Can robots help people pray?

6th February 2020
Alex Lynn

Scribit has teamed up with the Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi, Director of The Dalai Lama Centre for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT and President of Prajnopaya Foundation at MIT, to develop the latest installment of the Scribit Originals series, to explore how technology can help people to discover and express their spirituality.

Scribit, one of 2018's top crowdfunding campaigns and one of Time’s Best Inventions of the Year 2019, is a write & erase robot that can turn your wall into a low-refresh screen on which to display information from the web, user-generated content, and art. Functioning as a ‘printer for walls’, Scribit ushers in a new way of presenting digital content and allows users to instantly personalise a vertical plane.

The collaboration with Tenzin Priyadarshi is the sixth installment of the Scribit Originals series, which aims to bring artworks by the world’s leading artists, designers and public intellectuals to the Scribit platform in order to share knowledge, a story, cause or concept: this time the universal message of balance and contemplation behind the art of Mandalas.

For this Original, Scribit reinterprets the Mandala, a sacred geometric representation of the universe in Hinduism and Buddhism that draws the mind and the eyes inward as a tool for contemplation, into an artwork that can be drawn directly onto people’s walls. The collaboration is the first in a series of artworks celebrating spiritual life all around the world, as part of Scribit’s online platform for streaming visual content.

The drawing was premiered at an event hosted by Professor Carlo Ratti, Director of MIT Senseable City Laboratory and creator of the Scribit, and Tenzin Priyadarshi at MIT CSAIL. From the same day, the drawing can be downloaded by Scribit users from the Scribit app, so that they can create their own version of the mandala in their homes to assist them in their contemplative explorations.

Constructed to be dismantled immediately, to remind us of the transitory nature of material life - the meticulous process of creating the mandala is itself meditation, requiring great concentration. The symmetry of the drawing and its geometrical perfection is the result of a balanced creativity guided by wisdom and patience. Traditional mandalas are made using coloured grains of sand or rice flour. Leveraging on Scribit write&erase technologies, the drawing can be erased recalling the tradition of destroying sand mandalas as a regenerative ritual. 

As a spiritual leader, Tenzin is deeply involved in discussions concerning humanity in an age of Artificial Intelligence and Social Media; how we approach technology is essential to understanding how humanity views itself, and this includes its spirituality. His mission as director of the Dalai Lama Centre for Ethics at MIT is to foster multi-disciplinary program designs and critical conversations around ethics, well-being, and human flourishing. The initiative seeks to create collaborative platforms for scientists, engineers, artists, and policymakers to optimise designing for humanity.

“Meditations on Mandala evokes deeper contemplation into the nature of reality,” said Tenzin. “While observing the present it also helps us to aspire for a positive future for all life. It is deeply rooted in the aesthetics of practice of awareness, beauty, change, impermanence, from the process of creation to the dissolution process. It is also a reminder of the fine balance we must maintain to uphold the sanctity of life and of this planet with compassion and care. Working with Scribit, we tried to imagine how this ancient form of meditative practice can be brought to new life.”

The Robotic Mandala Original, a spiritual message transmitted to the world by Scribit, a robot, embodies the spirit of the initiative’s approach, which sees spirituality, technology and education as parts of a whole that must work together in order to achieve harmony on Earth.

The ever-growing Scribit community will be able to engage with these stories in a new, more meaningful way as Scribit continues to connect us beyond our screens. The drawing is part of an ongoing series within the Scribit Originals project that seeks to explore various interpretations of spirituality in an effort to expand people’s awareness of other beliefs and cultures.

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