september, 2019

17sep18:0021:00Event OverEvent OverJan Willis, PhD: Buddhism and Activism, public talk


(Tuesday) 18:00 - 21:00 CET


Event Details

”Buddhism and Activism”, Public Talk by Professor Jan Willis

How do we – Buddhists or non-Buddhists – engage with practice, with others and ourselves, in order to create a more compassionate, just and fair world? How can we recognize and transform our biases to enact the principle taught by the Dalai Lama –  that all beings are exactly the same; not wanting suffering and all wanting happiness? How can we contribute to a better world?


Being a Bodhisattva in the Modern World

In this talk, Professor Jan Willis will discuss how to apply the traditional Buddhist teachings on bodhichitta to life in our modern world. What does it mean to be a bodhisattva today? 

– Buddha was an activist the day he stood up and started to give teachings, says Professor Willis.

Buddha Shakyamuni was a democrat and radical for more than 2500 years ago: everyone was welcome to his community, besides monks and laymen, he allowed people of all casts and nuns and laywomen to join. Still after 2600 years, this is radical, the cast-system is still existing, and womens role is still under a discussion on all parts of the world.


Life of Professor Jan Willis

Jan Willis grew up in deep South of US, Alabama as the daughter of a Baptist deacon and steelworker – and with the legacy of slavery. One street in her city separated the white and black neighbourhoods. The Ku Klux Klan, white supremacist hate group, even burned a cross outside Willis’s house, as she crouched inside, expecting to die.

At the age of 15 she marched with Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr in Birmingham Alabama. Dr King had found Birmingham as the most segregated city in entire US. During six weeks they had silent non-violent marches on downtown, and during six weeks they were surrounded with hatred.
Dr King, in order to keep the groups calm, told her and others: “They are not only what you see in front of you, they are more, even they go home and kiss the baby and have family-life”. This was a real Buddhist teaching , says Jan Willis, decades after.

This was the time of 60ÂŽs, time of the non-violent Civil Rights movement, Vietnam War – and hippies travelling to East.  Dr King was in contact with Tic Nhat Than, and Jan Willis also became interested in Buddhism.

Meeting Lama Yeshe changed everything. Buddhism helped to heal the wounds from racism

When she graduated from the college, Willis was considering two options: go to Nepal and study Buddhism or join the Black Panthers and fight for black rights – “peace or a piece,” as she puts it.
She chose the peace, went to Nepal and met Lama Yeshe at Kopan Monastery in 1969, becoming one of his earliest students.

And everything in her life changed. Buddhism taught her compassion and self-acceptance. Lama Yeshe encouraged her academic studies, and her self confidence. It led her to her job, teaching Buddhism at Wesleyan University. And it even taught her how to make peace with the Baptist church of her childhood.

”Buddhist meditation taught her how to endure a slight and let it go, to pray deeply for the good of humankind, so that all may find inner peace. It’s a subtle kind of love.

“You’re aware of your common humanity,” she says. “You want them to avoid suffering.” This realization enabled her, after more than 30 years away, to finally feel at home in her father’s Baptist church.  And it leads her to call herself today, by that rarest of appellations–an African-American Baptist Buddhist”. ~Newsweek article about Professor Willis 2005



Buddhist Scholar, Teacher, and Practitioner


Jan Willis, Ph.D, has had a distinguished career as a scholar and teacher of Buddhism spanning fifty years. She first met Tibetan Buddhists in India and Nepal at the age of nineteen and went on to earn degrees in Philosophy and Indic and Buddhist Studies from Cornell and Columbia Universities.

She has taught at UC Santa Cruz, the University of Virginia and at Wesleyan University and now –in retirement–teaches part-time at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA.

Her areas of expertise are Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhist saints’ lives, Women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and Race and she has published works in all of these areas.

Coming from Birmingham, AL. she has begun leading workshops which explore Race and Racism through a Buddhist Lens.

Her memoir ”Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist. An African American Woman®s Spiritual Journey” was published 2001.


TIME Magazine named Professor Willis one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millennium.”(Dec 2000).
She was a recipient of Wesleyan University’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. (2003)
Newsweek’s “Spirituality in America” issue included a profile of her and (Sept 2005),
Ebony magazine named Willis one of its “Power 150” most influential African Americans (May 2007).

READ MORE about Jan Willis:

We offer 20% discount for students, unemployed, and retired. To use this discount, please add the course to the cart, click on Checkout, and in the box “Coupon code” type in “Reduced Course Fee“.


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Speakers for this event

  • Jan Willis Ph.D.

    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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