Annabella Pitkin

May 20, 2022

Renunciation and Longing

The Life of a Twentieth-Century Himalayan Buddhist Saint

University of Chicago Press 2022

In the early twentieth century, Khunu Lama journeyed across Tibet and India, meeting Buddhist masters while sometimes living, so his students say, on cold porridge and water. Yet this elusive wandering renunciant became a revered teacher of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. At Khunu Lama’s death in 1977, he was mourned by Himalayan nuns, Tibetan lamas, and American meditators alike. The many surviving stories about him reveal significant dimensions of Tibetan Buddhism, shedding new light on questions of religious affect and memory to reimagine cultural continuity beyond the binary of traditional and modern.

In Renunciation and Longing: The Life of a Twentieth-Century Himalayan Buddhist Saint (U Chicago Press, 2022), Annabella Pitkin explores intersecting imaginaries of devotion, renunciation, and the teacher-student lineage relationship. By examining narrative accounts of the life of a remarkable twentieth-century Himalayan Buddhist and focusing on his remembered identity as a renunciant bodhisattva, Pitkin illuminates Tibetan and Himalayan practices of memory, affective connection, and mourning. Refuting long-standing caricatures of Tibetan Buddhist communities as unable to be modern because of their religious commitments, Pitkin shows instead how twentieth- and twenty-first-century Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist narrators have used themes of renunciation, devotion, and lineage as touchstones for negotiating loss and vitalizing continuity.

Jue Liang is scholar of Buddhism in general, and Tibetan Buddhism in particular. My research examines women in Tibetan Buddhist communities past and present using a combination of textual and ethnographical studies.

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Jue Liang

Jue Liang is a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism. She is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Severance Professor in the History of Religion at Case Western Reserve University.
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