Halle, Natascha and I arrived at the conference on Day 3. We unfortunately missed the talks on education and teaching, but we were excited to hear the days speakers on the more technical aspects of Himalayan culture and its influence on history, math and science. The talks ranged from a detailed analysis of the spread of Vajrayana culture across Asia and the rest of the world, the development of geometry in the ancient world for the creation of sacred structures, the spread of dance based on geometry (!), and the newest psychological studies on meditation and the brain. Overall a packed schedule.
A word about the format of the talks; each talk was no more than 10 minutes long (with one exception). While that allowed for a lot of speakers, the amount of information was limited.
The session began with a talk from Lopon Sangay Dorji, the head of development for Bhutan. He is a realized being (enlightened) and spoke on the historical significance of Vajrayana and the culture developed from that practice. Unlike the other talks, his lasted about 45 minutes and included details about how Vajrayana and Himalayan culture have spread across the globe. He mentioned the people responsible for the spread of this culture beginning with Padmasambhava (about 800 C.E.) and extending through the more recent historical figures like Sanjay Pari (about 1600), Zabdrung Rinpoche (1680), and later scholars. Ultimately, he commented that the idea of dependent origination (cause and effect philosophy and science) has it’s roots in this particular cultural trend.
The 2nd session of the morning focused on historical and modern art, and the influence of Vajrayana on art forms. The talks started with conversations about early iconographic art that spread from India into the rest of the region. Iconographic art then transformed into something like the people’s art in which folks created art forms that reflected their lives and experiences. These general art forms included textiles, functional art (cups, plates), weaving basketry, and dance.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the talks on art concerned how the early development of geometry influenced everything from construction, sculpture, and dance. The form was something called a mandala that originated in India in the very distant past (evidence from around 4,000 BCE) and developed into more elaborate and precise forms. The art of painting adopted geometric precision in the creation of art and extended to textiles and dance.
The geometric system developed an elaborate math system that came to be used in everything from painting to architecture and dance.
Just before lunch, the last presentation was given by a psychiatrist in England who is examining the brain function of advanced meditators. Her work examines the Vajrayana belief that the human brain includes 8 different forms of consciousness. Her study is fascinating and concludes that Buddhist concepts of consciousness do, in fact, offer insight into what we know about consciousness. Controversially, she offered that the idea that the 8th consciousness mentioned in Vajrayana, a consciousness that continues after death, has some evidence in the science of the brain….her team are doing research on this idea now. Whoa.
If you have read this far, then good on ya….I can fill in all of the details of the talks and you are all welcome to my notes. The conference folks will provide more detailed information to the participants in the coming weeks.