Robot monk blends science and Buddhism at Chinese temple

Fri Apr 22, 2016 5:42am EDT
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By Joseph Campbell

BEIJING (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.

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.

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

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.   Continued...

Robot Xian'er is placed next to Master Xianfan while Xianfan has an interview with Reuters at  Longquan Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Beijing, April 20, 2016.  REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon