“Taiwanese computer and technology firm Acer is set to launch a new smart product: Buddhist prayer beads that automatically count the number of times a mantra is recited and transfer merits to a social media platform,” reported the Hong Kong Economic Journal last week. The original article in Chinese is here (no press release from Acer itself could be found).
Acer has reportedly received “tens of thousands” of pre-orders for the beads, which look identical to traditional beads (or malas) such as those pictured below, but they will have an embedded microchip capable of connecting with a smartphone and transmitting mantra-recitations to an app.
That would help users concentrate on the mantra rather than be distracted by the task of counting the number of times the mantra is recited.
Also, the app has a function to transfer merits to friends and family members, enabling the user to use the social network to share the love of Buddha. (HKEJ)
Hemant Mehta over at Friendly Atheist grew up in the Jain religion and used similar beads in his youth. He writes:
They’re [Acer] just capitalizing on the irrational beliefs of other people, and it’s hard to fault them for it when other companies are doing the same thing.
Maybe the silver lining here is that putting actual numbers on how many mantras people chant might wake them up as to how much time they’re wasting on religion.
Imagine if Christians had a constant reminder of how much money they’ve paid in tithes over the years. When their bank account is low, or they’re struggling with debt, that reminder of how much money they’ve given to their church could force them to rethink their budgeting.
It’s debatable whether the recitation of mantras is rational or not. Adherents note meditative qualities to the practice and some studies over the years have purported to prove benefits. Lion’s Roar reported in November of last year that “Buddhist researchers find that religious chanting reduces stress.”
Buddhism as a religion has traditionally been very adaptable to changing cultures and trends, a fact that some scholars credit for its wide spread. Recent examples of Buddhists getting involved with technology include Buddhist funerals for robot pets in Japan:
The pets, equipped with Artificial Intelligence, developed individual personalities as they interacted with owners, blurring the lines between living beings and machines. As the Buddhist priest in the NYT video says, “The inanimate and the animate are not separated in this world.”
Nobuyuki Narimatsu, Director of the ‘A-Fun’ repair company for the robot dogs, says that people really feel them, their presence and personality, and in this sense “they really have souls.” Another robot repair man speaks of an interaction with an owner, realizing that “he did not see it as a robot, but as a member of his family, whose life was more important than his own.”
Similarly in Thailand, a fortune teller and his business partner have created “blessed dolls” which they claim, “are better suited to bringing good luck in today’s more modern business world.”
Opening a door into an often overlooked or willfully ignored aspect of traditional Theravadin Buddhist life, the WSJ interviews a local actor, who proclaims, “I’m a modern person living in a digital society, but I’m like anyone else in that I still believe in supernatural powers.”
In the US, programmers claim to be able to “disrupt” religion as we know it with a newly developed Buddhist cryptocurrency, the “Karma coin.” As reported at Lion’s Roar:
In 2013, a postgraduate researcher surveyed Bitcoin users to find out how they used Bitcoin. They found that the most common usage, reported by a third of users, was for anonymous gifts, tips, and donations. The results seemed to suggest that cryptocurrencies naturally encourage “gift economies,” which have roots in the Buddhist concept of dana, or “generosity.” Lotos Network picks up on the idea that one could create an economy free from the materialist fetters of common currencies.
So in the near future you might be able to earn “Karma coins” in mantra recitations, gift them instantly to one teacher in Thailand for blessing your newest doll, and another in Japan who can use them to purchase a new soul for his robot dog. Your vision of a Buddhist cyber-utopia?
If all of this sounds interesting to you, you might want to dive in to one of the conferences in Asia this year devoted to the topic of new technology. The first is hosted by Woodenfish and will be held from June 15-17 in China. The second is a Buddhist Youth Symposium held in Thailand from July 25-28.