The World of Your Senses
* Parallel Perspectives from Buddhism and Western Science of Sensory Perception
A special exhibition featuring Tibetan Buddhist Monastics from India— A U.S. premiere
May 1 – May 10, 2012
[caption id="attachment_3679" align="alignleft" width="300" caption=""Sound" - image courtesy of Bryce Johnson, Sager Foundation"][/caption]
The World of Your Senses, an exclusive exhibition featuring Tibetan Buddhist monastics and their scientific illustrations makes its first U.S. premiere at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, from May 1 to 10, 2012. Admission to this exclusive event is included in the ticket price.
The exhibition was created by Tibetan Buddhist monks who studied western science while living in exile in India. It explores sensory perception (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) from both a Buddhist and western science perspective. Nine monks and nuns, who received teacher training in India from Exploratorium staff, will accompany the exhibition and serve as its interpreters. This delegation is part of a group charged by the Dalai Lama with teaching science to the next generation of monastics and their communities. The nuns are among the first ever to be trained to become science education leaders for their communities.
Daily, from 10 am to 1 pm, (Tuesday May 1, through Sunday, May 6 - and Tuesday, May 8 through Thursday, May 10), museum visitors will be able to interact with and observe the visiting monastics as they discuss their work and create new paintings. Master painter Jampa Choedak will have a work space in the Exploratorium's Wattis Web Cast Studio, where he'll be painting a landscape of the San Francisco Bay and its marine life. The completed work will be displayed at the Exploratorium’s new location at Pier 15 in 2013.
The exhibition is supported through a collaboration between the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), the Exploratorium, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Sager Family Foundation through the Science for Monks Program.
The collection features 15 canvas paintings depicting colorful anatomical illustrations of the senses from both the Buddhist and western scientific perspectives. The panels were painted in the traditional Tibetan “thangka” style, which typically were religious paintings of Buddhas and deities, not human anatomy. The Buddhist perspective paintings drew upon 17th century Tibetan medical text paintings that were used to instruct Tibetan medicine to traditional healers. Tibetans believe that sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch are perceived by five consciousnesses. The sixth consciousness is the mind.
The western science illustrations are the result of exchanges between the monks and western scientists and are modeled on popular depictions of the senses in science textbooks. From a western perspective, sensory perception is connected to sensory organs and receptors that signal complex brain functions.
“Interestingly, the monks found it more difficult to represent their own traditions because there is limited existing imagery for it,” said Bryce Johnson, PhD., director of the Science for Monks program and an Exploratorium educator/scientist.
Master painter Choedak also meticulously painted images of the sense deities, which have never before been painted in such a large scale. They normally play a supporting role, relegated to the background of a traditional thangka devotional painting.
The exhibition is the result of years of work growing out of directives from the Dalai Lama and his long history of engaging with Western scientists. The director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Geshe Lhakdor, will also accompany the exhibition. The Library serves as a cultural resource center for the Tibetan community in India as well as the worldwide ambassador for the Tibetan scholarly community.
The Sager Family Foundation’s Science for Monks program began in 2001. When the program’s focus shifted in 2008 from teaching and sharing science to training monastics to become science teachers (of other monastics), the Exploratorium became involved and has since annually sent staff to the Tibetan monastic community in India. Their experience transformed both groups. The monastic participants and Exploratorium staff all became teachers and learners together.
Programs in conjunction with the Exhibition:
May 3, 2012: After Dark: featuring The World of Your Senses, 6-10 p.m.
This evening program for adults age 18 and older features the exhibition and the monastics with hands-on demonstrations.
May 1 - 10, 2012: Monks at the Exploratorium
Engage directly with the Tibetan monastics and find out the difference between Tibetan and western views of perception. Master painter Jampa Choedak will demonstrate traditional thangka painting.
Images and graphics courtesy of Bryce Johnson and the Sager Family Foundation.