Noa Jones Reports on a Special Ceremony Amidst the Color and Chaos of the Nyingma Monlam Festival in Bodhgaya
In January, 2010, our friend E. Gene Smith traveled to Bodhgaya, India, the site of Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, at the request of an organization representing more than 300 Nyingma monasteries in Tibet, India, and Bhutan. The Nyingma Monlam Chenmo International Foundation unanimously nominated Gene to receive the first-ever Sambhota Award, a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the preservation of the Buddhadharma. It was an unusually cold and foggy day, one of the last days of the Monlam festival.

Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, the abbot of Chokling Monastery in Bir (and star of “The Cup”), introduced Gene to an audience of more than 13,000 monks and nuns. Rinpoche led Gene to each side of the monument, where different sanghas took a break from their pujas to hear Gene’s life story. At each side, the monks greeted Gene’s story with huge applause. Under the Bodhi tree on the east side of the temple, Sechen Rabjam Rinpoche presented the award, a golden gong. A long line of rinpoches, tulkus, and khenpos presented katags to Gene—so many katags that only his face and hands were left uncovered. A number of monks approached Gene to offer him their thanks for the digital libraries that TBRC has donated to their monasteries. By the time Gene left the temple, the sun was shining.

Gene recently stepped down as executive director of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), which he founded in 1999, so that he can devote his time and energies to the critical scholarly work of TBRC. The center so far has scanned and digitally archived more than 4 million pages of Tibetan texts, with the aim of making them available throughout the world. Jeff Wallman is the new executive director.

Gene is known for his work with the Library of Congress. In 1968 he joined the New Delhi Field Office and initiated a campaign to reprint every Tibetan text he could find. Many of the texts were brought to him by Tibetan exiles from Sikkim, Bhutan, India, and Nepal. For the next two decades, he led a tireless effort to seek out every available text, rescuing numerous traditions from extinction. In 1985 he was transferred to Jakarta, Indonesia, where he continued his work in text preservation. In 1994 he was assigned to the Middle Eastern Office in Cairo. In 1997 he took early retirement from the U.S. Library of Congress.

“It is not an exaggeration at all for us to say it is because of Gene’s hard work and concerted efforts that we have access to many of the precious texts we are using today,” said Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.

A complete report will appear in the May issue of Tricyle Magazine.

Read the [intlink id=”448″ type=”post”]Patron King article about Gene Smith[/intlink].