Designed to explain Buddhist teachings in an easy-to-understand way, creators hope the robot will boost temple visitor numbers.
The Kodaiji temple in Kyoto, Japan, has debuted a robot version of Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, in the hopes of explaining Buddhist teachings in a more accessible and engaging way.
The robot, named Mindar, delivered a speech about the Heart Sutra during an unveiling ceremony to an audience of monks and members of the media. Designed to teach in plain speech and attract a new and younger audience, Mindar will begin preaching during public ceremonies.
“We want many people to come to see [the robot] to think about the essence of Buddhism,” Tensho Goto, a priest at the temple in Kyoto’s Higashiyama Ward, told the Japan Times.
A collaborative project between Kodaiji temple and Hiroshi Ishiguro, professor of intelligent robotics at Osaka University, the robot stands 195 cm tall and weighs 60 kg. Costing approximately $909,000 to develop, Mindar can move its torso, arms, and head, and a camera in its left eye allows it to interact with an audience. Made mostly out of aluminum, Mindar’s hands, shoulders, and face are covered in silicone to look like human skin.
Kannon, also known as Quanyin and Avalokitesvara, is known for transforming into various forms to help relieve the suffering of humans. “This time,” the temple stated during the unveiling, “Kannon changed into an android.”
The public can visit Mindar from March 8 to May 6 while it delivers sermons from the Heart Sutra in Japanese. Translated versions in English and Chinese will be projected onto a screen next to the android.
As Buddhist Door reported, around 36 percent of Japan’s population identify as Buddhist, but few regularly visit Buddhist temples, except during traditional ceremonies, such as funeral rites or new year celebrations. As a result, 27,000 of the country’s 77,000 temples are expected to close within the next 25 years.