February 23, 2012

Tricycle Talks: Interview with Digital Dharma Director Dafna Yachin

Today's Tricycle Talk is with Dafna Yachin, the producer, writer, and director of Digital Dharma, a documentary chronicling the Tibetan cultural preservation efforts of E. Gene Smith. Smith was no James Bond or Jason Bourne, but his mission was just as epic: the recovery, preservation, and digitization of 20,000 Tibetan Buddhist and Bonpo texts. Battling Chinese bureaucracy and personal health issues along the way, Smith managed in 2008 to deliver hard and flash drives containing 12,000 precious texts to monasteries all over Nepal and India.

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and E. Gene Smith

Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and E. Gene Smith, with a hard drive containing 12,000 texts.

Tragically, Smith died in 2010, leaving behind a preservation legacy so significant that he was dubbed "The Man Who Saved Tibetan Buddhism" (read Tricycle's tribute to him here). Digital Dharma commemorates that legacy, and urges others to pick up the effort where Smith left it.

But it's one thing to summarize Smith's story. When I spoke to Yachin, it became clear that Smith's impact goes beyond what words can say. She told me in the interview, "What we learned from Gene Smith is how to live a life." 

The beauty of how Smith lived his own life can be shown with just this one-minute clip from the film:

Please enjoy our interview with Dafna Yachin below. You can watch Digital Dharma in the upcoming Tricycle | BuddhaFest Online Film Festival—it's our kick-off film on June 24! Click here for the full festival program and to buy tickets.

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kh1044's picture

Marvelous! What a wonderful legacy for E. Gene Smith. It makes one wonder about how much wisdom has vanished into the dust of ages, and points up the importance of an oral tradition and the role of the "storyteller". I think the Inca might have used quipu in the same fashion, although we don't really know. When the knots in the cord are rotted away, or the knowledge of how to read them is gone, the information is lost. I wonder what the archaeologists of the far future will think when they find the flashdrives? Thanks for the article, and I hope there's a special place in the next life for Smith; helping to preserve a culture deserves it.

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Thanks for your comment, kh1044, I'm glad you enjoyed the article. It does make one wonder what wisdom we've lost along the way—and how maybe we would be in a different situation if we hadn't. As for the flash drive, maybe if they see a clip like this the archaeologists will think it's jewelry!