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Playing God: Android Priest in Japan?

Buddhism’s teaching has gone to the next level with the help of technology. A 400-year-old temple is spiking interest in Buddhism with an android priest. This is believed to revolutionize the face of the religion.

Kōdai-ji temple in Kyoto

 

The adult-size android named Mindar is modeled after the Goddess of Mercy, Kannon Bodhisattva. It preaches sermons at the Kōdai-ji temple in Kyoto. People of the temple have a positive outlook on this, predicting that with artificial intelligence, the android will acquire a never-ending knowledge and wisdom of the religion.

Tensho Goto with Mindar

 

“This robot will never die; it will just keep updating itself and evolving,” said priest Tensho Goto. “That’s the beauty of a robot. It can store knowledge forever and limitlessly.”

He added, “With AI, we hope it will grow in wisdom to help people overcome even the most difficult troubles. It’s changing Buddhism.”

Mindar started its service around February this year. Its gender-neutral body can move its torso, arms, and head. Only its hands, face, and shoulders are covered in silicone to imitate human skin. There’s a small camera installed on its left eye

It speaks in soothing tones with hands clasped together in prayer whereas the mid-body section exposes mechanical parts, not covered in silicone.

Mindar was developed at a reported cost of almost $1 million in a joint project between Zen Temple and renowned robotics Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University. It teaches compassion and the dangers of anger, ego, and desire.

Hiroshi Ishiguro

 

The Criticism

People are skeptical of this approach as it tampers with the sanctity of religion. Most of them are foreigners of the Western side despite there’s large positive feedback from Japanese visitors. Due to their perspective possibly influenced by the Bible, it is understandable why they do not welcome this approach. Some called it the ‘Frankenstein’s monster’ and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, accused Kōdai-ji temple to be guilty of sacrilege.

Despite the criticism, monks, and priests of Kōdai-ji temple believe that Mindar will touch people’s hearts and minds, and bring a fresh approach for the young generation to learn about Buddhism.

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