Could an android priest re-energize interest in Buddhism?
It may seem like an out there move, but a 400-year-old Japanese temple has brought in a robot named Mindar to preach sermons.
The adult-sized android, modeled after Kannon Bodhisattva, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, was introduced to the Kodaiji temple in Kyoto earlier this year.
Although some critics have compared it to “Frankenstein’s monster,” Mindar has gone down well with colleagues, who say it’s doing wonders for the spiritual tradition founded by Siddhartha Gautama over 2,500 years ago.
The future of Buddhism?
“The big difference between a monk and a robot is that we are going to die,” says Buddhist monk Tensho Goto, emphasizing the android’s “immortality.”
“[Mindar] can meet a lot of people and store a lot of information [over time]. It will evolve infinitely.”
The temple has been accused of sacrilege by some critics, but Goto rejects these claims.
“Buddhism isn’t a belief in a God, it’s pursuing Buddha’s path,” he adds. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s represented by a machine, a piece of scrap metal or a tree.”
Standing at 195 centimeters tall, Mindar is mainly made from aluminum, although its hands, face and shoulders are covered in silicone to appear similar to human skin.
The android is programmed to deliver a 25-minute sermon on the Heart Sutra, a Buddhist scripture, while moving its torso, arms and head.
Mindar, which has a gender-neutral body, was developed as a collaboration between the Kodaiji temple and robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University, with a reported cost of around $1 million.