The World of Your Senses, briefly on display at the Exploratorium, draws on the traditions of 17th century Tibetan medical text paintings to interpret descriptions of the senses found in science textbooks today.
The seven monks and two nuns, who live in exile in India, are here to present a collection of 15 paintings depicting sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. The canvas paintings depict 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.
World of the senses production meeting.
Conceived and created by monks participating in an intensive training program for monastic science leaders, the exhibition is designed to engage India’s Tibetan community in an exploration of human sensory perception from both scientific and Tibetan Buddhist perspectives.
The exhibit was the latest effort in a 10-year-old initiative to teach science to Tibetan monastics, started at the behest of the Dalai Lama. In 2001, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s exile home in India, and the U.S.-based Sager Family Foundation began bringing Western scientists and educators to India to teach science to Tibetan monks. India is home to about 120,000 Tibetans – the largest population outside of Tibet.
Tibetan children in India learn science in school, but Tibetan monks and nuns have followed a traditional curriculum largely unchanged for centuries. Until a decade ago, Tibetan monks had learned no science at all. Since then it’s been a crash course in science for some monks, with classes on topics ranging from cosmology to neuroscience. The nuns are among the first ever to be trained to become science education leaders for their communities.
The visiting Tibetans are acting as docents at the Exploratorium, sharing the Buddhist perspective of the five senses and, incidentally, by just being themselves, acting as living examples of Buddhism engaging in the world.
Master painter Jampa Choedak created a painting of microscopic marine organisms found in the bay. His work will be on permanent display in the Exploratorium
when it moves to a new home on Pier 15 in the spring of 2013.
Album of images from the exhibit : https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150924099246233.463147.22991781232&type=1
The World of Your Senses: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Fri.-Sun., Tues.-Thurs. Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon St., S.F. (415) 397-5673
opened May 1 through May 10, 2012
all images courtesy of Bryce Johnson/The Sager Family Foundation