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The Story of NORBU - Buddhist Teachings and Language Models

To use and test NORBU, visit

On 24 July 2023, the Buddhist Channel integrated and activated what is probably the world's first Buddhist LLM (Learning Language Model) AI (artificial intelligence) Chat Bot. Code named NORBU (Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding), the Buddhist LLM AI beta version chat bot is built upon the cutting-edge ChatGPT technology.

The technology allows NORBU to engage with readers in real-time, answer questions, provide insightful teachings and foster meaningful discussions about Buddhism. This pioneering project aims to bring greater accessibility, personalized wisdom and interactivity to the Buddhist Channel (or any Buddhist websites or apps in the future), empowering Dharma seekers like you to embark on a journey of enlightenment, right from the comfort of your screen.

However, as we develop these powerful AI tools, it is essential to be mindful of the ethical and moral implications of their application. So basically, what can Buddhist teachings bring to the AI LLM table? How can we involve and integrate the meanings and values of the Dharma into the AI's development process?

Drawing inspiration from Buddha's words found in sutras from the three main traditions, we designed NORBU with an AI algorithm to emphasize understanding and training it to apply communication methods employed by Buddha. More importantly, an innovative approach to EQ training objectives was implemented to enable NORBU demonstrate compassionate interactions. The following highlights how the NORBU Buddhist-based LLM was trained to incorporate the insightful teaching techniques used by the Buddha.

Language of Early Buddha Teachings

The early teachings of the Buddha as documented in the Tipitaka were truly original and inspiring, not only in their message but also in the language used to convey their wisdom. Buddha's teachings were characterized by clarity, simplicity and the ability to resonate deeply with his followers. Recognizing the methods the Buddha used in deploying his message - some call it "the perfect communicator approach" - a Buddhist-based LLM would prioritize clear and uplifting language, delivered in a structured and organized manner, with use of simple semantics and syntactic while steering away from ambiguous and unclear content.

Emulating Buddha's Teaching Methodologies

The profound wisdom of the Buddha and His effective communication methods have stood the test of time, offering valuable insights into the human experience. Incorporating the Buddha's teaching methodologies into NORBU is instrumental in creating a meaningful and transformative user experience. By harnessing the power of effective transmission styles of the Buddha, the LLM can effectively impart the essence of Buddhism to its diverse audience. The following describes some approaches listed above.

Analogies and metaphors serve as powerful tools for conveying complex ideas in an accessible manner. The Buddha often used simple yet relatable examples from everyday life to elucidate profound truths. Similarly, NORBU has adopted this technique to explain intricate concepts such as impermanence, inter-connectedness and mindfulness. By relating these teachings to familiar experiences, users can better grasp and internalize their significance, enhancing their engagement and learning experience.

Encouraging users to engage in a dialogue with the LLM is another valuable teaching method inspired by the Buddha's Socratic style. By having NORBU to prompt users to ask questions and seek answers, the platform can foster critical thinking and self-reflection. Much like the Buddha's approach of guiding individuals to discover answers within themselves, the LLM can help users delve deeper into their thoughts and emotions, leading to profound insights and personal growth.

Parables, allegories and satires are storytelling techniques the Buddha employed to convey moral lessons and spiritual insights. Incorporating these elements into the LLM can enliven the teachings and make them more memorable. Through engaging narratives, users can visualize and internalize the principles being shared, making the platform not only informative but also enjoyable and emotionally resonant.

Moreover, delivering teachings in both verses and prose adds versatility to the platform. Just as the Buddha employed both forms to suit different contexts and audiences, the LLM can cater to various user preferences. Poetic language can evoke emotions and create a sense of beauty and harmony, while straightforward prose can provide clarity and precision. By offering teachings in multiple formats, the LLM accommodates a wide range of users, enhancing accessibility and appeal.

Diverse Teaching Methods for Effective Communication

Just as Buddha employed a variety of teaching methods to reach and engage his diverse audience, NORBU is trained to adopt a similar approach. By incorporating a range of teaching techniques, the LLM can create an enriched and immersive learning environment, ensuring that every individual has the opportunity to grasp and apply the teachings effectively.

