This century, Buddha sent robots to promote Buddhism.

  Artificial intelligence, Robot

Artificial intelligence technology has been involved in Buddhism. In order to attract young people’s attention to Buddhism, many monasteries have begun to try to combine science and technology with religion. For example, in February 2019, Japan launched the robot Guanyin “Mindar”. Such means of communication have subverted people’s understanding of traditional Buddhism. Will artificial intelligence technology make Buddhism undergo a change?

More than 2,500 years ago, Sakyamuni attained enlightenment and became a Buddha under the bodhi tree in ancient India. Since then, it has been spread by word of mouth such as personal conversation and public preaching. Therefore, Sakyamuni’s disciples traveled all over India in order to save all living beings.

Later, in order to facilitate missionary work, Buddha’s disciples wrote sutras of Buddha’s teachings, which were then introduced into China via India and then spread to South Korea and Japan, so that Buddhism could be widely spread.

In modern times, Buddhism has spread to all parts of the world. With the development of science and technology, the Internet has become a new means of communication. Missionaries have begun to use modern media to promote Buddhism.

Under the impact of the changes of the times, Buddhism is constantly adjusting itself and integrating with science and technology.

Japan Developed Robot Guanyin “Mindar”

At the beginning of this year, a temple with a history of more than 400 years in Japan, the Gaotai temple, announced a magical Guanyin, the robot Guanyin “Mindar”, which attracted the attention of the media at home and abroad.

“Mindar” was developed by Hiroshi Ishiguro, a roboticist at Osaka University, with the assistance of Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, who spent nearly US$ 1 million on the research and development of the Gaotai Temple. It is based on the Japanese myth of Guanyin Bodhisattva.


The “Mindar” Guanyin can explain the Mahaprajnaparamita Heart Sutra (Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra) in Japanese, accompanied by various actions, and he can also translate the scripture into Chinese and English versions. The abbot of Gaotai temple said that in the future, artificial intelligence technology will give “Mindar” unlimited wisdom.

Although this is not a new thing in Japan, which has always been ahead of time in robot research and development and has a very large brain hole.

How to Save the Declining Japanese Buddhism

With the development of the times, people all over the world are becoming less interested in religion. Especially young people, have less and less contact with Buddhism.

Japan is no exception. Buddhism was once one of the mainstream religious beliefs in Japan. According to the “Religious Statistics Survey” implemented annually in Japan, Japanese Buddhists account for about half of all religions.


The data source is Japan’s 2017 Religious Statistics Survey

But now, many Japanese have not joined any religious organizations, and Buddhism faces a situation of no successor.

As a result, some Buddhists even went to bars to chant sutras in order to attract young people, and temples opened cafes, beauty salons and replaced nightclub music with Sanskrit …


Japanese monk Kwabong sings “Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra” in a bar in Yakushiji

Japanese monasteries do their best to use AI technology to promote Buddhism.

In recent years, Japan’s major monasteries have also followed the trend of the times and started to use science and technology to attract the attention of young people.

In March 2018, Japan’s TDK company introduced a walking artificial intelligence potted plant: BonsAI, whose flowerpot part is equipped with AI system.

According to TDK, although the potted plant looks ordinary, the base is equipped with advanced devices such as cameras, wireless power supply, and microcomputers that control session functions. BonsAI can move freely in the temple and “talk about life” with monks.

In November 2018, Japan’s Kyoto Longan Temple held an audio-visual conference hosted by the DJ abbot. Lighting, image projection, electronic music and effect-treated chanting made the Buddhist temple colorful and full of modern flavor.


What attracted the most attention in the Dharma meeting was the footage of the three Buddhas flying drones to greet each other, which attracted the audience to take photos one after another.

In order to seize the young market, they did much more than that. The young abbot of Aichi Prefecture’s Cide Hospital turned the temple into a robot classroom, teaching children to type codes themselves. It has been open for half a year and has enrolled 20 students.


In one corner of the temple, the abbot is teaching students to use computer programming to control the robot’s progress.

The robot Guanyin “Mindar” introduced at the beginning of the article was also born under this background.

