A temple in Kyoto is combining ancient teaching and futuristic robotic technology with the hopes of preserving and stimulating interest in Buddhism.
Created by a team led by Hiroshi Ishiguro, a roboticist and professor of intelligent robotics at Osaka University, Mindar is a robotic priest. The androgynous monk is over six feet tall, weighs close to 70 pounds, and is now delivering Buddhist sermons in Japan.
Reached via email by The Washington Post, Kohei Ogawa, an associate professor at Osaka University who helped design Mindar, said researchers’ goal was to redesign a Buddhist statue using modern robotics technology. The Washington Post reports the result was a $1 million collaboration between the temple and Osaka University in which researchers decided that Mindar should channel Kannon Bodhisattva, the Buddhist deity of mercy.
“This robot will never die; it will just keep updating itself and evolving,” Japanese Priest Tensho Goto says in a quote published in The Japan Times. “That’s the beauty of a robot. It can store knowledge forever and limitlessly.”
In Japan, Buddhist priests have been warning for more than a decade that their form of Buddhism is facing extinction. The Japan Times reports Goto hopes Kodaiji’s robot priest will be able to reach younger generations in a way traditional monks can’t.
“Young people probably think a temple is a place for funerals or weddings,” he said, “it might be difficult to relate to fuddy-duddy priests like me, but hopefully the robot is a fun way to bridge that gap. We want people to see the robot and think about the essence of Buddhism.”
And Mindar, who delivers sermons inside the 400-year-old Kodaiji temple, isn’t the first reported robot priest.
There was BlessU-2, the blessing robot, who in 2017 was part of an installation by the Protestant Church during the summer at the World Reformation Exhibition in Wittenberg, Germany.
And a Buddhist temple near Beijing developed the two feet high, saffron-yellow robe-wearing robot monk Xian’er that could chant mantras and explain basic tenets of the religion.
Perhaps as Vatican officials debate a proposal that attempts to ease a shortage of Catholic priests in the Amazon that would allow older, married men to be ordained, a Catholic robot priest will emerge next.
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