In Memoriam: E. Gene Smith (1936-2010)

It is with immense sadness that we heard of the untimely death of our dear friend and mentor Gene Smith.

Gene was one of those luminaries that come once or twice in a century, unbelievably learned, entirely dedicated, entirely selfless.

At any time in history, he would have stood as the perfect example of an authentic, consummate scholar.

From 1968 until 1985, Gene tirelessly directed the acquisition program of the US Library of Congress in India (becoming Field Director in 1980). He had arranged that the Library would allow the printing of several hundred copies of each volume by acquiring around 20 copies at a relatively high price.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he thus became the major force behind saving thousands of volumes of the Tibetan literature. His initiative inspired hundreds of Tibetan to reprint rare, sometimes unique texts that they could take with them when fleeing Tibet.

In his large house in Delhi, entirely filled with Tibetan books, day after day, for years on, Gene would peruse through the volumes brought to him, decide on the relevance of their publication and write a scholarly introduction.

It was always a lively scene to see him discover with utter exhilaration a very rare manuscript among the loads of books that people would bring him, or sometimes scold his terrified interlocutors for bringing him corrupt, incomplete or badly mixed up volumes.

I had the precious opportunity to see him often, as I went for several seasons to Delhi to print various collection of books for my monastery Orgyen Kunsang Chökhorling (Kangyur Rinpoche and Pema Wangyal Rinpoche’s monastery in Darjeeling) in the 70s, and one of these occasions, he offered me hospitality for many months, rescuing me from the scorching heat of Old Delhi unforgiving summers. Later, I would often see him when he was receiving Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who used to stay with him when traveling through Delhi. Gene was also a model of open hospitality.

He commended vast respect from the whole Tibetan community of scholars for his fathomless erudition, amazing memory, and keen eye to instantly, almost magically spot the slightest mistake in a text.

In 1999, Gene founded the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), a physical and virtual library, which is the largest collection of Tibetan literature, kept in a single place anywhere in the world.

In January 2010, representatives of more than 300 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Tibet, India, Nepal, and Bhutan unanimously nominated Gene Smith for a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the preservation of the Tibetan literary and spiritual heritage.

We will keep in our hearts, with fondness and admiration the one whom the late Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, used to address affectionately as ‟Mahapandita Jamyang Namgyal” ‟The Great All Victorious Manjushri Pandita”, a well-deserved name.

Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche, Rabjam Rinpoche and all of us, presently in Sarnath, are offering our most heartfelt prayers.

A memory of a recent meeting in New York