A sad day for Tibetan Studies, an opportunity to remember a wonderful colleague

Gene Smith was not only an outstanding scholar who was dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture, to many of us he was also a kind and warm-hearted friend who was ever willing to share his vast knowledge of Tibet. The number of times I personally have benefitted from his encyclopedic knowledge of Tibetan literature are too many to count.

The field will not be the same without Gene. All of us — students and professors, scholars and practitioners — will never forget the many contributions he made to the study of Tibet.

We will miss you, dear friend.

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Respects from Southwest University Library, Chengdu


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Leslie Kawamura, Yehan Numata Professor/Chair in Buddhist Studies, University of Calgary, AB., Canada

It is with great sadness and regret that I have learned of Gene Smith’s passing. As pointed our so eloquently by so many, we in Buddhist Studies owe so very much to him. He and his work will be remember by all. To his immediate family, may I extend my condolence on behalf of myself and as the Director of the Living Dharma Centre, Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada.

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Statement by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche On the Passing of E. Gene Smith, 1936-2010

Many people were saddened by the passing of E. Gene Smith, a peerless champion of Buddhist learning and a walking treasure of knowledge. Gene’s incomparable scholarship of Buddhism in general, and Tibetan Buddhist history in particular, makes his passing a great loss. Like all of those whose lives and work were touched by his deeds, I, too, was incredibly saddened. I offer my heartfelt condolences and prayers to Gene’s family members, as well as to all of those who loved Gene and relied upon him as a mentor, a source of wisdom, love and an inspiration. He embodied the example of a bodhisattva who works selflessly for the benefit of others. Always personally kind and generous, he also had the courage and skill that enabled him to benefit and transform the world.

Gene acted with compassion and selfless heroism for his entire adult life: beginning as a Buddhist student and scholar at the University of Washington at Seattle and continuing as a field director for the Library of Congress in India beginning in 1968, as well as in Indonesia and Cairo. During his time with the Library of Congress, Gene accumulated an unparalleled understanding of the Tibetan Buddhist scholarly heritage. Perhaps the culmination of his legacy was the founding of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center in 1999. I was happy to serve Gene at TBRC and the wonderful moments we shared together will always remain in my heart.

I met Gene for the first time in Delhi in the 1970s and later became an admirer of his work. Over the years I was fortunate to get to know him personally and we had such a strong connection in our common interests, goals and lineage teachings. I learned a lot from his example, Gene was one of my great American friends and heroes.

I humbly request everyone to continue to support Gene’s vision and legacy which will surely bring wisdom, compassion and peace to the world.

With love and prayers,
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

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From the Twelfth Kenting Tai Situpa

To family and friends of Gene Smith,

Words cannot express the great service Gene Smith gave throughout his life to the preservation of Buddhist Dharma. His every effort for decades was to save precious Tibetan manuscripts from being lost. Not only that, he made certain that these texts were made available to the lamas for the continuation of Buddhist Traditions. He made them available to the world’s greatest Buddhist scholars. The gratitude that lamas and Buddhist practitioners have for Gene’s many acts of-generosity is tremendous. ‘

His hard work during the past decade or so to make Dharma texts available on the internet as well has made it possible for monks and other Dharma Students to be able to study once hard to get texts wherever they could have an internet connection. He led a life of simplicity with complete commitment of benefiting others, not just for today, but for the future.

It is with deep sorrow that we learned of his passing. Myself and all of the lamas, monks and nuns are saying special prayers for his continued well being and life in the dharma,


The Twelfth Kenting Tai Situpa
The Supreme Head of the Palpung Monastic Seat of Vajrayana Buddhism

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Gene demonstrated how a single individual can be of such tremendous benefit to the world. What a great example in our time!

Love to you Gene.


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with sadness

Thimphu, Bhutan
 It is with great sadness and a sense of personal loss that I heard the news of 

Gene's passing away.

