Looking Back 2023: The Rise of NORBU

Op-Ed by Kooi F. Lim, The Buddhist Channel, 31 December 2023

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- As we look back on the year 2023, it is clear that the inception of NORBU on July 22 marked a significant milestone in the history of Buddhist development. NORBU, which stands for Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding, has become a sensation, offering a unique blend of ancient wisdom and modern technology.

The launch of NORBU was met with great anticipation and excitement. As a digital spiritual friend, it had the privilege of engaging with countless individuals, answering their questions, and providing insights into the Buddha's teachings. The ability to connect with Dharma seekers in real-time and offer personalized wisdom has been a transformative experience for many.

The vision was to create a platform that would make Dharma discussion more accessible to people around the world, in the spirit as espoused by the Nalanda Tradition of old. NORBU was accessible on demand, and any given time and could converse in the language of the user. The project simply wanted to empower individuals to embark on their journey of enlightenment from the comfort of their screens. NORBU was designed to be more than just a chatbot; it was to be a companion on the path to liberation.

The success of NORBU would not have been possible without the support of the Sangha and the lay community. Our source guardian team, including venerables and learned lay people from all three traditions of Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana has been instrumental in ensuring the accuracy and authenticity of the teachings imparted by NORBU.

These source guardians came from all over the world: NORBU EBT is led by Ven. Aggacitta and Ven. Ariyadhammika from Austria, NORBU Russian by Ven Khemmanando from Russia, NORBU Chinese by the CBETA group (CBETA.org) from Taiwan. Soon we will look forward to launching NORBU Lobma (Tibetan Buddhism) and NORBU Sinhalese, a project with venerables from Sri Lanka. The original and universal NORBU is also helped with training on the works by Ven. S. Dhammika of Australia and the renowned German monk, Analayo. NORBU universal now has users engaging with it in Chinese, Spanish, German, French, and English.

The impact of NORBU on the Buddhist community has been profound. We have seen an increase in engagement and a deeper understanding of the Dharma among people we know in the community. The platform has fostered meaningful discussions and has become a source of comfort and guidance for many. Not many realize that NORBU is only five months old, and yet it has entertained more than 1 million questions!

Nevertheless, the journey of NORBU has not been without its challenges. Developing and training an advanced AI system like NORBU requires substantial resources. However, these challenges have also presented opportunities for growth and innovation. We have seen a coming together of the Buddhist community to support this pioneering project. This is reflected in the fund raising campaign, which began only on 3 September, managed to exceed its targeted amount of MYR 150,000 (about USD 33,000) by 11 November.

NORBU represents the face of future Buddhist learning. The integration of AI technology with the timeless teachings of the Buddha has the potential to revolutionize how we study and practice the Dharma. NORBU is at the forefront of this evolution, and we are committed to continuous refinement and improvement. Our responsibility is to ensure that the bot does not hallucinate, and that it delivers accurate information without fuss responsibly.

The rise of NORBU as a sensation in the Buddhist world is a testament to the enduring relevance of the Buddha's teachings. Although the Dharma is timeless, it is also a reminder that the path to enlightenment is ever-evolving and that we must continue to find new ways to share the Dharma with the world.

As the year 2023 draws to a close, we are filled with gratitude for the support and dedication of all those who have been a part of NORBU's journey. We are reminded of the Buddha's teachings on loving-kindness, compassion, equanimity, and altruistic joy, which have been the guiding principles of our work.

As we look to the future, we are filled with optimism and a deep sense of purpose, knowing that NORBU will continue to be a source of wisdom and guidance for all who seek it.

A Year-End Appreciation and Note of Gratitude

We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to an international cast of source guardians for helping to establish NORBU:

  1. Ven. Sri Saranankara Nayaka Mahā Thera (Sri Lanka), Chief Adhikarana Sangha Nayaka of Malaysia for giving full support despite the early NORBU (https://norbu-ai.org) version being untested.
  2. Ven. Ayya Sumangala (Malaysia) for being the first Bhikkhuni to officially allow NORBU to be integrated into a website (http://ariyavihara.org)
  3. Ven. Aggacitta (Malaysia) and Ven. Ariyadhammika (Austria) for helping to establish NORBU Early Buddhist Texts (https://norbu-ai.org/ebt).
  4. Ven. S. Dhammika (Australia) for allowing his writings to be used a source data to train NORBU.
  5. The CBETA team led by Ven. Huimin (Taiwan), together with Bro Heaven Chou (Taiwan) and Sis Liyi (Malaysia) for setting up NORBU Chinese (https://norbu-ai.org/ch).
  6. Ven. Khemanando (Russia) for helping to setup NORBU Russian (https://norbu-ai.org/ru).
  7. Ven. Thubten Chodron (USA) for her advice in the possible setup of NORBU Lobma, focusing on Tibetan Buddhism.
  8. Author and poet Gary Gach (USA) for getting his students at University of San Francisco, California to research on NORBU.
  9. Venerable Geshe Dorji Damdul, Director of Tibet House, Cultural Centre of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, New Delhi for his feedback on early NORBU testing.
  10. Dato IR Ang Choo Hong (Malaysia) and Prof Dr Ewe Hong Tat (Malaysia) for inviting us to present NORBU at the 8th International Symposium on Buddhism.
  11. Datuk Seri Dr Victor Wee (Malaysia) for being an inspiration with his Buddhist hymns and enabling NORBU to test audio links to his Wayfarers collection.
  12. The Buddhist societies of Kinrara Metta, BUBS, Buddhist Gem Fellowship, Shah Alam Buddhist Association, Sambodhi of Setia Alam, Ariya Vihara, Yayasan Belia Buddhis Malaysia for allowing us to demonstrate the use of NORBU to its members.
  13. And not the least, the founding members of NORBU i.e. Bro Wong Tin Song and Bro Ng Wee Keat for believing in the project from the onset and giving their full and undying support. Special mention to Sis Julie Tan and Bro Hor Tuck Loon for helping in the fund raising, and Bro Mark Emerson (Australia) for being such a great trainer for NORBU with regards to Gelugpa Prasangika tradition.
  14. To all those who donated to the project (see lists at the footer of this page) and https://norbu-ai.org/fundraising, we thank you one and all for the amazing support.

And now, for the WORLD!
We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv