Anyone who is planning to visit ancient Chinese temples must have heard about the Robot Monk Xian’er who chants mantras and answers questions about Buddhism and faith. Isn’t that just peculiar?
Such thing happens when modernity is used to endorse something ancient. It was in a Buddhist temple located on the edge of Beijing where a now-so-famous Robot Monk was developed. Named Xian’er, the said robot actually explains the basis tenets of Buddhist faith through its touch-screen display.
Robot Monk Xian’er stands 2 feet in height and is encased in saffron-yellow robes similar to what human monks actually wear. It has a shaved head too which compliments the monk-image it portrays. According to The Guardian, Xian’er wears “an expression of permanent surprise”, despite spending most of its time in the spiritual calm of the 500-year old Longquan Temple.
With the purpose of reaching out to people who offers more of attention to their smartphones than their inner being, Robot Monk Xian’er was prepared to answer 20 simple questions about Buddhism and daily life in the said temple.
According to the robot’s creator, Xianfian, who is a monk at Longquan Temple, Robot Monk Xian’er was a product of harnessing “artificial intelligence” to spread Buddhist wisdom in China. In an interview with Reuters, the monk even clarified that Science and Buddhism are neither opposing nor contradicting. Instead, they “can be combined and mutually compatible,” he said.
The Robot Monk Xian’er’s existence originated from a cartoon drawn by Xianfian when he first entered the Longquan Temple as a monk. According to Xianfian, he saw Xian’er then as “a reflection of innovative Buddhist spirit … [who] might help traditional Buddhism reach a wider public more easily.” With the help of the head of Longquan, Master Xuecheng, who is also the president of the Buddhist Association of China and a digital enthusiast, Robot Monk Xian’er was made a project between the temple and the experts from Chinese universities and a technology company.
Since the creation of Robot Monk Xian’er, it has made appearances to robotic fairs across China, spreading Buddhist wisdom to the digital generation.