A giant and pioneer in our field has left us. People of my generation feel orphans.
 He was not only a mentor but also a generous host for all of us, penniless aspiring 

 His knowledge and willingness to share was tremendous
 I knew him since 1976 and his help, encouragement and vision were decisive for 

my professional life.
 Our field which has just lost a 'founding father'.
 Francoise Pommaret
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A Profound Scholar Who Preserved the Tibetan Culture and Religion

I am sorry to hear that Dr. Gene Smith has passed away.  When I first came to the USA in 1998 after I escaped from Tibet, I was walking in NYC one day and  happened upon the TBRC.  I was amazed to find so many Tibetan texts there.  Then I met Dr. Smith and one of the Tibetans at the library translated our conversation since I did not speak English at that time.  I learned about all of the works of Tibetan literature he had published that included all of the Buddhist schools and every type of literature.  When he found out that I needed a special prayer book that I had not been able to bring with me from Tibet, he graciously put a copy of it on a CD that I could take home with me.

In later years, I met him from time to time.  Once when I was in NYC again, he gave me the Derge Kanjur CDs.  Then he presented me with a CD set of the complete Kanjur which I have placed on my altar as a sacred object.  One time he asked me if I had any works from previous Arjia Rinpoches.  I was able to find works of 4 of my predecessors,  and he scanned them.  I believe they are still in his collection.

Dr. Gene Smith was truly a great person.  He preserved many, many great religious and literary works of the Tibetan people.  We are certainly indebted to his efforts.  I always remember hearing one of his workers say:  “He is a real scholar.  He remembers everything.”

Finally, I want to say that I appreciate his wonderful contribution and pray for his happy rebirth.

Arjia Rinpoche, Director of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center

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gene smith

He was a great bodhisattva who worked tirelessly for dharma.

Sherab Gyaltshen

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Gene Smith on Video

I had the good fortune to interview Gene Smith on camera on a couple of different occasions. The first time, in 2005, he gave me background on the Mindrolling lineage from the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism and also illuminated the concept of terma for me. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Gene Smith on the Mindrolling lineage

In that meeting, I mentioned to him that I was planning a documentary on the life of the Sixteenth Karmapa and of course, he was enormously helpful. I’ve posted one of the extras from the Recalling a Buddha dvd online where Gene provided the bulk of the commentary about “The Line of Karmapas.”

I appreciate the support and generosity he extended so much,

Gregg Eller

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From Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

Säo Paolo, December 22, 2010

It is with deep sadness that I heard that Gene Smith passed away.  Gene has been  an unpretentious and altruistic man, a true scholar whose extraordinary work in favor of the Buddha Dharma and of Tibetan culture represents an invaluable gift to future generations.  His generous effort in preserving one the world’s great  literary heritages is worthy of the gratitude of all humankind.We are offering our heartfelt prayers that his activity for the benefit of all will continue to unfold without interruption.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu

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From Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche

25, December 2011

To TBRC members and friends

I am writing this letter on behalf of Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche, the present Supreme Head of the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as from my own side.

Gene’s contribution to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition has been immense and quite unique. He vast knowledge, total dedication over a lifetime, and generous open-mindedness was a model for all and a source of unmitigated admiration and rejoicing.

Thanks to Gene’s activities, countless precious books could be saved. It was all the more precious at a time in history when the books were so hard to find, when the Tibetan themselves had no resources and know-how to reproduce them, and when they were the most needed.

Thus, Gene displayed great kindness to the Buddhist teachings in general and the Vajrayana in particular and we will continue to measure for a long time the value of his matchless contribution.

I (Rabjam Tulku), personally keep very fond memories of our visit to Gene’s home in Delhi, as I was accompanying Kyapje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in his travels. Gene’s house was filled with Khyentse Rinpoche’s photos, which made me fill very much at home, and Gene use to be very kind with me as a young child. The omnipresence of books everywhere in the house also reminded me of Khyentse Rinpoche own living quarters.

Shechen Rabjam Tulku

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From Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo’s brief tribute to Gene Smith is posted here with her permission.

I was truly shocked and saddened by Gene’s sudden death, but of course it happens to us all eventually. I first met Gene in 1966 when he came to Dalhousie with Dr Richard Robinson. As these two overweight guys came walking down the hill wearing jeans and plaid shirts, someone remarked “If I told you that here come two of America’s top Buddhist scholars, what would you say?”

Gene was a genius and his knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism was encyclopaedic. Through his early involvement in publishing rare texts brought from Tibet, so much was saved that would otherwise have been lost in those days of destitution among the Tibetan refugee communities.