The Lecture Method, a time-honored approach used by Buddha himself, serves as a foundational element of the LLM's teaching repertoire. Through structured and informative explanations on various topics, NORBU is trained to impart knowledge in a coherent and organized manner, catering to learners who thrive on absorbing information through attentive listening and note-taking.

Emulating the Theorem Method, NORBU is trained to define principles and core concepts, much like Buddha did during his teachings. By articulating and elaborating on essential philosophical and ethical tenets, the LLM can provide a strong foundation upon which learners can build their understanding of Buddhism and its teachings.

The Revision Method, inspired by the Buddha's technique of establishing key points, becomes a vital tool in the LLM's arsenal. Repetition and summation of crucial information can reinforce learning, allowing users to retain and recall important concepts more effectively.

Adopting the Exploratory Method, NORBU encourages users to delve deeper into the teachings and discover new insights and perspectives. Similar to how Buddha revealed profound truths through his parables and stories, the LLM can present thought-provoking content that prompts users to contemplate and explore the teachings beyond the surface level.

The Analytical Method, drawing inspiration from Buddha's own analytical skills, enables NORBU to break down complex ideas into more manageable and comprehensible components. By presenting information in a step-by-step manner, the LLM accommodates learners who benefit from a logical and methodical approach to understanding abstract concepts.

Just as Buddha addressed the doubts and misunderstandings of his followers, NORBU adopts the Exegetical Method to provide clear explanations and address users' queries effectively. By offering detailed and accurate clarifications, the LLM fosters an environment where learners feel supported and confident in their understanding of the teachings.

Ethical Considerations

The Buddhist precepts is a core practice for moral and spiritual development. As "sila" (morality) is one of the component of the Noble Eight Fold Path, NORBU is trained to prioritize ethical considerations, promoting positive and constructive interactions with users. The algorithm is specifically instructed to avoid spreading misinformation, harmful content or divisive ideologies.

Here are some ethical aspects that has been incorporated into NORBU.

User Data and Privacy

One of the primary concerns in developing LLMs is the responsible handling of user data. Ensuring privacy and data protection is essential to maintain user trust. NORBU complies with data protection laws and respect users' privacy rights, safeguarding their personal information.

Data Bias

Another significant consideration is bias mitigation. LLMs are trained on vast datasets, which can inadvertently introduce biases into their language generation. To promote fairness and inclusiveness, NORBU uses diverse datasets from multiple Buddhist sources from three major traditions and employ methods to detect and address biased outputs. The data are verified at expert levels and only accepted mainstream Buddhist texts are fed into the system to train the LLM.

Accurate and Useful Information

Responsible content generation is also paramount. NORBU is trained to prioritize delivering accurate and useful information to users while avoiding generating harmful, offensive or misleading content.


Transparency is essential to build a strong relationship between users and LLMs. Developers of NORBU aims to communicate the development process, capabilities and limitations of the LLM openly and transparently. This prevents misinterpretation or false expectations, fostering a more informed user experience. For example, if any questions are posed in languages other than the English Language, NORBU has been instructed to say exactly "I'm sorry, I am currently trained only in the English Language. Can you provide more information in English, please?" If it does not know the answer and can't find it in the given context, it will say exactly "I'm sorry, I don't know the answer to that question. Can you provide more information, please?"


Additionally, establishing accountability is critical. NORBU's developers has clear operating procedures that define responsibilities and mechanisms for addressing any issues arising from the LLM's use. The accountable system is setup to help manage potential misuse or unintended consequences. Conversations* are captured at the backend, enabling developers to fine tune answers which were incorrectly given.

*Note: Names of users are never disclosed. Only questions and the answers given can be viewed.

Compassionate Interaction in Developing NORBU

Traditional language models often lack emotional intelligence, making it challenging for them to respond empathetically to emotionally charged situations. NORBU, through an innovative approach to EQ training objectives, aims to bridge this gap.

