What I Don’t Know about Death

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“Written in the last months of life, What I Don’t Know about Death is a deeply nostalgic, insight-filled work of a truly American Buddhism, a heartfelt reflection on one person’s journey from an all-American childhood in 1950s Michigan, to India of the 1970s, and on through a life of teaching and contemplation to its heartbreaking end. Sandy Huntington passes effortlessly through the imagined walls between the personal and the academic, weaving a tale from strands of memory, Buddhist thought, literature, and modern life. Just as his in-person teachings and profound conversations did so often, this beautifully written book leaves one floating through a space of emptiness, awareness, and the gentle magic of existence.”—Jake Dalton, University of California, Berkeley

What I Don’t Know about Death is a brilliant synthesis of Huntington’s lifelong spiritual and scholarly quest to uncover the truth of what it means to be human. It is one of the finest books on contemporary Buddhism to have emerged from the generation of those who lived and studied in India in the 1970s, then returned home to digest and share what they learned. Completed as the author was dying of cancer, this beautifully crafted and profound work will serve as a lasting tribute to the author’s integrity, intelligence, and humanity.”—Stephen Batchelor, author of
The Art of Solitude

“Sandy Huntington’s Emptiness of Emptiness made a seminal contribution to the study of Madhyamaka philosophy in the West. Yet for Huntington, the study of Madhyamaka was not simply an intellectual pursuit. As this book shows, the Middle Way was at the center of his reflections on birth, death, suffering, and liberation, providing a key to his understanding of a life well lived. Following this moving autobiographical sketch, the reader will come to understand why Huntington considered the study of Nagarjuna as ‘among the most profound and satisfying experiences of my life.’”—Jan Westerhoff, University of Oxford


Reflections on Buddhism and Mortality

C. W. Huntington Jr.

In the winter of 2020 a renowned scholar of Asian religions, lifelong meditator, and novelist accustomed to vigorous health received a terminal diagnosis. By summer his cancer had run its course. In the short time in between, C. W. “Sandy” Huntington faced his own impending death, leading him to reconsider the teachings and practices, as well as philosophy and literature, he had spent a lifetime pursuing. In this, his last book, you’ll join Sandy as he traverses the gap between knowledge and true wisdom. 

“Sandy Huntington urges his readers to face up to life’s fragility as well as its many gifts. Written with elegance and verve, What I Don’t Know about Death is a deep meditation on what it means both to wake up to and to let go of life. Drawing on his lifelong engagement with Buddhism, Huntington remains a consummate teacher who demands intellectual honesty, humility, and compassion from his readers no less than from himself. This book is an intellectual and spiritual offering to Huntington’s students, past and future.”

—Leora Batnitzky, Ronald O. Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies and professor of religion, Princeton University 

What I Don’t Know about Death is a deeply personal, intellectually rigorous, and philosophically profound exploration of death, and in particular of Sandy’s own death, which he faced with exemplary grace, honesty, and clarity as he wrote this book. This is a gift of remarkable beauty that can open our hearts and minds to this most difficult topic. Read it and weep, with tears of grief, gratitude, and illumination.”

—Jay L. Garfield, Smith College and the Harvard Divinity School

book information
  • Paperback
  • 174 pages, 6 x 9 inches
  • $16.95
  • ISBN 9781614297505
  • ebook
  • 174 pages
  • $11.99
  • ISBN 9781614297659
about the author
What I Don’t Know about Death

C. W. “Sandy” Huntington Jr. was born February 24, 1949, and grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, walking distance from Michigan State University, where he later attended college. He earned his PhD in Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan under the guidance of Luis Gómez, training in Sanskrit with Madhav Deshpande and then, while living in India (1976–79), with Ambika Datta Upadhyaya and Ram Shankar Tripathi. Sandy would return to India, especially Banaras, many times during his life; for him it was a second home.

Sandy first taught at Antioch College’s Buddhist Studies in India program, then at the University of Michigan and Denison College, before joining the faculty at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. There he inspired undergraduates for more than two decades, receiving numerous awards for teaching.

As a scholar, Sandy urged his colleagues in Buddhist philosophy to reflect on their hermeneutical assumptions. His provocative critiques were marked by unusual creativity; he not only deconstructed old ways of reading but also offered new ones. This is evident in his seminal work on Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara, which was published as The Emptiness of Emptiness (Hawaii UP, 1989). Sandy was also a gifted writer for non-academic audiences, making philosophical ideas accessible and rendering them with literary flair, as with his acclaimed novel, Maya (Wisdom Publications, 2015).

Sandy passed away peacefully on July 19, 2020, following a six-month struggle with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by Liz, his beloved wife of thirty-five years, and their two children, Sam and Katie.

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