Monastery's robot monk helping to spread the word

Updated: 2016-04-09 07:46

By Cheng Yingqi(China Daily)

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Buddhist monasteries are often associated with tradition and the ancient past but one located 30 kilometers northwest of Beijing's Zhongguancun - China's innovation hub - has become famous for looking to the future with its use of cutting-edge technology and for its latest recruit, a robot.

Longquan Monastery is led by Master Xuecheng, who started to share his religious insights and ideas on Sina Weibo in 2009 and who has been using technology extensively ever since.

The abbot now has a technological support team of monks and volunteers that maintain an electronic management system inside the complex.

And the latest addition to the team is Xian'er, a speaking robot developed at the monastery that stands about 60 cm tall and is dressed in a yellow robe.

The robot is quickly gaining fame on the Internet.

"Our master has been encouraging us to combine Buddhism with new technology to make the Dharma (teachings of the Buddha) more interesting to ordinary people," said Master Xianwei.

Xian'er, the robot monk, is able to preach and hold conversations with people and can even be used to manage home appliances, although that is not something the monks are currently using it for.

In an earlier interview with Beijing News, a reporter asked Xian'er what it thought he should do about his wife's bad temper. Xian'er replied: "Well, hang on in there. I can't advise you to divorce."

The robot now has its own home page on the messaging app WeChat where it has more than 5,000 followers.

"Our goal is to have more than 100,000 followers on Xian'er's official WeChat account," said Master Xianfan, who is in charge of the image design of Xian'er. "Xian'er is the first generation of robot monk. We are planning the development of a second generation of robot monk, which will be more intelligent."

One reason why the monastery is at the cutting edge of new technology lies in the brain power residing there. Some Buddhist monks there have technology backgrounds - including one with a PhD in fluid mechanics from Tsinghua University, a philosophy graduate from Peking University, a math Olympiad gold medalist, and a professor from Beihang University.