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                                                                                    November, 2007      
Gene Smith

Patrons of Buddhism: Part IX

Gene Smith and TBRC


In 2002, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche began identifying some of the great patrons of Buddhism, from Shakyamuni's own patron, Sudatta Anathapindika to the warlord king Ashoka. Without these patrons, Buddhism would have had little chance to flourish. In every Khyentse Foundation Communique, Rinpoche shares the life story of one of these inspiring patrons.

When E. Gene Smith was asked how he managed to single-handedly gather together a tremendous amount of the Tibetan literature that had been dispersed during and after the events of 1959, he replied simply, "Karma, I guess." It's not that Gene is at a loss for words--he  often tells amazing tales--but Gene Smith is primarily focused on one subject only: Preserving Tibetan spiritual literature in its entirety. In Gene's view, this literature can and must be preserved and made available, at no charge, to anyone, anywhere in the world.


Karma may be the short answer to how Gene became the steward of this gargantuan effort, but the colorful details of his journey make for quite a story.   


In part because students of lesser-known languages could avoid being drafted into the U.S. Army, Gene began studying Tibetan at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1960. There he met his teacher, the Venerable Deshung Rinpoche, who at the time lived in Seattle with eight other lamas on a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Gene became interested in understanding Buddhism from a scholar's perspective, but his teacher steered him toward practice. In 1964, at the age of 28, he finished the course work for his Ph.D. On the advice Deshung Rinpoche, he traveled to India to see what he could do to help the Tibetans pick up the pieces of their shattered culture.


In India, he studied with Geshe Lobsang Lungtok, Drukpa Thuksay Rinpoche, Khenpo Noryang, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He traveled extensively in Asia, and in 1968 the U.S. Library of Congress hired him to work in its New Delhi office. The U.S. government had started a food aid effort, called the Public Law 480 Initiative, which encouraged developing countries to buy surplus U.S. wheat and other agricultural products with local currencies. The government took the money it made on the wheat and put it back into cultural and scientific programs to benefit those same countries. Talking about the haphazard nature of these allocations at a recent benefit in his honor at the Rubin Museum of Art, Gene remarked, "We could have used that money for anything--we could have bought lawnmowers if we wanted to."    


Instead, Gene and his colleagues used the funds to make copies of rare and important Tibetan texts that had been smuggled out of Tibet by exiles of all five lineages of Tibetan Buddhism--texts that he had identified as valuable in his travels in Asia. These texts--wood-block prints and manuscripts--were faded and crumbling. The copies were sent back to North America, to the United States and Canada, and installed in the libraries of over 20 universities, including Harvard and the University of Washington. These and other texts were also made available to Tibetan monks. All told, the PL 480 program acquired around 8,000 volumes. When more Buddhist texts began appearing in China after the revolution, Gene used his contacts to buy those as well. Today he is known for having amassed the largest library of Tibetan books in the world.


For the Tibetans who had smuggled the manuscripts out of Tibet, the fact that Gene paid Western prices for the texts that he bought for the Library of Congress made a big difference in their lives. For the Tibetan publishers, the revenue of the sales went a long way toward covering the price of publishing more texts. In this way, Gene's purchases were crucial for the publication of hundreds of works, thus making them available for Tibetan scholars, practitioners, and libraries at an affordable price.    


But it wasn't just the priceless Tibetan canon that Gene sent back to the United States for copying and preserving (in many cases, only one copy of a text had survived)--he also sent his notes. His commentaries put each manuscript in historical, religious, and cultural context for Western scholars struggling to understand the Dharma. For many years, Gene's house in New Delhi was a hub of scholarly activity. His walls were lined with thousands of Tibetan books. Hundreds of lamas, scholars, and practitioners visited him there and marveled at his ability to find an obscure book, hidden amid stacks of texts, without hesitation.

Gene retired from the Library of Congress in 1997, and in December of 1999 he and a group of friends founded the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the goal of digitizing every text in his collection, now over 12,000 volumes. In an interview in 2002, he said about TBRC, "What we're trying to do is make things as easy as possible for the scholars, the holders of the traditions, and the translators to gain access to the texts. Right now, Tibetan studies is basically a matter of serendipity."   


