Sunday, January 23, 2011

Call for nominations: UNESCO/Jikji Memory of the World Prize

UNESCO is inviting nominations for the fourth award of the UNESCO/Jikji Memory of the World Prize. This invitation is extended to all Member States, in consultation with their National Commissions, as well as to international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) maintaining official relations with UNESCO and whose work is in the field of preservation and conservation of documentary heritage.

The Economist on January 13 published an appreciation of Gene Smith who died in December, 2010. Tibetan monasteries had collected manuscripts over some 1500 years, until the Chinese occupation of Tibet when monasteries "were ransacked and destroyed. Not only books were burned, but also the carved wooden blocks from which they were printed. Fleeing Tibetans tried to save the texts" as they sought asylum in other countries, but many were lost; the rest were disbursed widely in the places of sanctuary.
Over five decades, Mr Smith made it his business to put Tibetan literature back together. He did it more or less single-handedly, fired by his love of the language and the culture and aided by a brain that rapidly became an encyclopedia of lineages, sutras, lives of lamas, and the history and ownership of every book he came across......

Armed only with fistfuls of rupees and with letters of introduction from his Tibetan teacher, Deshung Rinpoche, to various lamas, he trawled through Indian libraries and then travelled into the hills. There, though still fearful of exposing their treasures, exiled Tibetan monks showed him the texts they had; and, with the money he gave them, printed more. In the end the PL480 programme saved 8,000 books, each of which was printed in 20 or so copies for American centres of research.....

In 1999 Mr Smith set up the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre, first in Boston and then in New York, and set about putting his 12,000-volume collection, the largest anywhere, online. By his death he and his team had scanned 7m pages of text and had made CDs of files, such as the 110-volume kangyur, or teachings of the Buddha, which were too huge to download. As for the books themselves, he left them to a university in China: the place where, despite everything, he felt Tibetan Buddhism would eventually flourish again.
Perhaps Mr. Smith merits a posthumous award of the Jikji Memory of the World Prize.

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