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US keeper of Tibet culture dies


Agence France-Presse
First Posted 05:42:00 12/30/2010

Filed Under: Culture (general), death notices, Religion & Belief, history, Books

NEW YORK?E. Gene Smith, an American scholar of Buddhism credited with saving much of Tibet's literature from the destruction of China's Cultural Revolution, has died at age 74, associates said.

Smith died of unknown causes on December 16 shortly after returning from one of his many trips to India, said Jeff Wallman, executive director of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center in New York.

Smith founded the center with a mission both to preserve the Tibetan canon and to make it readily accessible. Since 2000, the library has put more than six million pages of Tibetan literature onto the Internet.

Despite Smith's efforts, much has been lost. China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and later unleashed its Cultural Revolution, in which communist zealots destroyed cultural heritage in Tibet and elsewhere.

Smith was born in Utah and raised a Mormon. He went to the University of Washington to learn Far Eastern languages, hoping that his specialized field of study would help him avoid the draft into the Vietnam War.

In Seattle, he was introduced to a Tibetan lama and quickly embraced Buddhism.

"He was the most logical person I have ever encountered," Smith told The New York Times in 2002. "From him, I learned that truth is true only within its system."

Smith moved to India in the mid-1960s, just as China was launching the Cultural Revolution. Working for the Library of Congress in Washington, Smith hunted for handwritten texts that Tibetan refugees saved from monasteries.

Smith sent many of the books, some of them centuries-old, to universities back in the United States, jumpstarting the discipline of Tibetan studies.

When he launched the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, Smith said that his effort was not political and that he only wanted to ensure that Tibetans will maintain access to their seminal works.

"Regardless of whether or not Tibet becomes independent, and that possibility seems less and less likely, our job is to save the content and to return to Tibetans, wherever they are, what has been preserved in the West," Smith was quoted as saying by the Buddhist magazine Tricycle.



Copyright 2014 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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