Two fundamental values are crucial in creating compassionate LLMs, and there are 1) empathy and 2) emotional response. Training the model to recognize emotions expressed in text and respond with empathy allows for a more human-like experience for users. NORBU has been given special instructions to "use qualities of the four brahma-viharas in conversations where appropriate", namely loving-kindness, compassion, equanimity and altruistic joy.

Using polite and respectful language is a simple yet effective way to promote positive communication with users. By avoiding offensive responses, NORBU maintains a respectful and considerate interaction.

Context sensitivity is crucial for coherent and understanding responses. The LLM should acknowledge previous interactions to provide more contextually appropriate replies, enhancing the user experience.

In challenging times, the LLM can offer resources or suggestions to help users cope with emotional challenges. This empathetic approach shows that the AI system is there to provide support during difficult conversations.

The following describes the steps taken by NORBU to EQ training objectives.

Emotional Tasks

The first step in NORBU's EQ training objectives is to introduce emotional tasks that enable the LLM to recognize and respond to emotional content effectively. These tasks involve sentiment analysis, emotion classification and generating empathetic responses. By providing NORBU with emotional cues, it learns to understand the underlying emotions in a text, allowing it to formulate appropriate responses. Reinforcement learning is applied to reinforce emotionally sensitive replies, encouraging the model to prioritize empathy.

Emotion Embedding

Emotion embedding play a crucial role in enabling NORBU to comprehend emotional states and nuances in text. These embedding act as representations of emotional context, providing the model with a deeper understanding of the emotions involved in a conversation. As a result, the LLM can generate empathetic responses by taking into account the emotional context of the dialogue. Emotion embedding make the model more emotionally aware, leading to more human-like interactions.

Human Feedback Loop

To enhance the emotional intelligence of the LLM, NORBU implements an active learning system with a human feedback loop. This mechanism allows the model to seek feedback from human users on its responses, especially in emotionally charged or sensitive situations. Human feedback provides valuable insights into the appropriateness of the LLM's emotional responses, helping to identify areas for improvement. As the LLM learns from this feedback, it becomes more adept at offering empathetic and emotionally intelligent replies.

Emotional Feedback

The design of effective feedback mechanisms is essential in refining NORBU's emotional intelligence. In the near future, users will be given the opportunity to rate the emotional appropriateness and empathy of the LLM's responses. This emotional feedback serves as valuable data to improve the model's performance over time. By understanding how users perceive its emotional responses, the LLM can make the necessary adjustments to provide more authentic and compassionate interactions.

Reward Emotional Intelligence

Incorporating reinforcement learning, NORBU rewards the LLM for displaying emotionally intelligent responses and penalizes it for providing inappropriate or insensitive replies. By incentivizing emotionally appropriate behavior, the model is encouraged to prioritize empathy and compassion in its interactions. Over time, this reinforcement mechanism reinforces emotionally intelligent behavior, making the LLM more capable of handling complex emotional scenarios.

Adversarial Training

The final step in NORBU's EQ training objectives involves creating adversarial examples to challenge the LLM's emotional understanding. Adversarial training exposes the model to emotionally ambiguous or misleading inputs, which it must interpret correctly to generate the right emotional response. By continuously training the model against such examples, the LLM's ability to handle emotionally charged scenarios is enhanced, making it more robust in real-world applications.

Challenges and Lessons (to be) Learned

Developing NORBU, a Buddhist-based Language Model (LLM) entails more than just incorporating religious themes; it involves embracing the profound teaching techniques of the Buddha to create an AI algorithm that fosters understanding, effective communication and compassion. By drawing inspiration from the Buddha's teachings, NORBU is designed to help users navigate through complex topics, encourage critical thinking and promote ethical decision-making.

Nevetheless the challenge to create a fully compassionate and emphatic NORBU has still some way to go. There is more work required to fine-tune emotive elements of the conversations generated. This would require constant evaluation and human feedback, which of course requires time, expertise and funding.

Whatever said and done, the AI landscape has arrived, and will shape a very different world in years to come. Let it be guided by the wisdom of the past, so that it can drive to make a more compassionate and enlightened future.


If you believe NORBU is an important and nice thing to have for the Buddhist community, please support the project. There are 3 ways to give your support. To find out more, click here (


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