that moment that he stopped doubting and stopped trying to control the situation and instead react to the present be in the present did he become a great fighter
    Pos father also demonstartes a very healthy and accpecting relationship demonstrating unconditionl love

  2. How beautifully your words emanate; like bubbles floating from the sphere of the blissful emptiness of all phenomena. I too had wonderful feelings watching this movie; and shared many of the interpretations that you have lucidly presented. I wanted to thank you from my heart for this blog. I think that you are truly living in accordance with the ancient wisdom of our venerable spiritual guide, and according to his wish, presenting Dharma and modern life as inseparable. Most of all, I think what is so special is that you individually reply to each and every post. Your effort is inspiring; it makes me wish to write more. Kind Regards.

    1. Simon, i was really happy to read this comment, thank you! I am trying to do my best, and I really appreciate your kind encouragement.

  3. Very interesting take! I came to see Kung Fu Panda 2 but I will def write a kudos to you when I watch it and write a review on my east Asian film blog !


  4. I really enjoyed your insights. I loved the 1st and the 2nd Kung Fu Panda. Both films have a great message. Could you make a review about what you thought of the 2nd film? Thanks for the post.

    1. Hi Kooky Guy, I haven’t even seen #2 yet! But I will, and, seeing as you asked, yes I will write another review! Thank you for the encouragement.

  5. I often think of my meditation practice as a kind of mental kung-fu against the tide of negative thoughts and associations. In particular, in meditation, I familiarize myself with a train of positive associations on, say, the kindness of my wife. Then later, when I feel negative thoughts arising in my mind after something my wife does, I activate the positive train of associations; repeat until the negative association is pushed back. Without this opponent, negativity grows unopposed in my mind; anger, hatred, and confusion become outsized. As long as I have a consistent meditation practice, I can nurture this opponent force to sufficient strength to outsize my delusions. I suspect, over time, with enough meditation, the opponent force turns the tide, and all thoughts drift towards positivity… Kung Fu Mastery.

  6. Yah, this web site is superb. That’s not actually a seriously huge statement, but its all I could come up with immediately after reading this.

  7. Great post, I can’t wait to watch this now with my kids, even though they are teens now. I love transforming movies and songs into the path. I couldn’t get to as many teachings as I wanted when my kids were little but looked for teachings in everything. I swear I was getting teachings through every Walt Disney movie. I completely rearranged the sound track to Brother Bear, along with my commentary its the complete path to enlightenment, in the order of realization. 🙂

    1. Great comment, Donna! Necessity is the mother of invention… forced to find teachings in everything when we cannot attend formal teachings 🙂

  8. Wow, what an enlightening entry. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the movie. I really learned from you entry. And it’s great to be reminded that we really don’t have anything to add to ourselves to uncover our full potentials. Thank you! 🙂

  9. Infect that was a great movie and there were some remarkable dialogs between different roles. The movie is a nice thing to watch for both children and elders.

  10. Great post.Its really nice to know that you can draw so much positives out of a movie. Yes i believe movies are inspiring and teach us a lot. As a child we are too much fascinated by movies and their impact on our mind is very deep. So i recommend to everyone to tell their children to watch nice and meaningful movies

  11. That’s really a nice extract from the film. Indeed we could gain alot from it.
    I will surely write about this in my blog.

  12. Indeed it’s an excellent post man. You have given us good extracts from the film. I will surely write something about you in my blog.

  13. Very well written!! Lovely interpretation.

    Haven’t watched Kungfu Panda-II. Will do so pretty soon. Now that I am all the more motivated to do so.

    P.S: Po is adorable 🙂

  14. wonderful post! what the most I like is the ” just believe part” and “there is no secret ingredient” . both of them really inspire me.

    1. Thank you. It is true — we need to believe in our potential or we’ll never change and also we don’t need to wait for a secret ingredient from the outside as we already have everything we need.

  15. great post! Kungfu Panda 1 is surely a great movie, I still remember the scene where the Master said ” Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, but today is a gift.”

    3 Idiots (also one of those great movie from India) taught me a lot too, I think you should watch 🙂

    Check on my blog 🙂

    1. Thank you! I just took a look at your blog and it looks fresh, i’ll go back there. Thanks for the tip on the 3 Idiots, i look forward to it.

  16. Self belief is the mother of all the personal attributes that brings happiness, confidence and humility.
    Wonderfully captured !
    Marvelous post !
    Keep writing !

    1. I appreciate your encouragement and it is true that self-belief or self-confidence goes with humility not pride if it is based on the right things.

  17. Love the lines “We all have the potential already to be great. This is our Buddha nature.”

  18. Kung Fu Panda is actually one of my favorite animated movies. As you point ou,t quite beautifully I must add, the movie has so many wonderful messages. Thank you for sharing your reflections with us. This post made my day.

