The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), founded in 1999 by Gene Smith to preserve, organize, and disseminate Tibetan literature, is a modern digital library unlike any other. Its visionary mission is to seek out and collect texts that illuminate more than 1,300 years of Tibetan literature. The texts include not only philosophical and religious treaties, but also texts on traditional medicine, astrology, astronomy, alchemy, art, history, geography, biography, grammar, folk culture, and poetry. TBRC’s website (tbrc.org) states that although it holds approximately “80 percent of the best-known texts, this is perhaps only 25 percent of the total writings by Tibetan masters. As lost libraries are unearthed, TBRC receives and preserves them, in an effort to make whole an immense body of literature that has been broken apart.”
Khyentse Foundation has been an early and significant supporter of TBRC. The foundation is committed to continued funding of TBRC’s work to transform these priceless texts into digital documents that can be viewed on the Internet, as PDF files, on flash drives, or as printed copies, by monasteries, universities, and scholarship and translation projects around the world. In 2011, TBRC had more than 2,000 active user accounts in 66 countries, totaling about 60,000 texts downloaded annually.
TBRC’s data pipelines are running at full capacity in both New York and New Delhi, and mobile units are dispatched wherever they are needed. The process often begins with raw image scans of pecha pages that are stored in printable and digital formats with image manipulation software. TBRC continues to develop methods to refine text processing; expand database searchability and browse-ability; and make e-books widely available. New optical character recognition technology to convert images of Tibetan characters into Tibetan Unicode allows TBRC to digitize precious texts, including the Kangyur and Tengyur, which support translation efforts led by 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
In just the past two years, TBRC has scanned, processed, and integrated into its website several hundred thousand pages, including significant works from Gene Smith’s personal collection and TRBC acquisitions; Lokesh Chandra’s library in New Delhi; materials from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala; the Litang Kangyur in Orissa at the personal request of HH the 17th Karmapa; and the rediscovered treasure teachings of Namchag Tsa Sum Lingpa. TBRC has also uploaded works from the National Library of Mongolia and continues to link with international university libraries that scan their resources and share archival images. In exchange, TBRC publishes and identifies university resources in its library.
To serve areas of the world that don’t have Internet access, TBRC works closely with Palri Parkhang (Glorious Mountain Printery) in Nepal to create e-books, printable image files and hardcopy texts from pecha scans. TBRC e-books are built from these formatted texts and distributed to remote monasteries, dharma institutions, and Tibetan communities.
This spring, TBRC will move from New York City to Cambridge, Massachusetts. TBRC’s library is a major draw for Harvard’s Indian and Tibetan Studies Department and Buddhist initiatives at Harvard Divinity School, and links like these facilitate TBRC’s ability to fulfill its mission. Executive Director Jeff Wallman writes, “The work that supports publication, translation, and the development and dissemination of Tibetan resources is scholarship. In Cambridge, we will be close to TBRC board scholars Janet Gyatso and [TBRC’s president] Leonard van der Kujip and will form an active committee of scholars to advance TBRC’s work into the future.”
Gene Smith’s precious legacy continues.