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Robot Buddhist monk helping to spread religion in China

A Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Beijing has decided to ditch traditional ways and use technology to attract followers.

Xian'er's creator believes the robot can reach people through a blend of religion and tech

A Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Beijing has decided to ditch traditional ways and use technology to attract followers.

Longquan temple says it has developed a robot monk that can chant Buddhist mantras, follow voice commands and hold a simple conversation.

(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters) (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Robot monk's creator calls it a perfect vessel to spread Buddhism.

Named Xian'er, the 60-centimetre-tall robot can answer about 20 simple questions about Buddhism and daily life, and perform seven types of motions on his wheels.

"Science and Buddhism are not opposing nor contradicting, and can be combined and mutually compatible," said Master Xianfan, Xian'er's creator.

(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Buddhism has slowly crept back into daily life in China.

Xianfan said Buddhism filled a gap for people in a fast-changing, smartphone-dominated society.

"Buddhism is something that attaches much importance to inner heart, and pays attention to the individual's spiritual world," he said.

(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

The little robot monk, unveiled in October, was developed as a joint project between a technology company and artificial intelligence experts from some of China's top universities.

But Xian'er is a shy robot, rarely making appearances at Longquan temple.

Xian'er spends most of his days "meditating" on an office shelf, even though curiosity about him has exploded on social media.

The robot was inspired by Xianfan's 2013 cartoon creation of the same name. The temple has produced cartoon animations, published comic anthologies and even created merchandise featuring the cartoon monk.

(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Xian'er is a minor social media star.

Michelle Yu, a tourist and practicing Buddhist, said she first spotted Xian'er on social media.

"He looks really cute and adorable," she said. "He'll spread Buddhism to more people, since they will think he's very interesting, and will make them really want to understand Buddhism."

Visitors take pictures with Xian'er whenever he gets to leave the shelf for the day.

(Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

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