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Ron Epstein: Buddhist scholar and ethicist
Sep 15, 2018: Responsible Living: Explorations in Applied Buddhist Ethics


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Ron Epstein, Ph.D., is a Buddhist scholar and practitioner who has spent decades as a professor of Buddhist studies.  A prolific writer, translator, ethicist and activist who has authored countless pieces on the modern application of Buddhism and Buddhist ethics, he is a trustee, chancellor emeritus and professor emeritus at Dharma Realm Buddhist University, and a lecturer emeritus at San Francisco State University. He is author of the recent book, Responsible Living: Explorations in Applied Buddhist Ethics--Environment, Animals, GMOs, and Digital Media (March 2018), which applies Buddhist texts and academic references to contemporary ethical issues. Dr. Epstein is a graduate of Harvard University, holds a Master's degree in Chinese language and literature from the University See full.
Ron Epstein, Ph.D., is a Buddhist scholar and practitioner who has spent decades as a professor of Buddhist studies.  A prolific writer, translator, ethicist and activist who has authored countless pieces on the modern application of Buddhism and Buddhist ethics, he is a trustee, chancellor emeritus and professor emeritus at Dharma Realm Buddhist University, and a lecturer emeritus at San Francisco State University. He is author of the recent book, Responsible Living: Explorations in Applied Buddhist Ethics--Environment, Animals, GMOs, and Digital Media (March 2018), which applies Buddhist texts and academic references to contemporary ethical issues.

Dr. Epstein is a graduate of Harvard University, holds a Master's degree in Chinese language and literature from the University of Washington, and a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from University of California, Berkeley.  Born in Kentucky to a Jewish family, Ron’s father was a physician who served in World War II, during which time Ron was raised by his mother at his father’s parents’ home in what he termed to be a “rather unfriendly and materialistic upper middle class” suburb of Cleveland – waiting for his father to return from the war. He was first introduced to Buddhism while a freshman at Harvard, where he audited courses by well-known Christian theologian Paul Tillich. Later he felt a deep connection to Buddhist art. This led to an interest in meditation.

In the mid-60s, Ron Epstein moved to San Francisco to study Chinese.  “At my first glimpse of San Francisco Bay, I intuitively knew that I had finally found my home,” he recalled. “The following year I went to Taiwan to continue my studies and met my wife, Ocean, there. My initial academic plans changed when I got progressively more interested in studying and practicing Buddhism.”

Shortly after moving to San Francisco, Epstein rented a room in a run-down apartment building near the Japantown section. On the first floor lived a Chinese monk who held open meditation in his apartment every night. After attending these meditation sessions for several months, Epstein realized what a great teacher and human being this man was. His name was Master Hsuan Hua, who turned out to be a contributing figure in bringing Chinese Buddhism to the United States in the 20th century. Of him Epstein wrote, "My meditation experience while sitting with him was progressively transcendent, and after about 6 months I came to realize what a truly great teacher he was. During the many years I studied Buddhism with him, I never saw him perform a selfish act, either great or small, or put his own welfare before that of others."

And so at the age of 24, Epstein commenced his life-long study and practice of Buddhism with the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua (Xuanhua) – even as he continued his higher education and advanced degrees.  Around ten years later, shortly after Epstein obtained his doctorate degree in Buddhist Studies, Master Hua founded the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah, California, the administrative center of the international Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. A year later, Epstein moved there with his family to help found Dharma Realm Buddhist University, then later purchased a home nearby, and never left. 

Master Hua awarded Epstein the title Fojiao Jiaoshou (“Professor of Buddhism”) in 1978 and appointed him a chancellor of Dharma Realm Buddhist University in 1988.  In addition to teaching and offering educational resources on Buddhism and religion, Dr. Epstein has been a translator of Buddhist texts and has written extensively on a wide range of subjects. Among his book-length publications are The Surangama Sutra: A New Translation with Excerpts from the Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsüan Hua (co-chair, translation committee); Buddhist Text Translation Society’s Buddhism A to Z (compiler); and The Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra with the No Stand Gatha Explanation and Prose Commentary of Gold Mountain Tripitaka Master, Sramana Hsuan hua (principal translator).

Although his main area of expertise is Buddhist studies, Dr. Epstein also taught about environmental and animal ethics. In his local community, he co-sponsored legislation which harnessed local voices to take on industry and successfully ban for the first time on the county level the growing and raising of GMOs. He has also been an advocate of local campaign reform, having worked to craft successful city and county proposals to enact contribution limits and tighten up the reporting beyond the requirements of the state, and he is a co-founder of Mendocino County CARE (Compassion for Animals Respect for the Earth).

Join us in conversation with this compassionate, clear ethicist and scholar!


Five Questions for Ron

What Makes You Come Alive?
Those teaching moments when I was a conduit for wholesome energies and shared them with my students.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
When I was twenty, I had tea with a remarkable Bedouin tribesman in Oujda, Morocco.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
Every personal encounter with the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Learning to have more unselfish intentional moments of awareness than selfish ones.

One-line Message for the World?
"Try your best, everything is ok, be happy."


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