UBC Tianzhu-Hurvitz Lecture Series

We are proud to announce the UBC Tianzhu-Hurvitz Lecture Series, named for prominent academic and pioneer in the field of Buddhist Studies, Dr. Leon Hurvitz.  Dr. Hurvitz’s fascination with medieval Japanese led him to explore Buddhism, which became his main passion. He published numerous monumental works over the course of his career while also teaching at UBC for nearly twenty years. This lecture series invites distinguished scholars around the world to share and discuss their research at UBC in honour of Dr. Hurvitz’s contributions to the field.

This lecture series will start with an inaugural talk from Dr. Robert E. Buswell Jr. on September 12, 2019. Please visit this lecture link for more information.


About Professor Leon Hurvitz:

Professor Hurvitz came to the University of British Columbia at the peak of his career in 1971. Prior to this, he had already served at the University of Washington for sixteen years. He began his long romance with languages in his childhood, starting with the study of Hebrew at his synagogue and French at school. He went on to learn German as well. As an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, he chose to major in Latin and Greek. It was the Second World War that changed the direction of his scholarship. There was a notion at that time that classical scholars would have an advantage in learning Chinese and Japanese since they were already working with difficult languages. When Hurvitz was drafted, he was assigned to study Japanese in the Defense Department’s center for language training and translation. Not content just to learn the modern form of the language, he began to study on his own the classical language as well; he was a classical scholar after all. Professor Hurvitz has said that next to Greek, classical Japanese struck him as one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Hence, even after the war, he pursued studies in Japanese.

The study of medieval Japanese took him to Buddhism, which opened up another vista for inquiry. He would eventually ring the world with the study of languages in the pursuit of the history of the dissemination of Buddhism.

Leon Hurvitz is one of the giants in the field of Buddhist studies. Two works alone would have secured him a place on the honor roll of Buddhist scholars. One is his study of Chih-yi, Chih-yi (538-597): An Introduction to the Life and Ideas of a Chinese Buddhist Monk (Brussels, 1963). Chih-yi accomplished the monumental task of interpreting and systemetizing all the many schools of Buddhism that were active in China at that time. Out of this came the most catholic of the Buddhist schools of thought, T’ien T’ai, which in turn gave rise to all the other important schools from that point forward. Hurvitz’s study remains the standard work on Chih-yi in English. To produce a work that remains current over such a long period of time is no mean accomplishment. The other work that has assured his claim to fame is the translation of the Lotus Sutra, The Lotus of the True Dharma (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976). This work, based on the Kumarajiva Chinese version but carefully compared with the Sanskrit original, is generally acknowledged as the best translation of this most important scripture for East Asia. Of all the translations of the Lotus, Hurvitz’s best conveys the exquisite beauty and comforting message of the original. It is a work of literary as well as scholarly art. Many others of his publications deserve mention, but there is only room here for a few. Nonetheless, even on an abbreviated list, room must be made for his translation of Tsukamoto Zenryu’s History of Early Chinese Buddhism, with additional material by Hurvitz himself. Published in two volumes by Kodansha in 1985, it is monumental in scale and importance. Most recent to be published is Early Chinese Buddhism at Sixes and Sevens, with Shotaru Iida, Jain Publishing Company, 1989, a translation of Chitsang’s account of the traditions surrounding the creation of the first Buddhist schools on Chinese soil, with commentary by Ancho. Lastly, his selfless labor in recent years to complete Arthur Link’s translation of the works of Tao-an, a 4th century Chinese Buddhist monk, must be acknowledged. The translation was nearly completed at the time of Professor Link’s death, but might have been lost to the world had not Professor Hurvitz taken up the task of its completion.

Arntzen, Sonja. “Leon Hurvitz.” B.C. Asian Review 75th Anniversary Issue (1990): 29-38.

Leon Hurvitz passed away in 1992. A memorial page can be found on the UBC Department of Asian Studies website.