17.703 a remarkable story (fwd)

Sat Mar 13 19:55:31 UTC 2004

Hi Dominik: Am thrilled to read it as Gene Smith is one of my oldest
friends! F.

At 07:58 PM 3/13/04 +0530, you wrote:
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2004 10:09:26 +0000
>From: "Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty
>     <willard.mccarty at kcl.ac.uk>)" <willard at lists.village.virginia.edu>
>To: humanist at Princeton.EDU
>Subject: 17.703 a remarkable story
>                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 703.
>        Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
>                    www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/
>                         www.princeton.edu/humanist/
>                      Submit to: humanist at princeton.edu
>          Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2004 10:05:33 +0000
>          From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at kcl.ac.uk>
>          Subject: a remarkable story
>The most remarkable story of E. Gene Smith's preservation of Tibetan
>literature is told in the latest Times Literary Supplement, no. 5267 for 12
>March 2004, in the Commentary column, p. 13. Smith, a Utah-born Mormon who
>traces his lineage back to the brother of the prophet Joseph Smith, was
>converted to Buddhism by a Tibetan scholar and lama Deshung Rinpoche on his
>visit to the U.S. in 1960. Smith then began the studies necessary to read
>and interpret the Tibetan canon (becoming in time perhaps the greatest
>Western scholar of Tibetan literature). Sometime later the lama suggested
>he go to India to locate and publish most important works of Tibetan
>literature before they were lost forever. This became his life's work. He
>eventually collected over 12,000 books of poetry, medicine, history,
>biography and principally Buddhist religious texts, spanning 10 centuries
>and comprising the largest collection in the West if not the world. Until
>2001 this collection was housed in his 6-room duplex in Cambridge,
>Massachusetts, the books covering every surface and floor in every room but
>the kitchen; his bed was wedged between bookshelves. Then in 2001, after 40
>years of collecting, he found two angels, Shelley and Donald Rubin, who
>have founded perhaps the largest museum of Himalayan art in the West and
>have allotted ample space to Smith's Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center.
>Tibet is a land with an extraordinary scholarly tradition dating back to
>the 7th century. Much of the literature exists only in the form of highly
>perishable manuscripts and block-printed books, on strips of mulberry-husk
>paper, bound together by straps of cloth. The centuries have taken their
>toll; so also did the Chinese invasion. Without Smith's efforts much of not
>all of what is now in safe hands would have been lost completely. Smith
>estimates that scholars now have about 10% of what once existed, 80% of
>what was well known. Little of this has been translated, so the culture
>remains largely inaccessible to the West. Given the importance of this
>literature not only in itself but for the transmission of Buddhism from
>India through China to Japan, and from Japan to the West, much already of
>great interest to many people is to be learned from this collection.
>The collection is going digital, at www.tbrc.org, where over 7,000 authors
>and 20,000 book titles are already to be found. The ambition is to put all
>of Tibetan literature online.
>The author of the article, Cynthia Haven, stresses the importance of online
>publication for the rescuing and preservation of cultural treasures such as
>the Tibetan canon. "If all that exists in Tibetan literature is online and
>downloadable, it becomes virtually indestructible -- unlike the fragile,
>ethereal tangkas that line the walls around Smith's offices, where
>electronic reproduction can give only a whiff of the original." I hope she
>is right about this virtual indestructibility.
>             [Note: If you do not receive a reply within 24 hours please
>Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
>Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
>7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty at kcl.ac.uk

Frits Staal

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