Dr. Gene Reeves, longtime Treasurer of the Society, died on May 8 at his home in Chicago, cared for by his loving wife Yayoi. Here is a tribute to him by dear friend A. Charles Muller, Professor at Buddhist Culture Resource Center of Musashino University in Tokyo.
At Gene's passing, my first inclination was that of trying to help put together a proper, full, formal obituary. But when I began to consider the full scope of his long career, his diverse involvements with so many different groups and organizations (not to mention his full career at the University of Chicago before I met him), I felt that it would be rather beyond my means at the moment to try to put together a full account. Beyond his well-known deep involvement in the Risshō Kōsei Kai, he was an early and consistent support of the AAR (later on, especially in the Buddhist-Christian Studies Unit), and one of the central motivating figures in organizing conferences for the study of lay Buddhism.
My own friendship with Gene began soon after my 1994 arrival to Tokyo for my first academic teaching position. Actually, it was at the AAR (around '95 or '96) that we first met, and we had an instant bonding factor in our both being American expatriate scholars in Tokyo. Gene had been in Tokyo since 1990, and had recently retired from his position at Tsukuba University to take an important position in leading the Risshō Kōsei Kai into the direction of international scholarship. Gene very much wanted to establish an English-language Buddhist study group in Tokyo. We talked about it a couple of times, and then when Ken Tanaka arrived to Tokyo in 1997, the idea gelled, and we began to hold monthly meetings hosted by Gene and his angel of a wife, Yayoi, who prepared delicious dishes for our members every month.
The Tokyo Buddhist Discussion group [BDG] as it came to be known, held study sessions at Gene's apartment in Nakano on a monthly basis from then on. For many Westerners, it was nothing less than an intellectual oasis, as it allowed us a chance for paper presentations and rich discussions in the distinct North American style in which we had been trained. Gene delightfully led the challenges to the presentations, but we all joined in. We all learned a lot, and made many good friends. It was a great for we local regulars (continuing to present from the earliest days are Ken, me, Joe O'Leary, and Hiroshi Kanno) as well as all of the young scholars and visiting researchers who came and went during this period. Gene formed a community.
My friendship with Gene grew deep, such that we began to room together at the AAR, a tradition we continued for the greater part of a decade. I used to look forward to coming back to the room after a full day of sessions, meals, and whatever, and chat about what had transpired during the day. Gene was always traveling around the world, getting involved in new organizations, making friends, with his central driving force being the Lotus Sutra, the scripture that brought him to Japan and inspired his bodhisattva outlook. With the support of the Risshō Kōsei Kai, Gene established the annual Lotus Sutra seminar (which continues to the present), each year gathering specialists from all areas of Buddhist Studies and beyond, including Theologians, Confucians, and philosophers of every stripe to discuss this rich and enduring text. In 2008, Gene achieved a long-term goal of producing his own rendering of the sutra, titled The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic (Wisdom, 2008). This was followed by the 2010 publication (also by Wisdom) of The Stories of the Lotus Sutra.
Through his involvement with the Lotus Sutra, Gene had also gradually developed relationships within the world of Buddhist Studies in China, and this would lead him to eventually return to the academic world at Renmin University (around 2010, if I recall correctly), where he taught for a few years before finally retiring. After returning to Tokyo, Gene and Yayoi also spent much time at his home in Chicago. It was during this time after the Renmin stint that Gene's back troubles began to become more serious, and it became gradually more difficult for him to get around. Eventually he became limited to using a wheelchair, but still made it to the AAR and the 2017 IABS in Toronto.
During his time these past six months staying in St. Luke's Hospital and Keisatsu Hospital in Nakano, my wife and I went to visit him (and Yayoi) several times. He never complained about his condition. Rather, he would strike up an academic discussion, and try his best to draw me into a debate over some doctrinal point or other. There would be occasions when other visitors were waiting to see him, and no matter how tired he was, he always showed his happy bodhisattva face. Gene loved being with people, and he loved intellectual interaction. We were lucky to have caught him once more, just a couple of days before he left Japan for his final trip to Chicago. He was cheerful as always, not giving the slightest hint of the seriousness of his condition.
We will miss him.
A. Charles Muller, Professor
Buddhist Culture Research Center