Scholar amassed Ti­betan book col­lec­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO -

E. Gene Smith, 74, who amassed what is be­lieved to be the largest col­lec­tion of Ti­betan books in the Western world, died Dec. 16 at his home in New York City. He had di­a­betes and heart ail­ments.

Mr. Smith, who was an in­de­pen­dent scholar, spent much of his life in In­dia, Nepal and other parts of Asia col­lect­ing books for the Li­brary of Congress. He worked for the li­brary’s field of­fices in In­dia, In­done­sia and Egypt off and on from 1968 to 1997.

In 1999, he founded the Ti­betan Bud­dhist Re­source Cen­ter in New York, which holds nearly 25,000 books dat­ing from the 12th cen­tury, in­clud­ing many of the sem­i­nal texts of Ti­betan Bud­dhism, as well as sec­u­lar works on other topics.

Mr. Smith be­came in­ter­ested in Ti­betan cul­ture as a young man, con­verted to Bud­dhism and be­gan ac­quir­ing the books. His ef­forts saved many books from iso­la­tion and de­struc­tion and made them ac­ces­si­ble to schol­ars and Ti­betan ex­iles around the world.

The Ti­betan canon was threat­ened af­ter China in­vaded and oc­cu­pied Ti­bet in the 1950s. Refugees smug­gled some books out, but the Chi­nese de­stroyed many oth­ers.

“With the close of the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion, you es­sen­tially lost much of the Ti­betan Bud­dhist lit­er­a­ture,” David Ger­mano, a pro­fes­sor of Ti­betan stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia, said. “Col­lec­tions of books in Ti­bet . . . were sys­tem­at­i­cally sought out and burned dur­ing the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion.”

El­lis Gene Smith was born Aug. 10, 1936, in Og­den, Utah. His fam­ily traced its lin­eage to Hyrum Smith, the elder brother of Mor­monism’s founder, Joseph Smith.

Af­ter at­tend­ing sev­eral col­leges, he grad­u­ated from the Uni­ver­sity of Washington, where he stud­iedMon­go­lian and Turk­ish.

He later stud­ied the Ti­betan lan­guage and be­came ac­quainted with a lama who urgedMr. Smith to col­lect and save books from Ti­bet.

Sur­vivors in­clude three sis­ters.

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