Since 2002, TBRC has moved into the offices of the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, and is now working to expand its digital library of Tibetan texts, putting them on portable hard drives and exporting them to monasteries in India, Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. They're also building an encyclopedic database that will provide a way to navigate TBRC's immense body of Tibetan literature. And they serve as a research center for Tibetan studies.   


When Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche introduced Gene at an early Khyentse Foundation meeting, he emphatically stated that Gene is one of the most important Bodhisattvas of our time. "He is such a great man," said Rinpoche. "With Gene's digital library, no future disaster, whether natural, political or economical, will destroy these precious Buddhist texts again."  At the Buddhanature teachings in Vancouver in the summer of 2007, the audience gave Gene a spontaneous and lengthy standing ovation that filled the auditorium with thunderous appreciation for all of his work. Gene, as ever, smiled and humbly accepted the thanks. 

To read about other patrons of Buddhism, visit the Patron Kings page of the KF web site.



DJK and Ponlop

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche invited Ponlop Rinpoche to be the Chair of the Translators Conference at a meeting in Vancouver in August.


Translating the
Words of the Buddha
Khyentse Foundation
Translators Conference 2009

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Khyentse Foundation, and Deer Park Institute will host a landmark translators conference, "Translating the Words of the Buddha," at Deer Park, Bir, India, March 16 through 20, 2009. The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche will chair the conference. His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, His Holiness Sakya Trizin, His Holiness Mindroling Trichen, His Holiness the XVII Gyalwa Karmapa, Sogyal Rinpoche, Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, and Khyentse Jigme Rinpoche have all given their blessings to the gathering as honorary patrons, and other patrons are in the process of confirming their support.

Without the work of translators, western Dharma students would not be able to practice and study the Dharma. Yet, despite the translators' extraordinary contributions, many of the most important Buddhist texts, including major teachings of the Buddha himself, have not yet been translated. Also, translators frequently don't know what others are doing; there is no agreement on the translation of key terms; and communication among leading translators is often minimal.

The main objectives of the conference, therefore, are:
  • To provide a forum for a small group of about 40 leading Tibetan-English Dharma translators and related groups to review present translation efforts and to identify major challenges
  • To discuss ways to improve communication among translators and to facilitate coordination and collaboration, including creation of a translation database
  • To initiate actions that will ensure the highest standards of translation for the future, to identify priority texts for translation, and to distribute high-quality translations
To facilitate intensive discussion and movement toward concrete actions, participation is on an invitational basis. Invitations are being extended to a small number of leading Tibetan-English translators from all traditions (Kagyu, Gelug, Nyingma, and Sakya), from all areas (academics, practitioners, Buddhist scholars), and from roles that support the work of translation (major publishers, patrons, and so on). The intention is for this group of invited participants to represent a critical mass of all key players involved in Dharma translation from Tibetan to English. We hope that future gatherings will extend the dialog to many other translators, including those translating texts into German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages, and from Chinese, Japanese, classical Indian, and other languages.

Translation of Dharma texts is a high-priority area of Khyentse Foundation's work. The Foundation is already supporting, on a small scale, several translation projects and groups in different parts of the world. The coming conference is Rinpoche's initiative to encourage conversation among major translation groups. The Foundation's commitment extends past the time of the actual conference and into the future, beginning (as finances and fundraising allow) with financial assistance in translating selected high-priority texts, creating a translation database, and helping to realize other key conference outcomes.

In ways like this, your contributions to Khyentse Foundation are helping to make the Dharma accessible to future generations of practitioners for the benefit of all beings. More information about the Translators Conference will appear in future issues of the KF Communiqué.

  photo: Alan Kozlowski


Perfect Partners
Cangioli Che on the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center and Khyentse Foundation

By Executive Director Cangioli Che


I visited Tibet and Dzongsar Monastery for the first time in 2001. Dzongsar Monastery is the seat of my teacher, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and is also the location of Dzongsar Khamje Shedra, which was founded by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo the Great in the 1870s.Among the many sites that we visited, one of the most memorable was the remnant of the once-famous Rimey--or pansectarian--library at Dzongsar Monastery, one of the many major libraries that were destroyed during the political turmoil of the 1960s. This library was famous for its comprehensive collection of rare Buddhist text, embracing all traditions, compiled under the supervision of its founders, the great Buddhist master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) and his successor, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1894-1959).
We had a chance to speak with witnesses of the devastation, who described how the library burned for seven days. Very few books survived the rampage.

