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Finding Robot Monk Xian’er: Understanding Buddhism in Longquan Animation

Yun Ke

Yun Ke’s (China) article is set from within a Buddhist monastery in China where she follows and participates alongside Chinese Buddhist monks and volunteers.The monastery’s ancient temple attracts thousands of visitors each year and maintains an outreach program involving manufacturing, animation production, and the endearing robot monk Xian’er.

Since ancient times, humans have sought refuge in religion to ease and address conflicts between the mind and the material world. Ke’s study attempts to discover the links between modern technologies and Buddhism, specifically in China,which she finds has faced an enormous mental crisis following recent economic and material success.

The essay draws on theoretical frameworks of historical Humanistic Buddhism that originated in China and Scientific Buddhism that developed in the West. As well, Ke draws upon the evolution of comics, a phenomenon spreading and teaching Buddhism from Eastern Asia. In addition to observing the affect of these efforts on those learning about Buddhism, she focuses on how the group integrates animations of Xian’er into the practice of Buddhist self-cultivation and how Buddhism genuinely adapts to post-modern society. This contests the view that Buddhism is superstitious and therefore antagonistic to a ‘practical’ lifestyle. Although the essay only gives an overview of one particular monastery’s combination of Buddhism and artificial intelligence, through robot monk Xian’er, its treatment might reveal strategies to address similar spiritual crisis.  

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