We were saddened to learn about the passing of Alfred Bloom on August 25, 2017 but heartened that so many appreciate what he accomplished and that his legacy continues. Bloom Sensei was 91.
BDK America was publisher of his 1992 book, Strategies for Modern Living, under the auspices of the Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research. The publication was a special project of BDK's founder, the late Yehan Numata. The book presents a translation of the Tannisho and extensive commentary, based on radio addresses by Bloom on the Tannisho broadcast from the Moiliili Hongwanji Temple in Honolulu.
Many who knew Bloom Sensei first learned of his death by way of the loving notice (see right) posted by his family on Bloom's website, Shin Dharma Net.
Appreciation in the Honolulu Star Advertiser
The Obituary in Bloom's local paper, "Former UH professor shared compassion of Shin Buddhism," is filled with appreciation of Bloom Sensei's accomplishments.
“We have not only lost a great scholar and theologian of great magnitude, but a dear fellow traveler on the path of dharma," noted Bishop Eric Matsumoto, head of the Hawaii Betsuin.
George Tanabe, head of BDK America and BDK Hawaii, added his comments: “Al Bloom was a pioneering scholar of Jodo Shinshu (Hongwanji) Buddhism and was recognized as such at the international level. I knew little about the local Buddhist temples when I started teaching [at University of Hawaii Manoa] in 1977, and was amazed by Al’s knowledge. He drew me into his circle of connections, and I learned so much from him. As a non-Japanese scholar of Japanese religion, Al was truly and rarely remarkable in the impact he had on the local community.”
A Long Life in Brief
Bloom Sensei was born 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when Buddhism was not so well known on the U.S. mainland. In his youth Bloom was exposed to both Jewish and Christian spirituality (from his father and mother respectively). He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1944, performing his service in occupied Japan, drawing on his studies of Japanese at the University of Pennsylvania. While in Japan he also promoted fundamentalist Christianity, and ironically it was the discussion of Christianity by a minister to a Japanese audience that first introduced Bloom to Amida Buddha. Later Bloom returned to spiritual studies at the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania from 1947 to 1951. Having earned his BA. and Th.B. he continued at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Massachusetts in 1953 and earned his B.D. and S.T.M.
Bloom studied Chinese Buddhism and Japanese language at the Harvard–Yenching Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he gained his doctorate with a thesis on Shinran Shonin. His academic career included a stint as Proctor for Center for the Study of World Religions and Teaching Fellow in History of Religion, both at Harvard Divinity School; lecturer at Newton Junior College in Newton, Massachusetts; Associate Professor and then Professor of Religion, University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa; and Dean and Honganji Professor of Shin Buddhism, both at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley, California. When he left IBS in 1988 he was a young 61 and had 30 more years of study, teaching, and writing in his future. In the 1990s he received tokudo, kyoshi, and kaikyoshi ordination as a Jodo Shinshu priest. In 2002 he received the Living Treasures of Hawaii Award from the Hongwanji Legislative Assembly and in 2016 the Third Annual President’s Award from IBS.
Bloom Sensei is survived by his wife of 66 years, Dorothy Nell Pease Bloom; daughter Lily Bloom Domingo of Hawaii; son Ross T. Bloom of Oregon; and six grandhildren and six great-grandchildren. In a similar fashion he is survived by generations of Buddhist scholars and followers of the Dharma, all of whom were assisted by his insights and support. In addition to numerous publications and the Shin Dharma Net website, his legacy includes the Futaba Memorial Lecture Series on Buddhism.
To Learn More/Sources
Recent National Coverage
After we posted our remembrance more appreciations also appeared in national and international publications, including
- James Ford, "Noting the Passing of American Buddhist Pioneer Alfred Bloom," Patheos, August 29, 2017.
- Sam Littlefair, "Alfred Bloom, Scholar of Shin Buddhism, Dies at 91," Lion's Roar, August 30, 2017.