A Tribute to Rita Gross 

Posted: January, 2016

Rita Gross, Professor Emerita from University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and co-founder of the Society, died November 11, 2015, after a short illness.  On Friday, November 20th, at the Society Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Rita’s friends and colleagues joined together at the Atlanta Shambhala Center for a memorial and Buddhist funeral ceremony of Sukhavati, conducted by Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown.  

Her longtime colleague, Terry Muck, who co-edited the Society Journal with Rita, has submitted the attached obituary as tribute to her and her work with the Society.  

In addition, the 2011 edition of the Journal that published papers assessing Rita's many contributions in various fields, can be found here.  


A Deploration for Rita Gross

Fellow travelers, professors of disciplines, deep thinkers from all nations,

transform and utilize your super powers to make lamentation and musement.

For death has taken one of us, one of the best of us, Rita Gross, 

she of the generous mind, pointed voice, and unfathomable spirit.

With golden words remove both sting and delusion from Rita’s long journey; 

With soothing verbal signposts, guide her to the harbor of new life. 

As you join Streng and Abe and Chappell and countless others in the beyond, 

dear Rita, requiem aeternam, boon companion. Amen.


    I heard the news about Rita’s stroke on Sunday, October 25, 2015. I was flying home to Wood Hill, our Wisconsin retreat, from a lecture I had given in California. I was to stay overnight with my sister Brenda in St. Paul before driving home the next day. I immediately realized I could easily drive through Eau Claire, Wisconsin where Rita lived and was in hospital. I asked Rita’s good friend, Mary Ellen Strand, if it was okay to visit Rita. She said of course it was okay, and I made plans to arrive between 10:30 and 11:00 the next morning.

    Rita was a very good friend. We had known each other since the founding of the Society for Buddhist Christian Studies in the early 1990s. I served on several committees with her before we became co-editors of the Society’s journal, Buddhist Christian Studies. During our decade long co-editorship, we met at least three times a year to plan and execute issues of the annual publication. We met once at the annual meeting of the Society in November, once in the spring at her home in Eau Claire or at my summer retreat at Wood Hill. and we usually found ourselves together for at least one common scholarly meeting somewhere in the country where we did some editorial work. We worked well together. 

    We worked well together in spite of the fact that we were polar opposites in almost every way. Rita was Buddhist, I was Christian. She was socially and theologically liberal, I was conservative. She knew everyone in the scholarly Buddhist world, my contacts were mostly Christian. But we agreed on the nature of editorial work, helping authors do their best work and resisting the temptation to insist they say what we wanted them to say. We liked and respected one another’s positions, and found ourselves able to agree to disagree when differences arose. It was an excellent partnership.

    Rita was a model scholar. She was a master at discerning and stating the core question on any issue, insisted on basing her eventual conclusions on facts that she moved heaven and earth to discover, and she was a beautiful, clear writer. Although she was not a polemicist, at least to the degree many in her fields of study were, she had a way of presenting her conclusions and their implications in such a compelling way that it was almost as if she were looking you in the eye and saying, “Really, is there any other way to see this?”

    Rita liked most to work in areas of overlap among her primary areas of expertise, Tibetan Buddhism, feminism, and religious diversity. She wrote and edited several books and scores of essays. Among the books my personal favorites are Buddhism After Patriarchy, a feminist critique of traditional Buddhist teaching, and Religious Diversity, a compelling statement on why and how men and women, and members of different religions, could and should work and live together in peace. 

    Rita was a mainstay in the Society for Buddhist Christian Studies. She was an indispensable part of the core group of scholars who founded the Society, and over the years she held every position of leadership. Our international meetings held every four years were organizational nightmares, and no matter what her official leadership position at the time, Rita pitched in to make sure the meetings worked. They invariably did, due in no small measure to Rita’s great store of practical wisdom on which plenaries and what panels should be included in order to properly cover the theme.

    Rita was a ferocious gardener. And she was good at it. During the summers in Eau Claire her outdoor garden was extensive and beautiful. For the rest of the year her house was filled with plants. Hospice workers who cared for Rita at the end, in addition to their caregiving duties for Rita, were expected to water hundreds of plants—and, of course, feed and pet Rita’s two Abyssinian cats.

    Rita passed on November 11, 2015 at 6:45 pm. She was at peace and did not appear to suffer. The body was washed and perfumed with saffron in the traditional Tibetan manner. Friends sat with the body for three days before it was cremated. In accordance with her wishes, Rita’s ashes were sprinkled at the Lotus Pond at Mindrolling Lotus Garden Retreat Center in central Virginia where Rita was one of the senior teachers.

—Terry C. Muck

Wood Hill, Fall 2015


Online Tibetan Learning Courses

Excellent source of online courses on Buddhist Thought and Tibetan Language for Buddhists of any lineage; very welcoming to Christians.

Proceeds from registration fees go to rebuilding monastic study centers damaged in the Nepal Earthquake.


New Catholic-Buddhist Dialogue at the Vatican

Pope Francis reopened Buddhist-Catholic dialogue with a rare gathering at the Vatican Summer Palace, June 23-27, 2015.  The forty-six invited Buddhists were from five cities in the United States:  New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.  In his address, Pope Francis observed, “these small gestures are seeds of peace.”

Find out more: http://www.romereports.com/2015/06/24/pope-francis-meets-with-buddhist-leaders-oethese-small-gestures-are-seeds-of-peace

Parliament of the World’s Religions, October 15-19, 2015, Salt Lake City

The Parliament of the World’s Religions, convened roughly every four years in a different part of the globe, is scheduled this year in Salt Lake City, Utah, from October 15-19. 


The original Parliament of the World’s Religions, an historic international gathering in Chicago in 1893 celebrating the multiplicity of the world’s religions, is widely considered the birth of the interreligious dialogue movement.  In celebration of the centenary of the original Parliament, a Parliament was held in Chicago in 1993, and a series of Parliaments have been convened in international locations:  1999 in Cape Town; 2004 in Barcelona; 2007 in Monterrey, Mexico; 2009 in Melbourne.  The Salt Lake gathering is the first in the U.S. in over twenty years.


The conference is four days of events, interreligious dialogues, and celebrations of religious diversity.  Presentators include the XIV Dalai Lama, Karen Armstrong, Oscar Arias, Rajendra Pachauri, Mairead MaGuire, and Tariq Ramadan.  


To see the full program, please see http://www.parliamentofreligions.org.  

Interfaith Youth Corps Holds Fifth Conference in Washington D.C.


Eboo Patel’s IFYC is holding its fifth annual President’s Community Service Interfaith Interfaith Challenge National Gathering, hosted by Howard University, from September 10th, 2015 to September 11th, 2015.  They invite campus delegations to attend, and to commit to interfaith community service on their respective campuses.  


To find out more and register, follow these links.