The Buddha-Bot: Chinese Temple Enlists Mini Monk Robot To Boost Teachings

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

According to Joseph Campbell via Reuters: “A Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Beijing has decided to ditch traditional ways and use technology to attract followers. Longquan temple says it has developed a robot monk that can chant Buddhist mantras, move via voice command, and hold a simple conversation.

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

Named Xian’er, the 60-cm (2-foot) tall robot resembles a cartoon-like novice monk in yellow robes with a shaven head, holding a touch screen on his chest. Xian’er can hold a conversation by answering about 20 simple questions about Buddhism and daily life, listed on his screen, and perform seven types of motions on his wheels. Master Xianfan, Xian’er’s creator, said the robot monk was the perfect vessel for spreading the wisdom of Buddhism in China, through the fusion of science and Buddhism.

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

“Science and Buddhism are not opposing nor contradicting, and can be combined and mutually compatible”, said Xianfan.

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

Under the careful watch of China’s officially atheist Communist Party, religion has slowly crept back into daily life since reforms got going several decades ago. Xianfan said Buddhism filled a gap for people in a fast-changing, smart-phone dominated society.

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

“Buddhism is something that attaches much importance to inner heart, and pays attention to the individual’s spiritual world”, he said.

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

The little robot monk was developed as a joint project between a technology company and artificial intelligence experts from some of China’s top universities. It was unveiled to the public in October. But Xian’er is not necessarily the social butterfly many believe him to be

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

He has toured several robotics and innovation fairs across China but rarely makes public appearances at Longquan temple. Xian’er spends most of his days “meditating” on a shelf in an office, even though curiosity about him has exploded on social media. Xian’er was inspired by Xianfan’s 2013 cartoon creation of the same name.

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

The temple has produced cartoon animations, published comic anthologies, and even merchandise featuring the cartoon monk. The temple is developing a new model of Xian’er, which it says will have a more diverse range of functions.”

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

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Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

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