I think all who knew him have been shaken by the suddenness of his departure – the eternal reminder – and remember him with deep respect and affection. Last time we met was at the Translators conference at Deer Park in Bir, but before that in New York with Tenzin Dolma. We went to lunch and Tenzin Dolma asked Gene if he knew anything about the Bodong tradition. For the next hour or so we were treated to a lengthy exposition of the Bodong lineage lamas, doctrines and history. Really Gene’s knowledge was like a computer: press whichever button and all the information stored there was made available.

And he was such a kind and gentle man. So courteous and considerate. Well, he can only go upwards since he was a bodhisattva who took western form to help the Tibetans preserve the Dharma.

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From Michael Sheehy

A week ago Friday at dawn, after mourning all night, I rolled my legs over the bedside and gazed out the window into the gray-glow skyscape of New York City. “I live in a world without Gene Smith” was my only thought. It’s a qualitatively different world.

Gene was a grandfather of Tibetan studies in the United States. Many of us would not be doing what we do if it were not for Gene. I certainly would not. From his introductory essays, to the Library of Congress PL480 project that brought us the books we grew up on, to his personal insights, Gene guided generations of Tibetologists.

Over the past several years I have had the good fortune to work intimately with Gene on a daily basis as a researcher in the field collecting and digitizing rare Tibetan texts in Tibet, as a scholar in residence at TBRC, and for the past two years in my current position as the senior editor of literary research at TBRC. He would call me into his office numerous times a day to show me the latest findings, talk about texts, and dream-up the future.

Gene was the consummate questioner. He spent his days reading, discussing and formulating interesting questions. He knew that questions reveal new knowledge, and that knowledge is power. With his elephant trap memory, he would recall associations of people and texts that would draw new lines in my mind, making the esoteric and obscure obvious. Gene took the time to point out new findings, read passages word-for-word, connect social networks and literary influences, and animate the people and ideas within texts.

Gene was one of the first people to encourage me to setup Jonang Foundation and he has served as a founding member of the Executive Board since its inception. Through our conversations over the years, he was a tremendous influence on the direction and projects hosted by the foundation. In fact, the text preservation and publication initiatives that we have undertaken over the past few years and the projects that we currently have in the works are all due to suggestions made by Gene.

Gene: Thank you for being a mentor. For pushing me to the brink and beyond. We miss you tremendously.

May the velocity of your visionary activity shine on like a billion raging suns!

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From Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Kopan Monastery,
Kathmandu, Nepal.

December 21, 2010.

All my dear brothers and sisters who have been helping with the library work for our kindest wish-fulfilling Gene Smith,

It was quite a surprise that our dear Gene passed away. I don’t remember one hundred percent, but last time I met him in New York, he mentioned that he felt he would die soon, that he would not live very long. I have a feeling of this but don’t fully remember.

Again I don’t remember one hundred percent, but perhaps one or two weeks before Gene’s death I had the thought that he might be passing away, but of course, my thoughts are just like an Indian train, filled with people inside and outside, hanging out of the windows and doors.

I first met Gene at the Darjeeling Hotel in the late 1960s. The first I heard of him was from Zina Rachevsky, the Russian-American “princess” who was our first student. Lama Yeshe may also have been there but I don’t recollect clearly. We also met the guru that Gene served, Drukpa Kagyü Tuksey Rinpoche, who was the guru of Drukchen Rinpoche. We also stayed at his monastery for one or two days and met Gene there again.

While Gene was living in Delhi, he collected Dharma texts of all four Tibetan traditions and much later, in the USA, helped our Wisdom Publications for several years. I met him at Wisdom and a couple more times in New York. In one of our conversations he told me that he was concerned for our Kopan Monastery, in Nepal. The eldest son of Khentsey Rinpoche, Rabjam Rinpoche, whose monastery is in Nepal, established a monastery in India to move his monks to in case Nepal became insecure, referring to China taking over Nepal. I am reminded of that.

When I would see rare texts of great, realized lamas, I would ask Gene if he had them and if so, could he please send them immediately. If he didn’t have a particular text he would ask His Holiness the Dalai Lama or other great, realized lamas who have much knowledge that others don’t have.

Whenever I wrote to him I always addressed him as “My Dear Great Wish-fulfilling Jewel Gene Smith.” That was how he lived, helping many great lamas, professors and the like. He was like a wish-fulfilling treasure storeroom, house and vase. Whatever you asked for you would get. And because of that, he didn’t die from a heavy, prolonged illness lasting for many months or years. He just passed away quietly, not wanting to cause any problem to anyone.