The designers of “Mindar” said that one day artificial intelligence will be used to provide them with a certain degree of autonomy, which adds a new dimension to the way religious information is transmitted.

Tensho Goto, abbot of the Gaotai temple, said he hoped to arouse people’s interest and attract the younger generation. “through artificial intelligence, we hope he can develop and change Buddhism intelligently.” 」

Buddhist robot, Mindar is not the first

In fact, “Mindar” is not Japan’s first Buddhist robot. In 2014, Japan introduced the robot “Pepper” developed by Softbank.

In 2017, “Pepper” was given a new function-chanting sutras. People can rent it at funerals. It will knock wooden fish like a Buddhist priest and chant sutras for the deceased to cross over.


“Pepper” Chants Over at Funeral

The service charge of “Pepper” is much cheaper than the fee of 240,000 yen (about 15,000 yuan) for a human mage to cross over, only 50,000 yen (about 3,200 yuan). Moreover, it can also do things that human mages may not be able to do, such as live funeral for those who cannot be present.

In addition, “Pepper” can also assist temple abbots to chant sutras to help understaffed Japanese temples maintain normal operation.

At home, we have also been brushed by robot monks. In 2016, the AI machine monk “Xian 2” of Beijing Longquan Temple was born, attracting a large number of fans quickly.

According to the research and development team of “Xian 2”, the robot monk was created by the team in 3.5 months. The artificial intelligence technology behind it includes: identifying more than 1800 different objects and scenes; Indoor positioning and navigation technology based on lidar: Flexible arms with 6 degrees of freedom; Acoustic speech synthesis, etc.


As a result, the team was invited to participate in various AI science and technology conferences and appeared in public view.

Longquan temple also began to enter AI field around 2018. At the end of July 2018, Master Xian Chao, director of his Tibetan Classics Office, presented the current application of self-developed AI in Chinese monasteries under the title of “Compilation of Tibetan Classics: When AI Encounters Buddhism”.

Master Xian Chao also pointed out that combining the currently popular AI technology with the Great Tibetan Scriptures and using technologies including in-depth learning and optical character recognition (OCR) to change the traditional interpretation method of the Great Tibetan Scriptures can lower the threshold of “reading Tibetan and knowing Tianjin” and improve the work efficiency of scholars.

At that time, IT talents such as development engineers and product managers had also become the main characters in the recruitment notices of Longquan Temple. This is probably the temple with the strongest internet atmosphere, so many people went to visit Longquan Temple.

As a result, Longquan Temple has changed from the cold and cheerless years ago, with an endless stream of tourists and hundreds of volunteers. It has become not only a temple, but also a scenic spot for tourists from all over the world and a place for many enterprises to study and study.

What changes will be brought about by the combination of AI and religion

What is the effect of combining AI with religion to carry forward Buddhism and save all living beings? What we have seen so far is that every time religious circles introduce a new application scenario, such as intelligent beads and robot monks, it will arouse attention and heated discussion, but like many hot spots, it will soon be forgotten.


Wisdom beads can automatically count the number of times Buddhist scriptures are recited.

Goto, the abbot of the Gaotai temple, once said, “Buddhist belief is invisible. it doesn’t matter whether it is replaced by machines, iron plates or leaves. However, robots are immortal. They can practice Buddhism without restriction of environment and position. They also have a stronger memory and can store knowledge continuously. 」


In recent years, there have also been websites that worship Buddha and burn incense online. Believers can “burn incense” and worship Buddha by turning on their computers every day, which is very convenient. It allows believers to create their own religious environment on any occasion.

The addition of ancient religions to scientific and technological elements that are more interesting to modern young people has indeed attracted more attention.

However, a mage who pays close attention to science and technology said that although Buddhism is ancient and traditional, Buddhists are modern. Buddhism attaches great importance to internal practice. Science and technology can transform the material world. The organic combination of the two can promote the real scientific development of human society.

Therefore, in the age of Internet, the integration of science and technology and religion arises at the historic moment and may contribute to the spread of Buddhism. At least, it is a common knowledge shared by believers and scientific researchers. Whether this will eventually bring unprecedented changes to religion or wait for time to give an answer.