Around the time that we undertook this journey, Khyentse Foundation was conceived as a collaborative effort of Khyentse Rinpoche's students and friends all over the world to support the study and practice of Buddhism. The Foundation was formally incorporated in late 2001. As one of the first top priority projects, Rinpoche wanted Khyentse Foundation to undertake the restoration of the library at Dzongsar Monastery.

It's relatively easy to rebuild a physical library building, but how do you replenish the library? Where and how do you find the lost books again? Fortunately, we didn't have to look very far to find out what Gene Smith had already accomplished. For more than 30 years he has been collecting, preserving, cataloging, and more recently digitizing much of the surviving Tibetan canon.

Rinpoche visited Gene at his new Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) office in New York during that period and saw what Gene was accomplishing. Rinpoche's reaction was immediate and his instructions to us were very clear: "No need to do anything else (concerning the restoration of the library at Dzongsar), just support Gene's work, and help Gene complete what he is doing as much as we can." And Khyentse Foundation has been doing that ever since.

The primary role that Khyentse Foundation has taken in Gene's work is as a financial donor. We raise and disburse funds so that Gene can complete the scanning, outlining,  and formatting of his entire collection of over 12,000 volumes of Tibetan literature. About 5,000 volumes have already been scanned, but much work remains to be done to complete a fully functional, easily searchable, and user-friendly digital library that is free for all to use. All the planning, technology, know-how, and infrastructure are in place. With sufficient funding, this digital library can be completed in just 4 years.

When Gene's Digital Library is complete, the comprehensive Buddhist archives can be easily reproduced by print-on-demand facilities at Dzongsar and other institutes, restoring the library for the benefit of students and practitioners.

However, the significance of Gene's work is not only about preservation and archiving books in a museumlike library. Just like Rinpoche, Gene's concern and effort are directed toward making these books easily and readily available, free of charge if possible, to everyone--Buddhist or non-Buddhist, scholar or student, monastic or layperson, researcher or translator--in fact, anyone who wants to use them. This is completely in synergy with Khyentse Foundation's mission in supporting the preservation, translation, and distribution of Buddhist texts for the benefit of all beings.

In addition, with his encyclopedic knowledge of Buddhist studies, Gene is a most valuable adviser to Khyentse Foundation. Gene was instrumental in the Foundation's selection of UC Berkeley as the recipient of our Endowed Chair in Buddhist studies. He is also helping us tremendously in formulating the translators' conference in 2009, and is involved in many other KF projects.

In accordance with Gene's statement that "The greatest Tibetan library in the world had its beginning in Dzongsar Institute," the wheel will have turned full circle when Gene's digital library provides the source material to restore the original library compiled by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo the Great.

Preservation of Buddhist texts is a priority of Khyentse Foundation's work. In addition to supporting TBRC, the Foundation also supports the work of Professor Peter Skilling's Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation in Thailand and the Jonang Foundation. We are still raising funds to complete Gene's digital library.



In This Issue

  Special Focus: Publications  


Patrons of Buddhism IX:

Gene Smith


KF Institutes International Translators Conference:

Bir, India, March, 2009


Perfect Partners 


KF Publication Grant Listing


The Cup:

Now Available on DVD

Original Texts

The Foundation has three original texts the Introduction to the Middle Way: Chandrakirti's Madhyamakavatara with Commentary by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, the Longchen Nyingtik Practice Manual: Advice on How To Practice, and the newest addition to the collection, The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra. These publications are available free of charge to those who send a formal request. We hope to expand this list in the coming years as the translation and editorial team continues to collect, compile, and edit Rinpoche's teachings.