According to my Mickey Mouse observation, his rebirth looks good, which is as it should be. He was extremely fortunate as he worked with texts that bring enlightenment, teachings whose light clears away the darkness of ignorance.

I have done many prayers for my most dear friend and wish-fulfilling jewel Gene Smith and continue to do so—prayers that due to the past, present and future merits collected by me and all the three-time buddhas and bodhisattvas, may he be born in the pure land of Heruka and become enlightened there or, if not, may he never again be reborn in the lower realms, receive a perfect human body, meet perfectly qualified Mahayana gurus and quickly become enlightened and perfectly fulfill the wishes of all sentient beings.

Again, thank you very much to all the brothers and sisters who have been helping Gene. Please continue to fulfill his wishes, according to how he wanted this wish-fulfilling library to benefit all the great lamas and all six realms’ sentient beings.

With much love and prayers,

Lama Zopa Rinpoche

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From Thrangu Rinpoche

Thrangu Rinpoche’s Message on the Passing of Gene Smith

The tremendous and unstinting work that Gene Smith has done for decades, in helping to preserve and spread the Dharma and, thereby, bring the deepest joy to living beings, has brought extraordinary benefits. Even though he has passed away, the power and scope of his noble intention will continue to live on and continue to serve. We Tibetans, who are followers of the mahayana, will bring to mind his kindness and make aspiration prayers that in the future he will be able to pursue his aim of benefitting the Buddist teachings and that his activity will remain without interruption.

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

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From Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, 33rd Abbot of Menri

The following was received today from Menri Trizin 33rd in Dolanji:

Deepest condolences…

Dear Jeff Wallman, Board Members and Staff of TBRC,

Please accept my deepest condolences for the loss of Gene Smith.

It was a shock for me to receive the news of Gene passing away.

He was a dear friend to me for these past forty years.

We have met long ago in Delhi, when Gene so generously helped us Tibetans to organize the reproduction and publishing of some important texts that we had carried with us on our backs and on horses, all the way from Tibet.

Gene was a special person who worked with an extraordinary energy to preserve the Tibetan culture. He had a deep commitment to retrieve our lost and threatened literary legacy. What he has done in this regard is immense.

We shall always remember him with great gratitude.

Since our first meeting, Gene has helped us also by providing Menri Monastery monks with a good training in modern technology and by securing grants for scanning and publishing projects that will greatly help to preserve and distribute our Bon religion literature and culture, in a way that no other method could succeed in doing.

It is with deep feeling that I send my thanks for what Gene has done to help us, and my best wishes to you all who are working so well to carry out his vision.

We pray for Gene to have a good and peaceful journey and be rewarded for his great contribution in preserving the Tibetan literary heritage, for the benefit of all.

Yours sincerely,

Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, 33rd Abbot of Menri.

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From Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Message from His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

From the time the Buddhadharma arrived in Tibet, the translation and production of texts formed a key area of activity, mobilizing and shaping Tibetan culture. During the mass exodus into exile in the mid-20th century, Tibetans could easily carry the meaning of the texts written in their hearts but had to carry the books on their own backs. In this process, and in the subsequent years of exile and during the Cultural Revolution within Tibet, texts and wood blocks were scattered, and painfully many were lost. In such an era, to dedicate one’s life to seeking out, preserving, publishing and digitizing Tibet’s vast textual heritage, as Gene Smith did, is a kindness that cannot be expressed in words. I do not believe it unfair to say that his life’s accomplishments follow in the example of the great Dharma kings of Tibet.

Gene was not merely a collector of words written on paper. He made all he found freely available to others. He read widely and deeply, and became a vast treasure of knowledge of Tibetan history and culture. The fact that Gene preserved texts of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, without regard to sectarian differences, makes his achievements particularly worthy of our respect and admiration. Gene leaves behind an invaluable resource that will be of great benefit for many generations to come. As he now moves on to his next life, Gene does not take any books with him. But he does carry an extensive library of merit. He also goes accompanied by my own gratitude and prayers.

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From Peter Skilling

A leaf falls

Into the pond

Before it sinks

Its ripples spread

Across the universe

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From Matthieu Ricard

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 preface.

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 Chöling (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.

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, earlier this year, 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.

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