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Jan Willis Ph.D.

Jan Willis has been marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – whom she calls “that African-American bodhisattva of our time”, and opening to Buddhism as a way to heal the deep wounds of racism. To those who think activism is not necessarily a part of Buddhism she responds: “Activism goes all the way back to when the Buddha first stood up under that Bodhi tree”.

Jan Willis Ph.D. is professor emerita of religion at Wesleyan University, where she taught courses in Buddhist religion and philosophy since 1977. She is one of the earliest American scholar-practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, having studied Buddhism with Tibetan teachers for more than forty years, including as one of the first western students of Lama Thubten Yeshe.

Jan Willis discovered dharma as a path to healing the trauma of racism growing up in the segregated south and has forged paths for the integration of Buddhism and social and political justice.

She is the author of the memoir Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist (2001) and scholarly and popular works on Buddhist meditation, hagiography, women, and Buddhism, and Buddhism and race. She has been on shortlists and profiled by Time, Ebony, and Newsweek.

In the Fall of 2017, Jan Willis offered a three-week course at Maitripa College USA entitled “Making the Invisible, Visible: The Other Side of ‘Perfect’: A Multi-media and Interactive Exploration of Race and Racism in the US,” as well as a public talk.  The intention of the course was, in the safety and sanctity of a Buddhist environment, to explore the deep and troubling issues of race and racism in our country and in our lives. The course explored such questions as: “How does Buddhism help us to recognize our biases?” and “How does it provide meaningful solutions?”

See also:

Dr. Jan Willis on “Making the Invisible, Visible: a Discussion on Ignorance, Race, and Bias” (Mandala Magazine)

“A Genuine Guru: Jan Willis Remembers Lama Yeshe” (Mandala magazine)

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