KF Publication Fund Grants
The objective of Khyentse Foundation's Publications Fund is to make Buddhist texts, ancient and contemporary, readily available to all those who wish to study the Buddhadharma. The Foundation is establishing an endowmen to fund a number of core publishing projects, while raising separate project-based funds for other unique publication and translation efforts.  The list of recent grant recipients includes:
  • Fragile Palm Leaves: for continued preservation projects.
  • Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala: for Graduating Class Project. Tenzin Northen and his graduating class translated Thoughts on Education into Tibetan, printed 1000 copies and distributed them to schools and colleges.
  • Jonang Foundation: for the preservation and presentation of the living tradition of Jonang in its indigenous context and to generate greater understanding of its prominence in 17th century Tibet.
  • Rime Foundation: for the translation of The Gateway to the Great Perfection by Cortland Dahl.
  • Tibetan Buddhist Resources Center: for continuation of preservation and distribution activities.
  • Tibetan Text Society: for the translation of Jeffrey Hopkins book, Meditation on Emptiness into the Chinese language.
  • Tucci Translation: for partial support Dr. Guiseppe Vignoto's project to translate Giuseppe Tucci's seminal work on Tibetan Buddhism, Indo-Tibetica, into the Chinese language.

TBRC goes to Mongolia

Gene Smith and David Lunsford, TBRC board member and president of Bodhi Foundation, recently visited Mongolia to meet with many representatives of monasteries, universities, and related organizations to formalize relationships and to explore areas of collaboration. They distributed the TBRC search appliances and helped to set up various libraries with TBRC's collection of scanned texts. Here are some photos for your enjoyment.


The Cup Now on DVD

A portion of the proceeds from sales will benefit KF

The Cup, the debut feature film by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (a.k.a. Khyentse Norbu), was released on 13 November 2007 on DVD in North America by Festival Media. The story of young monks in a Tibetan monastery in exile obsessed with World Cup soccer is both an audience-pleasing comedy and an insider's look at the challenges for Buddhist traditions in the face of modernizing changes.

This breakthrough film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and had a successful theatrical run in over twenty countries. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times called it a "wonderful and delightful comedy," and Jeffrey Wachs of said it's "the best glimpse of...Tibetan Buddhist culture yet to make it to the screen."

The DVD was mastered from a new direct-to-digital transfer from the original film, and includes a bonus documentary entitled Inside The Cup, featuring the director discussing the film, cinema in general and Buddhist philosophy, along with outtakes from the film. There is also a director's commentary audio track.

"We're delighted to be introducing new audiences to this extraordinary director and his wonderful film," Festival Media executive director Gaetano Maida says. "Beginning with the US premiere of Travellers & Magicians at our 2003 International Buddhist Film Festival (IBFF) in LA, we've been honored to help bring his work to audiences through our festivals around the world and now through our DVD distribution service." A portion of the proceeds from sales of The Cup will benefit Khyentse Foundation.


Festival Media is the distribution service of the nonprofit IBFF, and offers films on DVD through retailers around the country, including Amazon. Proceeds from sales of its DVDs benefit IBFF, the filmmakers, and often through them, the subjects of the films.

Suggested retail price: US $29.95; 94 min.;
NTSC; Tibetan with English Subtitles.





Benefits Gallery Closing Down

a good time to place holiday orders

The Khyentse Foundation Benefits Gallery is an online store from which all profits go to support the Foundation's activities.  Over the next few months, the site will reduce its inventory and shut down.  Please visit the site to take advantage of discounted items before they are removed.  Many thanks to all those who donated items over the years and especially to volunteer Helen Jones for her hard work in managing the gallery and handling all of the orders.
Visit the Gallery 


Some Sales Items:

Travellers & Magicians book

Was: $28, now $15


Hand-stitched purses

Were:$12 to $26, now $10 to $24


On the Path book

Was $40, now $15




PLEASE NOTE: The KF Communique will no longer be made available in print form. 


























































Thank You For Reading!



The Communiqué is a publication of Khyentse Foundation, a nonprofit organisation founded by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in 2001 to establish a system of patronage that supports institutions and individuals engaged in the study and practice of the Buddha’s vision of wisdom and compassion.

For further information Contact Khyentse Foundation at:
P.O. Box 156648 | San Francisco, CA 94115 | USA
Phone/Fax: 415 788 8048 | [email protected]
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