Gene Smith

Sat Mar 20 19:38:12 UTC 2004

I was thrilled to read your "remarkable story" on Gene Smith who happens to
be one of my oldest friends. But I saw that important things were missing
and mentioned it to Dominik Wujastyk who encouraged me to write about it to
the Indology list. I had to read the TLS article first and there I found
some of the things I had missed and that would be of interest to
Indologists  but they were mentioned in a rather confusing and misleading
manner. And so I would like to add a few observations even though this is
not my field.

Cynthia Haven, author of the TLS commentary, writes how she visited Smith
in his "Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center" (TBRC) in New York where his
collection is now housed thanks to Shelley and Donald Rubin. She adds by
way of explanation: "Until 2001, this astonishing collection was housed in
Smith's six-room duplex in Cambridge, Massachussets." But later in the
article, when she describes how Smith shows her some books from his
collection, she writes: "These are Indian reprints of Tibetan works Smith
supervised during his years as a Library of Congress employee in New Delhi,
collecting books of all languages and publishing them under Public Law 480,
with money generated from the sale of excess agricultural commodities. The
books he published, gathered from escaping Tibetans, might otherwise have
simply vanished."

It is the latter information that was missing from the Indology list story;
but it needs some updating. Smith was in Delhi and elsewhere in Asia for
many decades as a Field Director for the Library of Congress. After his
retirement, he went with his books to Cambridge, Mass., where they were
housed in his flat. That was prior to 2001, true, but prior to those few
years they were in Asia, constantly being added to and published in
hundreds and hundreds of volumes that have been on the bookshelves of
Tibetan institutes all over the world for almost half a century. They may
soon be streaming over the world and be "virtually indestructible," as you
comment on, but much of that material has already been studied, translated
and made accessible by scholars of Tibetan. Rare Tibetan texts are now
being published in China in great quantities also and these are becoming
increasingly available. These are some of the facts that deserve to be
known by the readers of your Indology excerpt from the TLS commentary.

Frits Staal

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