Born and raised in a small industrial town in New Hampshire, Reeves graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a psychology degree, and then pursued a degree in theology at Boston University, subsequently gaining a PhD in philosophy from Emory University.
Before he retired, Reeves taught at the University of Tsukuba and Rikkyo University in Japan, the University of Peking in China, and at the University of Chicago Divinity School and Meadville Lombard Theological School, Wilberforce University in Ohio, and Tufts University, and Antioch College in the United States.
Reeves lived in Tokyo for more than two decades, where he studied, taught, and practiced Buddhism as encapsulated in the Lotus Sutra, for which he also published a widely respected modern translation from Chinese into English--The Lotus Sutra: A Contemporary Translation of a Buddhist Classic (Wisdom Publications 2008)—that was intended to appeal to readers with little familiarity with Buddhist vocabulary, as well as long-time practitioners and students.
In an article for Dharma World Magazine, Reeves recounted of his life: “. . . I was raised Christian. At 20 I became a Unitarian. At 30 I became a Unitarian Universalist. And at 50 I became a Buddhist. But not once did I think of those becomings as a conversion from one faith to another. And so I remain, in my own self-understanding, Christian, Unitarian, Universalist, and Buddhist.”