  19. Great post!! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!!!!

    Interesting how words and movies are placed in our paths when most needed. I just happened upon Kung Fu Panda while flipping channels on Sunday….and had to watch it once again. Such a great movie….with great teachings….I needed the reinforcement!!!


    1. ha ha, we think we’re just flipping channels… but, as they say, when the student is ready the teaching appears 🙂 And can do so in mysterious ways…

  20. My friends and I often discussed this idea of “There’s no secret ingredient”. It is overwhelming, yet inspiring at the same time. And I believe that such beautiful depiction of ideas can only be managed by the charming innocence, and beautiful characters that an animation movie brings along. Nice post, and I’m happy that you got so much out of the movie :).
    Well, on a side note, I am dying to watch Kung Fu Panda 2, but it hasn’t yet released in my country.

  21. Excellent! Fully agree with all that you have so eloquently put forth. Great movie, it’s hard to beat something that can make you laugh, think, and be inspired all at once.

    1. That’s what I’ve been thinking all day 😉 Making it onto Freshly Pressed is an OMG moment…!! I feel grateful to WordPress and all the thousands of people who’ve visited. The stats’ll be back down to earth soon enough, but i’ve been enjoying myself 🙂

  22. Funny! I watched this movie just a few days ago and was thinking in quite the same lanes. I paid much attention to the messages as well, many of them made very clearly.

    The movie can be viewed as just another funny Jack Black-movie, or you can see it as a funny Jack Black-movie AND a movie with some very good spiritual points!

    Good post anyways!

  23. Fabulous post. I just saw Kung Fu Panda 2, and it’s good to go over the first one. I do like the messages in the movie, and you clearly identified them. Great job!

  24. I thought Part 2 elaborated on the themes of Part 1 and went farther in showing Eastern Religious thoughts. My son didn’t care for Part 2 as much as I did. He is only 7 and has more steps to take than I do! Congratulations on Freshly Pressed.

    1. Thank you. I haven’t yet had the chance to see #2 but I heard from friends that it shows how we only “conquer” the world through developing inner peace first. Was that what you thought too?

    1. The movie does seem to have tapped into something that all ages can enjoy, like Harry Potter. Maybe as the message is so timeless.

  25. How about Kung Fu Hustle… similar title and a good message. Sometimes movies come up short on giving a good message.

  26. As the once great Bruce Lee said “As you think…so shall you become”, this article reminded me of that quote.

    Anyone can have potential for greatness as long as your mind put it into action. 🙂 Great post!

    1. Thank you for the Bruce Lee quote Jing Hu. Buddha also said something similar: “With your thoughts you create your world”. So useful to know that.

  27. Today, I needed to hear that I must accept that I cannot control everything — even if it came in the form of a narrative analysis of an animated movie! But your post was full of insights and spot-on advice…and a timely message.

    Thank you!

    1. Ha ha! Yes, we never know where we’re going to get our inspiration from next… if we’re open and using our wisdom, we can find it everywhere.

  28. And I get accused of over-analyzing things! Seeing as th new movie is 3D according to th busses going by tho; it’s good to be reminded that “with Dharma wisdom we can find a teaching in everything” (GKG, Joyful Path) I really love absorbing into a good movie ~ there are always Dharmic threads you can follow.

    My faves are Matrix (of course) and Donnie Darko. Loved it when Agent Smith says to Neo “you’re empty”, and Neo replies “so are you”. Guess they were talking about guns; but watching it in Ulverston’s cinema, it seemed like th whole place erupted with applause for Wisdom in action.

    Donnie Darko discusses actions and their consequences. “Every living creature on earth dies alone.” This scares Donnie, but in th end, he feels great, and his dying saves th future.

    ╰✡╮ I love that movies can challenge and inspire you, and really make you think.

    1. Jas, thanks a lot for reminding me of that quote: “With Dharma wisdom we can find a teaching in everything”. And with this blog managing by some miracle to get onto Freshly Pressed, other people may find some meaning in a most unlikely source 😉

  29. Wonderful, thanks for posting. I love getting teachings from movies. It shows that people are tuned into the difference of how things appear and how they are if they can plant awareness into dialogue between talking animals 🙂

  30. I actually just wrote an article on my blog keeping this article in mind about Spongebob Squarepants and emptiness. I’m not sure that it’s as well written as yours but I make the effort. :):) It’s nice to transform certain cartoon characters into Buddhist meditations. You can write a whole book on it! :):)

    To see my article just go to this link: http://bit.ly/ixivgE

  31. It was so refreshing to read this blog (never seen the film, but I might have to take my nephews to see it now). it reminds me of when I had a more fresh and positive approach to things, including movies, and I could take a positive message away. Thank you for writing this post, it has reminded me of a lot of things I had forgotten about what I could be doing with my life. It feels good to be encouraged and even chided a little, but mainly encouraged.

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