The Buddhist scholar and novelist C. W. “Sandy” Huntington, Jr. passed away on Sunday after a six-month bout with pancreatic cancer. Huntington was known foremost for his work in Mahayana Buddhist thought, in particular the Madhyamaka philosophy of India and Tibet. More recently, he published a novel, Maya (Wisdom Publications 2015), set in India in the 1970s, and wrote an article, “The Triumph of Narcissism: Theravāda Buddhist Meditation in the Marketplace,” critiquing certain psychotherapeutic models of teaching and understanding vipassanā meditation found in the West today.*
Until his death, Huntington served as a professor of religious studies at Hartwick College, in Oneonta, New York, where he won both the Margaret L. Bunn Award for Excellence in Teaching (2004) and the Teacher/Scholar Award (2019). Before teaching at Hartwick, Huntington worked at the University of Michigan, his alma mater, as well as Denison College and Antioch University’s Buddhist Studies in India program, based in Bodh Gaya.
As a doctoral student, Huntington was guided at the University of Michigan by Luis Gómez, himself a beloved and prolific scholar of Indian Buddhist thought. During this time, Huntington traveled to India to study Sanskrit and Tibetan with the great masters of the day, returning many times over his career. On one such visit, he translated Candrakīrti’s Madhyamakāvatāra with Geshé Namgyal Wangchen, later published as The Emptiness of Emptiness (Hawaii University Press 1989), a pioneering text in Buddhist philosophy. Huntington went on to work closely with fellow scholars on topics of hermeneutics and methodology in the study of Buddhist philosophy, asking scholars to look not only at what the texts mean, but what presuppositions and attitudes were influencing their own interpretations and understandings.
According to the Wisdom Publications’ obituary for Huntington, “Sandy was keen to engage his students in their full humanity, encouraging them to bring their intellect, their full selves, and even that which is beyond language into play when they engaged with the world. . . . Eight times he taught a course called ‘Near Death Experience,’ in which his students served as hospice volunteers while also reading about death and dying and meditating on their eventuality.” (Wisdom Publications)
Huntington’s interest in contemplations on death continued with him after his cancer diagnosis earlier this year. He dedicated himself to writing the forthcoming book What I Don’t Know About Death (Wisdom Publications 2021). The final chapter of the book concludes:
In order to live what is left of my life and die in peace, the wrathful deity of death is teaching me to give myself over to the human community and to a felt kinship with the nonhuman world, a world to which I have always belonged while never fully appreciating the significance of that belonging, a world where this failing body of mine is, like all bodies, a tiny, fleeting shadow in the immensity of creation. In only a few months the gestalt has shifted, and after a lifetime of study and practice of Buddhism I am only now learning, here in this prison of necessity, to release my grip on life and so to love life as it is in all its beauty and horror, to give myself over to the embrace of those infinite others, human and nonhuman—the earth in which we are rooted, teaming with beetles and grubs and worms, the grass and flowers and trees, the robin building a nest outside my window, the hawk circling high overhead, the clouds, wind, rain, and Sun—all of whom have nourished and sustained me throughout this long journey home. They are in me, and I am in them. We are inseparable. (Wisdom Publications)
Huntington has been remembered by fellow scholars and students as a wonderful role model and friend. He is survived by his wife, Liz, and their two children, Sam and Katie.
* Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 83, Issue 3, Sep 2015, pp 624–48
Remembering C.W. “Sandy” Huntington, A Beloved Wisdom Author (Wisdom Publications)
Review of MAYA: A NOVEL by C.W. (Sandy) Huntington, Jr. (Buddhist Fiction Blog)
OBITURARY> C.W. “Sandy” Huntington 1949–2020 (H-Buddhism)
C.W. Huntington, Jr.
A dos años de la partida de Luis Óscar Gómez Rodríguez (Buddhistdoor en Español)