The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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E. Gene Smith
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Life and career
Ellis Gene Smith was born in Ogden, Utah to a traditional Mormon family. He studied at a variety of institutions of higher education in the U.S.: Adelphi College, Hobart College, University of Utah, and the University of Washington in Seattle.
At Seattle, he was able to study with Dezhung Rinpoche and members of the Sakya Phuntso Phodrang family who had been brought to Seattle under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation grant to the Far Eastern and Russian Institute. He studied Tibetan culture and Buddhism with Dezhung Rinpoche from 1960 to 1964 and spent the summer of 1962 traveling to the other Rockefeller centers in Europe to meet with other Tibetan savants.
In 1964 he completed his Ph.D. qualifying exams and traveled to Leiden for advanced studies in Sanskrit and Pali. In 1965 he went to India under a Foreign Area Fellowship Program (Ford Foundation) grant to study with living exponents of all of the Tibetan Buddhist and Bönpo traditions.
He began his studies with Geshe Lobsang Lungtok (Ganden Changtse), Drukpa Thoosay Rinpoche and Khenpo Noryang, and H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He decided to remain in India to continue serious studies of Tibetan Buddhism and culture. He traveled extensively in the borderlands of India and Nepal. In 1968 he joined the Library of Congress New Delhi Field Office. He then began a project which was to last over the next two and a half decades, the reprinting of the Tibetan books which had been brought by the exile community or were with members of the Tibetan-speaking communities in Sikkim, Bhutan, India, and Nepal.
He became field director of the Library of Congress Field Office in India in 1980 and served there 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 LC Middle Eastern Office in Cairo.
In 1997 he retired from the Library of Congress. He briefly worked as a consultant for Trace Foundation for the establishment of the Himalayan and Inner Asian Resources in New York, an organisation dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of Tibetan literature.
In 1999, Smith founded the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), together with Leonard van der Kuijp of Harvard University and friends to digitize the 12,000 volume corpus of Tibetan literature. This digital library is the largest collection of Tibetan literature outside of Tibet. TBRC continues to acquire, preserve, organize and make available Tibetan texts.
In 2001, Wisdom Publications published Among Tibetan Texts, a collection of essays that Smith wrote back in his Delhi times, as introductions to Library of Congress reprints of Tibetan texts. As introductions to Tibetan literature, culture and history, these had circulated since the early 1980s amongst students and researchers, and had acquired a sort of cult status.
- E. Gene Smith, Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, Wisdom Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-86171-179-3