Remembering Gene Smith

E. Gene Smith, the eminent Tibetologists, founder of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), and a guiding member of the Executive Board of Jonang Foundation passed away on the afternoon of Thursday December 16, 2010. The following are brief personal reflections:[1]

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!


1. A memorial site for Gene was set up at Remembering Gene Smith. An article by Noa Jones on traveling with Gene in India during his lifetime achievement award is on her blog, Bodhgaya in Two Acts.

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