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Robot monk spreads Buddhist teachings

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Robots might not be the most traditional way of spreading the teachings of Buddhism, but one temple in China is giving it a try.

The two-foot-tall robot is able to respond to voice commands, and answer simple questions about the teachings of Buddhism.

Introducing Xian'er. The two-foot-tall robot is able to respond to voice commands, and answer simple questions about the teachings of Buddhism.

Holding a touch pad on his chest, Xian’er’s purpose is to reach out to people who are more connected to external material temptations than their inner being.

Master Xianshu, a monk that’s behind the creation of the robot, regards it as a modern mean for spreading the teachings of Buddha, such as being indifferent to fame and wealth.

"Xian'er is able to spread the Buddhist teachings in an informal and easy way. Just like how my master taught me before. He has never planted any complicated Buddhist thoughts in us. Instead, he directed us to learn the teachings through everyday, trifling matters. So we embedded the teaching format in the robot monk," Master Xianshu said.

Since he was created, Xian’er has been to several comic fairs across China. He’s becoming more and more popular, especially on the social media networks. But masters at the temple are worried that people are focusing too much on the innovation of the robot, rather than the message he conveys. So, they are thinking of ways to prevent this cute little monk from becoming just another tourist attraction.

Deep within the temple lies a comic center. This is where the character Xian’er is also developed into cartoon and claymation series. In a fast-paced digital world, Xian’er’s popularity could only be temporary.

So the staff’s big task is to enrich Xian’er’s stories, make them more interesting and influential, so as to keep these Buddhist messages relevant in the long run.

"Now we're working on Xian'er's data and expanding its repertoire. We are trying to input more Buddhism scriptures to the robot, such as Tripitaka. We will continually record the instructions of our Buddhist abbot, and program them into the robot monk's intelligence," Master Xianshu said.

Xian'er comes at the right time as the number of Buddhist in China is growing. The Chinese Buddhism Association also lately called for more Buddhist culture innovation through new technological means, with the aim to spread further Buddha's teachings. Master Xianshu says Xian’er the robot monk is only the beginning.

More cartoon characters like Xian’er will be created, and a second generation of robot monks is in the works.

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