Destination: Sarnath

Since we are going to be in Sarnath for almost two weeks, here are a few tidbits about this town.

Sarnath is located about 12 km (7.5 miles) from the Hindu holy city of Varanasi. Sarnath itself is sacred to Buddhists, because it is the site where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma after his enlightenment. Sarnath is one of four holy Buddhist sites sanctioned by the Buddha himself for pilgrimage.

Deer park
Photo by anna_t
The name Sarnath, from Saranganath, means "Lord of the Deer" and relates to an old Buddhist story in which the Bodhisattva, in a previous incarnation, is a deer and offers his life to a king instead of the doe the latter is planning to kill. The king is so moved that he creates the park as a sanctuary for deer. The park is still there today.
A statue of Buddha in Sarnath
Photo by anna_t
Before Gautama (the Buddha-to-be) attained enlightenment, he gave up his austere penances and his friends, the Pañcavaggiya monks, left him and went to Sarnath.

About 5 weeks after attaining Enlightenment the Buddha, leaving Uruvela, travelled to Sarnath to join and teach them. He went to them because, using his spiritual powers, he had seen that his five former companions would be able to understand Dharma quickly.

While travelling to Sarnath, Gautama Buddha had to cross the Ganges. Having no money with which to pay the ferryman, he crossed the Ganges through the air. When King Bimbisāra heard of this, he abolished the toll for ascetics.

When Gautama Buddha found his five former companions, he taught them, they understood and as a result they also became enlightened. At that time the Sangha, the community of the enlightened ones, was founded.

The sermon Buddha gave to the five monks was his first sermon, called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. It was given on the full-moon day of Asalha. This event is know as "turning the wheel of the Dharma".

Tibetan temple in Sarnath
We will be staying and working in the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, whose objectives have been carefully thought out by eminent scholars in the Indian Goverment under the guidance of His Holiness Dalai Lama. The objectives are:
  • To preserve the Tibetan culture and tradition
  • To restore ancient Indian sciences and literature preserved in the Tibetan Language, but lost in the original
  • To offer an alternative educational facility to students of Indian border areas who formerly availed the opportunity of recieving higher education in Tibet.
  • To accomplish gains of teaching and scope of research in traditional subjects in a framework of the modern university system of education with the provision for award of degrees in Tibetan studies.
So, we will be bringing our very Western approach to a deeply established, old, and revered tradition. Just one of the many challenges that will make this adventure so rewarding!

Upcoming: Science for Monks in Sarnath, India


Part of the Learning Studio staff will be leaving for India at the end of the week, to lead a series of workshops with Tibetan Buddhist monks. This amazing opportunity came about thanks to Mark St. John, head of Inverness Research, and Bryce Johnson, of Science for Monks, an organization devoted to bringing hands-on science to Tibetan Buddhist communities in India.

This blog will be our avenue to document the workshops as they are happening (provided that we have access to an internet connection, we're still not sure!), so check back often or subscribe to see what we are doing.

Since a release about these workshops appeared on the Exploratorium's press site, the story has been picked up by a couple of news sources (here, and here), so it might be good to give a little information about our group and what we intend to accomplish during these workshops.

PIE is the name of a research project called Playful and Inventive Explorations. It is a construction-based set of authentic experiments, exploring real science phenomena.

PIE is not a program where the science lessons are transmitted from a "teacher" to the student. It is an inquiry-based program where the teacher’s goal is to design the activity for learners to become engaged and experimental, and to facilitate the learners along the path of their own understanding.

A main goal for PIE is to uncover and grow one’s personal understanding of the scientific world, and to illustrate the variety of ways that individuals, within a group of learners, come to their own understanding. This is often called constructionism.

Our work with the monks will include:

  • Applying constructionism as a way to understand scientific phenomena through observation, design, making, testing, problem solving, and sharing.
  • Using familiar and unfamiliar tools and materials that allow us to explore the aesthetic and scientific qualities of the world.
  • Using the logic of computer programming to assist in the construction of our interactive objects and experiments.
  • Individual and group interactions with the predictable and familiar, and surprising and unexpected, aspects of scientific phenomena.

Some of the activities that we are planning:

  • Exploring mechanical movements by making cardboard automata
  • Playing with light and reflections using mylar, mirrors, and a variety of light sources (including the sun) and integrating those into a mechanized contraption
  • Playing with sound using found and recycled objects, constructing sound-making devices that can be programmed to respond to light
  • Building a collective chain-reaction machine that will integrate concepts explored via the previous activities.

Throughout these activities we will be reflecting with the monks on their practices and our own strategies as facilitators, as one of the goals of this trip is to empower the monks to become teachers, and share some of these concepts with other monks.

It will be a busy but amazing couple of weeks, so stay tuned!


Welcome to the Learning Studio blog!

Learning Studio
A view inside the Learning Studio
To take a virtual tour of our work space, click here

The Learning Studio is a workshop in the Exploratorium dedicated to experimentation with ideas, tools, technologies, and new concepts in science, art, and learning. The Studio provides a multidisciplinary laboratory for visiting artists and scholars, while also supporting field research in art and science, and presenting forums, conferences, and symposia.

With an emphasis on interdisciplinary inquiry and a hands-on approach to research, the Learning Studio helps imaginative thinkers turn their ideas into a variety of tools for creative investigation. These tools include artworks, performances, publications, exhibitions, environments, public programs, curricula, or innovative uses of new technologies.

This blog will hopefully serve as a window on current projects and ongoing development. Posts here will be our chance to present works-in-progress, share ideas that we're working on, and our day-to-day adventures.