The Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, was given by the U.S. Congress to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet on Oct. 17. The award recognizes the Dalai Lama’s advocacy of religious harmony, nonviolence and human rights throughout the world.
In honor of the occasion, the Library of Congress presented a special display titled “Celebrating Tibet.” Comprising 40 Tibetan items, the display was on display in the Asian Reading Room during the week of the Dalai Lama’s visit to the United States.
“In honoring the Dalai Lama with the highest award Congress can bestow, we also honor the Tibetan people and their beautiful culture,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “By opening this collection to the public, the Library of Congress is offering many the opportunity for a new understanding of the history and faith of the Tibetan people.”
The display included seven rare Tibetan books from the 17th through 19th centuries, 30 books from the 20th and 21st centuries drawn from the Tibetan Collection and the Library’s general collections, several photographs of the region taken during the Ernst Schäfer expedition in the late 1930s and a large Tibetan prayer wheel containing 208 repetitions of 42 Tibetan texts, which would normally comprise 15 volumes. The rare volumes or sutras are highly decorative, featuring illuminated manuscripts, inks made from precious metals such as gold and handmade papers.
The Library’s Asian collection of more than 2 million items is the largest and most comprehensive outside of Asia. The Tibetan Collection, which now comprises 10,000 volumes, began in 1899 with a gift of several texts from William Woodville Rockhill, America’s first Tibetologist and U.S. diplomat in Beijing. This gift was followed by Rockhill’s donation of more than 70 original Tibetan books, which he had acquired in his travels in Tibet and Mongolia, and acquisitions during the 1920s and 1930s from two other scholars, Joseph Rock and Berthold Laufer.
In the 1960s, the Library’s New Delhi Office began acquiring and cataloging reprint editions of Tibetan books. Exchange agreements with scholarly institutions in China and four procurement missions to Tibet by Library staff in the 1990s helped the Library obtain current Tibetan publications, including new printings of old woodblock texts as well as modern Tibetan literature. The Library is also currently acquiring digital versions of Tibetan texts. For more information about the Library’s Asian collection, go to www.loc.gov/rr/asian/.