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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
61 spring 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly which has been disseminated to university libraries around the world and Buddhist monasteries throughout Asia, are the manuscripts and blockprints that Tibetan monks and scholars started bringing out on their backs in the fifties as they fled the Chinese Communist invasion of their country. Smith, arriving in india in the mid-sixties, recognized the enormous importance of this literary heritage pouring out of Tibet. He quickly established personal connections with Tibetan teachers, and mobilized the resources and institutional structures to publish, preserve, and catalog these works. Later he also made connections within China to arrange for the publication of hundreds of collections and single rare works of Tibetan literature, and continued these labors until he died. At the TBRC, Smith furthered that contribution by using his unsurpassed bibliographical knowledge to catalog the texts that had come out of Tibet over the last half century in terms of their history, authors, and contents. eLLiS GeNe SmiTH was born in 1936 in Ogden, Utah, to a traditional mormon family, and realized his stunning intel- lectual achievements without the usual institutional support or positions. His father was a scientist working in a federal guided-missile program, one result of which was that the fam- ily moved around a lot. After high school, Smith received a congressional appointment to the military academy at West Point, which he never took up. He went instead to study briefly at Adelphi College, Hobart College, University of Utah, and finally at the University of Washington in Seattle. There he met one of the greatest traditional Tibetan scholars of the twenti- eth century, Ven. Deshung Rinpoche Kunga Tenpai Nyima— the tutor to the head of the Phuntso Phodrang branch of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism—who had been brought to teach at Washington in the sixties. During this time, Smith began his comprehensive study of Tibetan literature and his- tory, rapidly becoming fluent in both colloquial and classical Tibetan, and absorbing much of Deshung Rinpoche’s ency- clopedic knowledge and enthusiasm for Tibetan intellectual history. in 1964, Smith completed his Ph.D. qualifying exams and went to the University of Leiden in the Netherlands for advanced studies in Sanskrit and Pali. in 1965, he moved to india under a Foreign Area Fellowship Program grant from the Ford Foundation to prepare for writing his doctoral thesis. in india, Smith found himself uniquely qualified to bring its publishing industry together with the hundreds of refugee scholars streaming out of Tibet, often carrying no other pos- sessions than their precious books. At that time, the indian publishing industry was involved in an ingenious arrange- ment with the American Library of Congress in which india paid back loans to the United States in the form of books, which were then distributed to participating U.S. libraries. Recognizing an opportunity to exploit this program to pre- serve and publish the literary heritage then coming out of markdiamondamyjohnston Tibet, Smith took a job in the New Delhi field office of the Library of Congress in 1968. He went on to demonstrate great initiative and creativity in contacting all sects and groups of scholarly Tibetan refugees, identifying thousands of rare and important manuscripts, and arranging to have them edited, copied, and published. This work was an unparalleled venture in culture preserva- tion and documentation, and it depended entirely upon Smith’s genius—a masterful combination of organizational skills and intellectual insight. The upshot was that American university libraries became stocked with comprehensive collections of indigenous Tibetan literature, collections that have become the basis for all Tibetological research in the United States. Not only did Smith oversee this massive preservation and publication venture, he wrote innumerable introductions to these publications, providing the modern world with virtu- ally its first systematic glimpse of Tibetan history in detail. These famous introductions, now published in the anthol- ogy Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, have been the mainstay of Tibetological research around the world since the early seventies, and dem- onstrated Smith’s knowledge of the field, far exceeding that of any other non-Tibetan scholar (and most Tibetan scholars as well). His introductions provided the first—and only—detailed guide map to the teachers, schools, institutions, meditative traditions, rituals, lineages, patrons, literary practices, genres, bibliography, philosophical ideas, religious practices, and arts and crafts of Tibetan religious and political history. Smith became Library of Congress field director for india in 1980 and held that position until 1985, when he was transferred to indonesia. He stayed in Jakarta running the Southeast Asian programs until 1994, when he was assigned to the middle eastern office in Cairo. in February 1997, he Gene Smith, 2009 ➤ continued page 91