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Robotic Buddhist Monk Preaches at a Kyoto Temple

If you’re one of those people who occasionally catches up on their sleep during church services, you may want to start taking a nap before ...

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If you’re one of those people who occasionally catches up on their sleep during church services, you may want to start taking a nap before you go … or you could end up being zapped with a laser by a robot minister or church laser. While the zapping-for-napping may not be here yet, the robotic minister is and it could be a threat to snoozers as well as some of the trouble-making clergy in the news lately. An ancient Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan, says it’s trying to attract young people by offering sermons delivered by a life-sized android monk with a video camera in its left eye to help it maintain eye contact. I TOLD you it won’t allow snoozing!

“Buddhism saw a phenomenal spread in the world with the emergence of Buddhist images. We are hoping that the Android Kannon will help Buddhist teachings reach the hearts of people today.”

Kannon statue

Tensho Goto, a priest at the famous Kodaiji temple in Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward, may be stretching it a bit when he describes the robot as being in the image of a Buddhist deity. The robot’s name is Mindar and it was developed for the temple by Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor of intelligent robotics at Osaka University. Mindar is an imposing six-foot-five (77 inches or 1.95 meter) and weighs a beanpole-ish 132lbs (59 kilograms). Its face, neck, shoulders, arms and hands move and those are covered with humanlike skin, but the rest of its robotic insides are exposed. (See pictures and a video here.) It’s based on one of the religion’s most beloved deities – Kannon, the lord of compassion and goddess of mercy. Being able to appear in many forms both male and female means robotic Kannon can appeal to both sexes and the temple explains its new form as:

“This time, Kannon changed into an android.”

Change like that comes after spending quite a bit of change – the price tag on Mindar was 100 million yen ($909,090), which included programming that moved its movable parts (including lips and facial features) while delivering a sermon in Japanese from the Heart Sutras, a popular collection of sutras or aphorisms.

Perhaps Mindar can team up with Xian’er, a small round robotic monk developed by a Chinese company for Longquan Temple in Beijing. It’s also called the “Worthy Stupid Robot Monk” so it’s not surprising that this 2-foot-tall bot was developed for children. (Pictures and video here.) Speaking via the tablet it holds, Xian’er can answer 20 simple questions about Buddhism (conveniently listed on his tablet) and move around on his wheels. Together, Mindar and Xian’er would look like a Buddhist version of C3PO and R2D2, or maybe Laurel and Hardy.

While helping bring Buddhism into the 21st century, Mindar and Xian’er are a long way from being the first robotic monks … centuries away, in fact. In the 1560s, a mechanical monk or automaton was built using clockwork technology, possibly by Juanelo Turriano, a 16th-century Spanish clockmaker. It was said to have been made for Spain’s King Philip II after Philip’s son had recovered from a deathly illness. The monk is now in the Smithsonian and can still roll around and move its mouth and arms in
silent prayer.

Is it time to turn religion over to the robots?



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