Gene Smith came to Nepal during the last Buddhist Literary Heritage Project meeting and I remember forgetting to tell him goodbye. As I was about to go inside the car, I remembered this. Then I rushed inside the hotel, and he was still there, I could still see him. I’m sure he was very exhausted, because he came all the way from North America, and then he went to India, I believe, then came to Nepal just for this meeting. But he had a full smile on his face, and looked very satisfied. I came up to him and I said, “I’m going to see you in New York, and we would discuss more about this translation project and many other translations”. He said he would be waiting, and he further talked to me about how he was so happy that he came, and that the trip was worthwhile. So that was it. Then I went.
Then I went to Asura Cave for a retreat. After about a week, I heard the news. Such a loss! Loss for the Buddhadharma, and, personally, loss of a big supporter of all kinds of activities that I’m overseeing at the moment, of which he had been such a valuable advisor, friend, and inspiration I must say. But for those who don’t know, the impact or the effect of his activities…
As a follower of the Buddha, we are to remember and emulate the Buddha. And Buddha can be remembered in three aspects––Buddha’s form, Buddha’s speech, and Buddha’s mind. Form of the Buddha, at present, we can only do with things like Buddha’s statues. The form of the so-called actual historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, has happened 2,500 years ago; and that was also only visible or perceptible to a handful of people, relatively speaking. Buddha’s mind can be only appreciated by the great bodhisattvas, practitioners, sublime beings. So that leaves only Buddha’s speech that is tangible, contactable, that can be approached, that can be heard, that can be contemplated. So the teaching is the most important. What I’m saying here may sound very generic, but it’s very important to notice this. Because many times, we, the followers of the Buddha, forget the importance of the speech of the Buddha, which is the Dharma; and conventionally, Dharma in the form of symbol, especially the Dharma in the form of written texts. It’s so important. Without that, the form of the Buddha, and the mind of the Buddha are not reachable.
You know, in Tibet, many great masters have come, and some of them are very, very revered and venerated, such as Jamgon Kongtrul, Jamyang Khyentse, Mipham Rinpoche, Kunkhyen Longchenpa, Tsongkhapa, Sakya Pandita, and Milarepa. Many of these great masters, if you really contemplate, you will realise they were not known because they had a high title, political status, or because they managed to conquer a territory, or because they managed to build a big structure such as a monastery. Not because of that. In fact, if you look at the history of Tibetan Buddhism carefully, most revered masters are most revered because of the teaching that they have collected, that they have received from other masters, that they practised and then gave to others. So the teaching is the most important.
So within this context, if you look at what Gene Smith has done, what I usually say to other people is: As a Tibetan, especially as a Tibetan lama, Rinpoche, or recognised Tulku, his activities put us, at least me, to shame. Because generally what is the best beneficial activity in the world? Whether it is a spiritual one, a material one, or a secular one, many times activities that are most beneficial to the society, to people, and to the world, if I put it crudely, are not sexy. They are kind of boring, tedious, meticulous, not visible. They don’t shine like a golden roof. They are not like giant statues or big monasteries. They don’t look impressive in the eyes of people who are fishing for that kind of glory. Collecting books, especially gathering Dharma texts from every corner of the world, from every known lineage-–this is such tedious work, so it doesn’t glitter. Literally, it does not glitter. It doesn’t look impressive to the common people. But as I said, in fact, if you think carefully, this is the most important. Without that, Buddhism is finished. Without the teaching, what are monasteries, temples, statues? So if you look at this, within this context, what Gene Smith did is something quite inconceivable.
I can tell you my personal story. When I was studying in South College, this was in the 1970’s, I remember when we were studying Madhyamaka-avatara, there were about 18 students, and there were only two commentary texts that was to be shared with 18 students. Imagine, there was no photocopy machine, forget about computer, or any of that. And just about a year or two after that, Gene Smith’s vision of printing this rare text suddenly made it so possible, especially as a student, we could buy with such a small amount of money. Just personally, for myself, it would be such a shame if people like me forgot what he did.
Now, as we all know, Buddhism is not reserved for, and does not belong to Tibet or the Tibetans. It’s for sentient beings. It’s for everyone. And I hope that not only we the Tibetans, Bhutanese, and Sikkimese, will emulate a great person like Gene Smith’s courage and relentless diligence, I hope that the Western Dharma students will also emulate what he did. And if we do that, then I think we will not forget Gene Smith for a long long time.
Here is another message on Gene Smith’s passing by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, chair of BLHP:
In Memory of Gene Smith
Survival of the Buddhadharma depends on vision, courage, determination and strength of the dharma upholders.
We have witnessed in history that there is always an individual and usually an unsung person who would serve and protect the dharma. If we all look back to what he has achieved and done, Eugene Smith is no doubt such a person. I have always said that Gene Smith has done much more for the dharma, and has achieved much more selflessly than many tulkus and lamas of the present time. I think that time will tell that my remarks are not an exaggeration.
His insistence on joining the last BLHP (Buddhist Literary Heritage Project) meeting even at his frail age and condition alone should be worthy to take as an example, of how dedicated he is to serve Shakyamuni.
The loss of Gene Smith is such a loss for the dharma in general. It is also a loss for me personally, as he has been ever encouraging to me and to all of my activities, such as Khyentse Foundation.
Let us remember him by up-keeping his work and vision.
I also pray that the wishes of Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Deshung Rinpoche, who are the main gurus of the late Gene Smith, be fulfilled in years to come.
– From Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, in retreat at Pharping, Nepal, December 19, 2010.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has also given the following advice for those asking what they can do during this sad time of the passing of our beloved Gene Smith. He said we can:
1. Offer butter lamps
2. Recite Auspicious Prayers (such as Samantabhadra’s Prayer or any others)
3. Most importantly generate Bodhicitta.
缅怀金 • 史密斯（Gene Smith）
我們在歷史中見證到, 總有名不見經傳的人, 默默為佛法奉獻護持。如果我們回顧金•史密斯所成就的一切, 他無疑就是這樣的典範。我經常說金•史密斯為佛法所作的, 比當代許多祖古和喇嘛們更無私, 貢獻更卓著。我相信時間會證明, 我的評價並不誇張。
即使他年事已高身體孱弱, 他依然堅持參加最近一次的佛典傳譯計畫會議, 這正好彰顯出他為釋迦牟尼佛獻身奉獻的虔敬心。
我同時祈願, 金•史密斯的兩位主要上師, 怙主頂果欽哲仁波切及德松仁波切的願望實現。