Ogden native E. Gene Smith, Tibetan archivist and scholar, dies in Manhattan

By Margalit Fox

New York Times News Service

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 28 2010 8:24 p.m. MST

After advanced study in Sanskrit and Pali at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Smith went to India in 1965, spending several years studying with exiled Tibetan lamas. He joined the Library of Congress field office in New Delhi in 1968, eventually becoming field director there.

Smith acquired as many Tibetan books as he could for the library, seeking out Tibetan refugees in India, Nepal and Bhutan and earning their trust. Most of the books he collected were either hand-lettered manuscripts or had been printed in the traditional manner, using carved wood blocks. (Tibet had no printing presses.) Often, a book he obtained was the only known copy in the world.

In India, Smith began printing new copies of thousands of Tibetan books. He was aided, serendipitously, by a U.S. program, Public Law 480, which let developing countries buy American agricultural commodities in local currency. The United States would take that currency and invest it in local humanitarian projects.

As Smith noted, nothing in the law expressly forbade using the money to republish great works of literature. And so, book by book, he brought much of the Tibetan canon to light. His publishing project, which lasted two and a half decades, furnished books to libraries and Tibetan speakers around the globe, greatly augmenting the store upon which scholars could draw.

''Without his vision, many of us in the field would not be doing what we're doing," Leonard van der Kuijp, a professor of Tibetan and Himalayan studies at Harvard, said last week.

In later years, after the Library of Congress sent Smith to Indonesia and then to Egypt, he continued collecting and publishing Tibetan texts through intermediaries. He retired in 1996 and three years later founded the center, where he served as executive director until last year.

Smith is survived by three sisters, Rosanne Smith, Carma Wood and LaVaun Ficklin.

He was the author of several published catalogs of Tibetan literature and a volume of essays, "Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau" (Wisdom Publications, 2001).

''Digital Dharma," a documentary film about Smith and his work, is currently in production.

Interviewers often asked Smith what propelled his quest. His answer was simple, and Buddhist to the core:

''Karma, I guess."

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