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Former UH professor shared compassion of Shin Buddhism

  • JAMM AQUINO / 2015

    Al Bloom sits with his beloved statue of Amida Buddha at his Kailua home. The scholar and theologian, who dedicated his career to the teachings of Shin Buddhism, died Friday at the age of 91.

Professor Alfred Bloom, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Shin Buddhism and a proponent of its compassion for all beings, is going to get the final word at his funeral service Saturday, says his daughter Lily Bloom Domingo.

“He does not want a eulogy. My brother and I will be reading my father’s words — it’s very positive, very uplifting, and it’s very Alfred Bloom — forever the professor, forever the lecturer,” she said, laughing.

Bloom was 91 when he died Friday at St. Francis Hospice in Nuuanu after a history of heart problems. Memorial services will be held at 4 p.m. at the Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin, headquarters of the statewide Shin Buddhist sect, preceded by visitation at 2:30 p.m.; a reception will follow.

Bloom elected to be monitored by hospice care two years ago while still living in Kailua with his family, but entered St. Francis only in June. In a 2015 interview, Bloom said he hoped to be remembered for sharing Amida Buddha’s compassion for all people through his many books and spiritual articles on the teachings of Shinran Shonin. The Shin sect founder taught that by the “fantastic” grace of Amida, everyone would receive salvation and reach nirvana without going through eons of rebirths and realms of hell: “There is no karmic retribution — that’s radical in view of 90 percent of Buddhist tradition.”

Bishop Eric Matsumoto, head of the Hawaii Betsuin, said in an emailed statement: “We have not only lost a great scholar and theologian of great magnitude, but a dear fellow traveler on the path of dharma. On the one hand, the Jodo Shin Buddhist community around the world grieves the passing of Dr. Alfred Bloom, as we will no longer be able to look forward to more of his insightful writings. But on the other hand, we rejoice … as he attains the Great Enlightenment. However, books inevitably contain an epilogue, so too, we look forward to his life’s epilogue.”

George Tanabe, emeritus professor of religion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said via email: “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 UH 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.”

Born Nov. 9, 1926, in Philadelphia, Bloom graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1963. He was an associate professor of religion at the University of Oregon from 1961 to 1970, a UH-Manoa professor from 1970 to 1986 and dean of the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, Calif., from 1986 to 1994. After retiring in 1994, he and his wife, Dorothy Nell Pease Bloom, returned to Hawaii where he continued writing and lecturing.

He founded the Futaba Memorial Lecture Series on Buddhism and supported the Pacific Buddhist Academy. In 2002 Bloom received the Living Treasures of Hawaii Award from the Hongwanji Legislative Assembly. In 2016 he received the Third Annual President’s Award from the Institute of Buddhist Studies.

Bloom Domingo said what she will miss the most about her father are “his bright blue eyes,” adding, “There was a very intense sparkle of how much he engaged life. … His humor, his intellect, his passion for things, that were always in his bright blue eyes.”

Politics and religion were discussed 90 percent of the time at the dinner table in the home she and her husband, retired Methodist minister Samuel L. Domingo, shared with her parents for 20 years. Although some of their acquaintances have been mystified or dismayed at how Christianity and Buddhism could be reconciled, she said, “No one in our household wants a faith that divides us from other living things. There were no arguments; there were discussions, explorations and the exchange of ideas. And we’re all headed in the same direction” by way of “love and compassion.”

Besides Bloom’s wife of 66 years and his daughter Bloom Domingo, he is survived by son Ross T. Bloom of Oregon, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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