It may be one of the oldest religions in the world, but that’s not stopping Buddhism from embracing innovation. In a fascinating marriage between tradition and technology, a Buddhist temple in China has welcomed a robot monk into its order with the hopes of attracting new practitioners with a tech-forward approach. Meet Xian’er, the baby robot monk designed to promote the wisdom of an old religion in a very new way.
Standing just two feet tall, the Budda-bot adheres to traditional aesthetic standards. Its head is shaved and it comes dressed in a yellow robe, but look a little closer, and you’ll see where the 21st century comes into play. Xian’er boasts a touchscreen on his chest, which helps him answer 20 questions about Buddhism and its associated lifestyle. The robot also boasts seven forms of mobility thanks to his wheels.
Master Xianfan, who created the bot, says that this integration of science and technology with spirituality is a natural alignment. “Science and Buddhism are not opposing nor contradicting, and can be combined and mutually compatible,” said Xianfan. Indeed, in a day and age in which we seem almost too connected and almost fettered by technological progress, it may be a good idea to take a step back. “Buddhism is something that attaches much importance to inner heart, and pays attention to the individual’s spiritual world,” Xianfan added. “It is a kind of elevated culture. Speaking from this perspective, I think it can satisfy the needs of many people.”
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The Xian’er robot itself is actually modeled after a character from yet another one of Buddhism’s experiments with digitization — a cartoon series called Trouble, You Seek for Yourself. Xianfan also masterminded this creative enterprise, which intends to “highlight and develop Buddhism’s connection with contemporary culture through new media,” according to CNTV.
Already, there are plans for further advances when it comes to Xian’er, with its home temple hard at work creating a new model that can carry an even greater number of functions. So if you’re looking for some spiritualism in your smartphone-driven life, you may want to take a closer look at Buddhism and the Xian’er robot.