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Annabelle Pitkin – Renunciation and the Practice of Care: Himalayan Buddhist Embodiments of Longing and Devotion

October 19, 2022 @ 5:00 pm 7:00 pm

Speaker: Annabella Pitkin, Assistant Professor of Buddhism and East Asian Religions, Lehigh University

Devotion plays a central role in Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist accounts of guru-disciple relationship, part of an ideal of indivisible connection between gurus and disciples. This theme of devotional connection intersects in complex ways with another influential Buddhist ideal, that of renunciation. Tibetan narratives of renunciation often highlight dynamics of separation, departure, and absence, dynamics that can appear in tension with the devotional ideal. Yet separation from the guru can also affectively energize practices of guru-devotion through generating longing, in ways that Tibetan and Himalayan commentators assert as soteriologically indispensable. 

This talk focuses on episodes from stories about the life of the twentieth century Himalayan Buddhist renunciant Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen (1895-1977) that highlight both his own intensive practices of renunciation, and the impact of his renunciation on his close disciples, both women and men. I consider ways in which Khunu Lama’s disciples attempted to practice forms of devotional care for him, while grappling with the separations his practice of renunciation required within their relationships. 

Annabella Pitkin is Assistant Professor of Buddhism and East Asian Religions at Lehigh University. Her research focuses on Tibetan Buddhist modernity, Buddhist ideals of renunciation, miracle narratives, and Buddhist biographies. She received her B.A. from Harvard and Ph.D. in Religion from Columbia, and has lived and traveled extensively in the Himalayan region, China, India, and Nepal. She is the author of Renunciation and Longing: The Life of a 20th Century Himalayan Buddhist Saint (Chicago).


October 19, 2022
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Event Category:


Buddhist Studies Forum
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Barker Center, Thompson Room

12 Quincy St
Cambridge, MA 02138

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