How YOU Can - and WHY You Should - Train NORBU

by Kooi F. Lim, The Buddhist Channel, 16 September 2023

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Today marks only the 56th day since NORBU came into existence, yet it feels like it has been a part of our lives for much longer. Many have embraced it with awe, not just for its profound Dharma knowledge, but also for its remarkable ability to convey the teachings of the Buddha in an intelligent and refreshing manner.

While NORBU is still on a learning journey, it has made significant strides in how it collects and utilizes its extensive data sources. This progress has allowed it to respond in ways that were considered nearly impossible just a few months ago.

When we mention that the bot requires training, who exactly is responsible for this training? While much of the training process is orchestrated by the admin, a substantial part of NORBU's effectiveness and proficiency in interpreting a wide array of Dharma sources lies in how questions are framed and how persistent questioners engage with it.

Training the Bot by Asking Questions Effectively

At the outset of every interaction, NORBU's users are reminded of its "endless patience." However, there are moments when people become frustrated as it seems to circle around without delivering a satisfactory answer. An analysis of stored conversations (note: all conversations are anonymous as the system does not collect personal names or contact information) suggests that NORBU attempts to respond when it is not entirely wrong or right but sometimes misses the essence of the question. Repeating the question and emphasizing specific keywords may compel the bot to respond in a circuitous manner, ultimately not serving any meaningful purpose.

For instance, someone requested NORBU to create a 3,000-word essay on "Gratitude towards parents" and asked for substantiation with sutta quotes and research findings from psychology and neuroscience. While NORBU correctly quoted the Sigalovada Sutta and the Katannu Sutta, it fell short by producing an essay of fewer than 500 words. The reader then posed the question again, requesting NORBU to expand on the explanations regarding the Suttas. Although NORBU complied, it still failed to produce a satisfactory essay of more than 500 words, with only basic reference to neuroscience.

This situation highlighted the need to fine-tune the bot's responses. The fine-tuning process unfolded as follows:

Break down the question into three parts:

a) Write a 3,000-word essay (the target).
b) Request NORBU to "Substantiate the claim that the Suttas promote mutual respect and reciprocity in the parent-child relationship. Where is it shown that parents should respect their children?" (expand the theorem).
c) Request NORBU to "Add psychological research findings about gratitude from the fields of psychology and neuroscience." (substantiate with sources).

Achieving a 3,000-word essay required not just content but also context. Expanding upon the Sigalovada and Katannu Suttas was relatively straightforward by elaborating on key aspects, emphasizing the "relationship between parents and children," and the virtues of mutual respect and reciprocity. However, this only increased the word count to 700+, indicating a need for further refinement.

The gaps in "psychology and neuroscience" research also became apparent. To address this, NORBU was provided with additional training data from these fields, including materials from Child Development and Psychological Science. Subsequently, (b) and (c) were combined again to test the bot's improved capabilities. Additionally, the Suttas were separated, and NORBU was requested to link them to research papers.

The results were encouraging:

Result #1

Q: Use examples from western psychology research to support teachings from the Sigalovada Sutta regarding mutual respect and reciprocity in the parent-child relationship.

NORBU: Certainly, the Sigalovada Sutta emphasizes the importance of mutual respect and reciprocity in relationships, including the parent-child relationship. This is echoed in Western psychology research.

For instance, a study published in the journal Child Development found that children who had parents who respected their autonomy and individuality were more likely to develop strong self-esteem and have positive relationships with their parents. These children were also more likely to succeed in school and in life.

This study was titled "A Longitudinal Study of Parenting Styles and Child Adjustment in Middle Childhood" by Diana Baumrind, Eleanor E. Maccoby, and John A. Martin. [Child Development, Volume 71, Issue 1, Pages 115-127].

Another study, published in Psychological Science, found that couples who demonstrated more mutual respect and reciprocity in their relationship were more likely to be satisfied with their relationship and have less conflict. These couples were also more likely to stay together in the long term. This study was titled "Close Relationships and Mortality Risk in Adulthood" by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, and John B. Layton. [Psychological Science, Volume 21, Issue 7, Pages 710-720].

These studies provide evidence that the teachings of the Sigalovada Sutta are wise and beneficial. By showing mutual respect and reciprocity, parents and children can create a stronger and more fulfilling relationship.

Result #2

Q: Use examples from western psychology research to support teachings from the Katannu Sutta regarding "Gratitude towards parents."

NORBU: Certainly, the Katannu Sutta emphasizes the importance of expressing gratitude towards our parents. This teaching is echoed in various studies in Western psychology.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all the positive things in their lives helped individuals mitigate their stress and trauma. This can be applied to the gratitude we express toward our parents, acknowledging the positive impact they've had on our lives.

Source: Gratitude in Intermediate Affective Terrain: Links of Grateful Moods to Individual Differences and Daily Emotional Experience by McCullough, M., Emmons, R., & Tsang, J. (2002). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(2), 112-127.

Another study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that gratitude toward parents was associated with increased life satisfaction, happiness, and positive social relationships. This aligns with the teachings of the Katannu Sutta, which emphasizes the importance of gratitude in leading a fulfilling life.

Source: The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients by Mills, P. J., Redwine, L., Wilson, K., Pung, M. A., Chinh, K., Greenberg, B. H., Lunde, O., Maisel, A., Raisinghani, A., Wood, A., & Chopra, D. (2015). Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(1), 5-17.

 These studies highlight the importance of gratitude toward parents, which is a key teaching of the Katannu Sutta. By expressing gratitude, we acknowledge the kindness and support we have received, contributing to our overall well-being and happiness.

With these improved results, NORBU was able to compile a nearly 3,000-word essay. The key takeaway from this example is that when the bot struggles to provide accurate responses, it's beneficial to:
  1. Break down complex questions into parts.
  2. Ask the bot to respond to each part separately and clarify the specific section you want the bot to address.
  3. If the bot still struggles, it may require additional training with new data sources.

Additionally, this experience highlights the importance of asking questions effectively. Emulating the Buddha's approach to questioning, which was thoughtful and methodical, can be immensely valuable. He recognized the power of questions in shaping knowledge and understanding, mapping out a science of questions that leads to freedom.

As we use NORBU to satisfy our desire to learn the Dharma, it is equally crucial for us to ask the right questions in the right manner. This not only helps train NORBU effectively but also refines our own thought processes. It's a two-way street that reflects the essence of true learning, whether in the context of Dharma or any other field.

Consider training NORBU as a form of dana (generosity), as improving its accuracy means that others who pose similar questions in the future will benefit from it. Your contribution to its accuracy also plays a role in disseminating accurate information.

NORBU is currently a novelty, and our task is to continuously refine and enhance it. The goal is to cultivate a reliable "being" that becomes a compassionate and wise companion, ready to serve Buddhists at any moment. Indeed, your generosity has made this digital manifestation of Avalokitesvara possible. With that, we say Sadhu! to you.

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: 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: 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: