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Buddhist Scholar, Teacher, and Unitarian Universalist Gene Reeves Dies

Reverend Doctor Gene Reeves, respected Buddhist scholar and teacher, and Unitarian Universalist minister, died on Wednesday, Patheos blogger James Ford has reported. He is survived by his wife Yayoi Reeves and two daughters.

Reeves said of himself: “I am . . . a professional philosopher and think of myself, to some degree, as a philosopher. Being a philosopher is part of my identity. And it seems to me, it is part of my identity whether I choose it or not. It’s true, of course, that I originally made a choice to study philosophy and, in that sense, to become a philosopher. But since then, it has been part of my identity, part of my being—whether I like it or not. In one sense it is a chosen identity; in another it is not.” (Dharma World Magazine)

Born and raised in a small industrial town in New Hampshire, Reeves graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a psychology degree, and then pursued a degree in theology at Boston University, subsequently gaining a PhD in philosophy from Emory University.

Reverend Doctor Gene Reeves. From
Reverend Doctor Gene Reeves. From

Before he retired, Reeves taught at the University of Tsukuba and Rikkyo University in Japan, the University of Peking in China, and at the University of Chicago Divinity School and Meadville Lombard Theological School, Wilberforce University in Ohio, and Tufts University, and Antioch College in the United States. 

Reeves lived in Tokyo for more than two decades, where he studied, taught, and practiced Buddhism as encapsulated in the Lotus Sutra, for which he also published a widely respected modern translation from Chinese into English—The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic (Wisdom Publications 2008)—that was intended to appeal to readers with little familiarity with Buddhist vocabulary, as well as long-time practitioners and students.


His most recent book is the companion volume The Stories of the Lotus Sutra (Wisdom Publications 2010). A Buddhist Kaleidoscope: Essays on the Lotus Sutra, which Reeves edited, was published in 2002 by Kosei Publishing. 

Reeves was a co-founder of, and served as special minister at, the Tokyo-headquartered International Buddhist Congregation, a Buddhist community dedicated to practicing and sharing the Buddha’s teaching, as part of the much larger Rissho Kosei-kai lay Buddhist movement. In addition, Reeves helped found the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and acted as a consultant to the Niwano Peace Foundation.

He was also an advisor to the Japan Liaison Committee of the International Association for Religious Freedom and participated in various activities of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.

In 2012, Reeves retired as distinguished professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, while continuing to conduct field research on contemporary Chinese Buddhism in China. He participated in the World Buddhist Forum in China and in the International Lay Buddhist Forum in Korea and Spain.

Reeves was active supporter for more than 50 years of civil rights causes, working with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. He was also active for many years in interfaith conversations and organizations.

In an article for Dharma World Magazine, Reeves recounted of his life: “. . .  I was raised Christian. At 20 I became a Unitarian. At 30 I became a Unitarian Universalist. And at 50 I became a Buddhist. But not once did I think of those becomings as a conversion from one faith to another. And so I remain, in my own self-understanding, Christian, Unitarian, Universalist, and Buddhist.”

Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion dictating no creed, but dedicated toward a shared search for spiritual growth and development expressed in seven principals, defined as: The inherent worth and dignity of every person; Justice, equity and compassion in human relations; Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; A free and responsible search for truth and meaning; The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

See more

Gene Reeves, Unitarian Universalist Minister, Buddhist Scholar & Teacher (Patheos)
Multiple Belonging (Dharma World Magazine)
Gene Reeves (Wisdom Publications)
Rissho Kosei-kai
International Buddhist Congregation

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