Worshippers at a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan, are read sermons and Buddhist scriptures by a robot modeled after the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon.
Inside Kodaiji Temple is a 6-foot-4-inch and 132 pound robot named “Mindar” programmed to deliver a 25-minute sermon on Heart Sutra. Made of silicone skin and aluminum body parts, the robot features a camera embedded in its left eye to allow eye contact with worshippers during sermons and teachings. Mindar’s hands and torso were also designed to replicate human movement and interactions.
Mindar was a $1-million project designed by a team led by Professor Ishiguro Hiroshi of the Department of Systems Innovation at Osaka University and Kodaiji Temple in 2019. The goal of the project was to renew people’s interest in Buddhism, which has been declining due to generational change and modernism in Japan, and to encourage worshippers in using their imagination. Ishiguro explained that Mindar was designed to have an ambiguous gender and age so that worshippers can imagine their own image of Buddha.
The robot also includes interactive 3D projection mapping that allows it to display worshippers onto a wall behind itself. Worshippers in these projected videos ask Mindar questions about Buddha’s teachings, to which it responds with straightforward, articulate answers.
Kodaiji Temple’s chief steward Goto Tensho is hoping to include more advanced features for Mindar as it is currently limited to preprogrammed sermons.
“We plan to implement AI so Mindar can accumulate unlimited knowledge and speak autonomously. We also want to have separate sermons for different age groups to facilitate teachings,” Goto told ABC News.
In regards to concerns that Mindar is violating a religious field, Goto explained that Buddhism is about following Buddha’s way rather than worshiping a god.
“Buddhism isn’t a belief in a God, it’s pursuing Buddha’s path,” Goto told CNN. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s represented by a machine, a piece of scrap metal or a tree.”