December 17, 2010

Gene Smith - An Icon & Legend

We were very sad to learn this morning that our dear friend Gene Smith passed away yesterday.  Beyond simply being a wonderful man with a kind presence, Gene Smith is truly one of great modern heroes of the Buddhist world. He will be greatly missed. 

Long before working for Tricycle, I had the tremendous privilege of getting to know Gene and his staff at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) while I was working for his longtime friend and colleague Jeff Watt, the director of Himalayan Art Resources (HAR). TBRC and HAR share an office here in Manhattan and it was an honor to have shared a space with Gene, to have joked around with him, and to have benefited from his tremendous insight, dedication, and warmth.

Pema Choephel, who also worked alongside Gene, writes:

Gene Smith is a hero to Tibetans and is a giant of Tibetan history and literature of this century. I had the rare opportunity of working right next to his office. He was extremely patient and accessible whenever I would approach him for old Tibetan terms or help with Sanskrit. He was always eager to learn everything and anything about Tibet and deeply cared about the Tibetan cause. He would often call for me whenever he had a problem with his mouse. I would just unplug it then plug it back in and it always worked.

The following is from Jeff Watt, originally posted on his blog:

It is with a very sad heart that I announce that Gene Smith has passed away, Thursday, December the 16th, 2010. I have known of Gene through his writings and publications since 1973, visited his home in New Delhi, India, in 1980 and worked closely with him since 2001 to the present in New York City.

What always struck me most about Gene was his drive to not have students undergo the difficulties that he went through in learning and studying Tibetan literature and associated subjects. This is what was close between us and came up most often in conversation, the next generation - the future - making the literature and tools accessible. Gene and I shared a very important teacher, Dezhung Rinpoche Lungrig Tenpai Nyima, that was maybe the most important influence for what was to become the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, the second crowning jewel of his career. The first great accomplishment, the first great crowning jewel, was of course the publication of thousands upon thousands of rare Tibetan texts and manuscripts while he worked in the New Delhi office of the U.S. Library of Congress.

As just one individual, Gene has been the most important single figure in the last half century working for the preservation of Tibetan literature. Gene has been the singular figure to galvanize the most important Tibetan scholars in the last 45 years in the preservation of Tibetan literature. In a half century, again, Gene has been the most important single figure to tirelessly work for the literary culture of Tibet and the Himalayan regions - to publish, to modernize, to digitize and to electronically archive for the present and future generations. Gene was truly a man suited for his time, an individual that accomplished what he set out to accomplish, responding to the needs of others. His passing is not a time for sadness but a time to celebrate the truly enormous accomplishment of his life that has benefited so many of us and in so many ways.

 

For further reading on Gene and TBRC's great work, please read Noa Jones's  "Take Note" from the Spring 2010 issue of Tricycle.

 

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