Robots fascinate us and have come to become accepted and commonplace in many areas of life. But, is there a place for robots in the areas of spirituality and religion? Perhaps.
In the Longquan Temple, a place of Buddhist worship in the mountains northwest of Beijing, there exists a unique monk spreading Buddhist teachings. This monk, known as Xian’er is a two-foot tall robot that gives advice to those who seek the wisdom of Buddha. With a round, bald head, inquiring eyebrows, and yellow robes, the robot is capable of answering 20 questions via a touch pad on its chest.
Xian’er’s full title is “Worthy Stupid Robot Monk” (stupid being used affectionately). He was developed by the temple along with about a dozen Chinese companies involved in technology, culture, and investments. The goal of Xian’er is to demonstrate more modern ways to spread Buddhist teachings. Xian’er can respond to queries such as “What is the meaning of life?” Xian’er also maintains an online account at Weixin (WeChat) to answer questions and provide advice. While temple-goers disagreed about the ultimate usefulness of the robot, it was viewed as a positive effort to connect with the public.
Xian’er seems to have some Western tendencies as well as Buddhist. When told “I don’t want to work” the robot replied “If you don’t want to starve and have an O.K. job, work hard.”
Group Activities and Discussion Questions:
- View a brief video about the robot:
- Discuss the use of robotics in lives. Poll students about their reaction to Xian’er. What are positive features? Negatives?
- Divide students into teams. Have each team brainstorm on a robot might be useful in an area of life or work that is not currently impacted by robots.
- Have teams draw, name, and provide the use of each robot.
- Debrief the exercise by writing all the robot ideas on the white board. Which are possible? Outrageous?
Source: Washington Post, New York Times, other news sources