A fortuitous combination of events and personalities has made the University of Virginia Library the repository of one of the most extensive collections of Tibetan literature in the world. In the early 1960's the United States instituted a federal program, Public Law 480, which provided wheat to developing countries in exchange for currency available only for spending in those countries. Much of what was procured by the United States was in the form of printed material such as books, newspapers, and other documents. In 1962, then-University Librarian, John Cook Wyllie, made it possible for Alderman Library to become one of the few U.S. institutions to benefit from the PL-480 program. Tibetan printed materials from the exile communities in India comprised an important portion of the Library's acquisitions during this period. It was also fortunate that from the beginning the first curator of the Tibetan Collection, the late Richard B. Martin, devoted such special care and attention to it. From its inception to the present, the collection has continued to receive Tibetan books through this federal program and, with its policy of buying all printed works in the Tibetan language, has also added a great number of signicant works independently of PL-480. The Tibetan Collection now supports the research of students and faculty in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. Because the texts are primarily in Tibetan, few others know about or use this rich resource, and it has never before been exhibited. Nevertheless, in spite of any obstacles of language or access, interest in Tibet, its people, and its great cultural and religious traditions, continues to grow in the West.
It is our wish with this exhibition to demystify the sacred Tibetan texts on death and dying and to create an opportunity to share the wisdom of these ancient beliefs and practices with the University community and beyond. We hope that all who visit the exhibition may find in it some insight and inspiration and that the rich legacy of Tibetan Buddhism will endure in the hearts and minds of all who wish to create a happier, more peaceful world.
Without the dedication and commitment of four key people this exhibition would not have happened. Bryan J. Cuevas agreed to curate the show in spite of the fact that he would be going to India months before it was to be installed. From late spring of 1996 until he left the country in April, 1997, he developed the concept of the exhibition, selected texts for display, and wrote the catalogue. It was the first time I've known a catalogue to be written months before the final deadline! Wisely, Bryan also deputized three colleagues to work on other aspects of the exhibition after he left. Gregory A. Hillis, Nawang Thokmey, and Steven Weinberger took up the torch and carried on. Greg was the expert on Tibetan art, and in addition to helping select the art objects for display, he also wrote their catalogue descriptions. Nawang greatly facilitated, in many ways, our use of texts from the Tibetan Collection, which is neither located in the Special Collections Department where the exhibition is located, nor administered by it. Steve was our editor and Mac wizard, dealing with diacritics and disks, proofreading and press releases, and with finally making sure everything was in the right place in the exhibit cases. I am very much aware of how much time these four dedicated souls spent on work that was summed up here in so few words, and I am deeply grateful to each of them. I am also indebted to the following people whose combined efforts have been instrumental in the success of this exhibition: Jeffrey Hopkins, David Germano, Daniel Perdue, Ida Smith, Amanda Morgan, Cecile Clover, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and the Ligmincha Institute, Tashi Dolkar, Georgiana McCabe, Toni Huber, Khedup Gyatso, Diane Nelson, Maricel Cruz Hillis, George Riser, Kendon Stubbs, Jeanne Hammer, Ken Jensen, Mike Furlough, Felicia Johnson, Jean Collier and the Bayly Museum of the University of Virginia, and Joe Dye, Lisa Hancock, Karen Daly and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Associate Director for Special Collections