Robot dispenses Buddhist wisdom in China

Robot dispenses Buddhist wisdom in China

Modern technology has transformed even some of the most ancient practices that still exist in the world. The epitome case of this is that if you travel to China, you might find funny-looking, chubby, chatty robot monk dispensing Buddhist wisdom. This is the world's first robot monk and it can chant Buddhist mantras and interact with humans. Its name is Xian'er created by Xianfan and it attracts a steady stream of admirers and has taken the social media by storm.

Standing two-feet (60 centimeters) tall, Xian'er is based on a cartoon character created by a Buddhist master at Beijing's Longquan Temple. Masses of people have been drawn to the 1,700-year-old place of worship ever since the first shooting to fame of this robot on Chinese social media.

Master Xianfan carries Xian'er the robot monk at the ancient entrance gate of the Longguan Temple in Beijing. According to Master Xianfan, the robot is intelligent to chant Buddhist mantras and even interact with people. As a matter of fact, the robot can answer up to a hundred questions.

The chatty robot was introduced by Longquan Temple in 2015 in hopes of using cutting edge technology to spread Buddhism.The project was supported by tech companies which happily volunteered their expertise for the unusual experiment.

"Developing Xian'er wasn't for promotional or commercial purposes," said Xianfan, the head of the temple's animation studio. We only wanted to explore how to better fuse Buddhism with science, to convey the message that Buddhism and science aren't contradictory."

The strategy has succeeded among China's younger generation who are digitally savvy known for being digitally savvy. "It's super cute...I feel it is like a temple mascot, making Buddhism much more accessible," said Liu Jiyue, a college student who went to the temple to meet the robot.

Even though the robot attracts the younger generation to the temple, they are not necessarily drawn to the Buddhist practice. For instance, Liu admits she is not religious but enjoys getting her picture taken with the cute robot.

Xianxun, another master at the temple, says Xian'er isn't a mascot but it's natural that people are attracted to novelty. "It takes time for people to get connected to Buddhism from a white sheet of paper," he said. "They need to get interested in the first place."

Although it might take a while for people to look beyond the robot and become interested in Buddhism, the robot does succeed in bringing people to the temple and that is the first step for them to become interested, as they are exposed to the Buddhist practice.

If this robot hasn't brought Buddhism more followers, it has become a tourist revolution. Some have come from as far away as Shanghai to catch a glimpse of the robot. Furthermore, considering how the social media works, as this robot becomes more and more popular across borders, it is expected that people will travel to China just to meet this funny and interesting robot.

Xianfan, a graduate of the Chinese Central Art Academy, first conceived Xian'er (Xian stands for virtuous. Er means dumb in Beijing dialect but is a term of endearment) in 2013 as a cartoon character.

Longquan Temple's animation studio created models of the temple and monks with light clay, which are given to tourists as souvenirs.