E. Gene Smith and the Preservation of Tibetan Texts
In the early 1960s Gene Smith enrolled in the University of Washington to work on his PhD. While there he had the good fortune of studying closely with Venerable Deshung Rinpoche. In 1964, as Gene’s studies deepened, Deshung Rinpoche encouraged him to leave Seattle and go to India to study more directly: “Go out and find the books, don’t hang around here.”
Equipped with letters of introduction to the great lamas of the day, Gene entered the Tibetan exile community in India. Then, in 1968, after four years of study and travel, the U.S. Library of Congress hired him as a field director for its New Delhi office. Under the aegis of a U.S. food aid effort, called Public Law 480 (PL-480), which exchanged Indian rupees from the sale of U.S. agricultural products for humanitarian projects, Gene organized the printing of thousands of Tibetan texts. With each printing, Gene obtained a copy for his own collection.
In 1985, accompanied by huge containers of texts, Gene left India for new postings, first in Indonesia then later in Egypt. During this time, as the Cultural Revolution came to an end, he was able to collect important texts from China. Even from afar, Gene remained involved in Tibetan text projects, and after thirty years he had amassed a collection totaling 12,000 volumes.
The Origins of TBRC
In 1996 Gene retired from the Library of Congress, initially settling in New York City then shortly thereafter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the support of Timothy J. McNeill. While Gene maintained his personal collection, storing the texts floor-to-ceiling throughout his apartment, he was aware that preserving the texts was only part of the job. He needed to make them accessible. In 1999, with the help of David Lunsford, an entrepreneurial engineer formerly of Dell Computer, he founded the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center. With the encouragement and support of Shelley and Donald Rubin, Gene moved TBRC to New York City in 2001.
From 2001 to 2012, TBRC was housed in the offices of the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. The Rubin Foundation was instrumental in stabilizing TBRC’s operations. In June 2012, TBRC relocated back to Cambridge, Massachusetts to take advantage of the rich and vibrant communities connected with Harvard University and other area institutions. Our new home is centrally located in Harvard Square.
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