Jan Willis is Professor Emerita of Religion at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Born in Docena, Alabama, in 1948 and profoundly affected by the Civil Rights movement, she majored in philosophy at Cornell University and met Buddhism while traveling in Asia in the 1970s. She went on to earn her PhD in Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and has studied with Tibetan Buddhists in India, Nepal, Switzerland, and the U.S. for over four decades. The author of several books and numerous articles and essays on Buddhist philosophy and history, meditation, women and Buddhism and Buddhism and race, her memoir Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist was first published in 2001. In December of 2000, Time named Willis one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millennium.” In 2003, she was a recipient of Wesleyan University’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. In September of 2005, Newsweek’s “Spirituality in America” issue included a profile of her and, in its May 2007 edition, Ebony magazine named Willis one of its “Power 150” most influential African Americans.
“This collection of essays by Jan Willis, penned over thirty years of study, teaching, and practice, is destined to become an authoritative resource in Buddhist scholarship and thought. Willis challenges many of our preconceptions, but asks no more and no less than what the Buddha asked: come, see, and experience for yourselves.”—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness
“From Birmingham to Bodhgaya, Jan bridges worlds like no other. Her essays are treasures of wisdom born from a remarkable life richly lived.”—Matthew T. Kapstein, author of Reason’s Traces: Identity and Interpretation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Thought
“This book is a blessing for us all—across cultures, across genders, across traditions.”—Larry Yang, author of Awakening Together: The Spiritual Practice of Inclusivity and Community
Women, Race, and Tantra
Jan Willis was among the first Westerners to encounter exiled Tibetan teachers abroad in the late sixties, instantly finding her spiritual and academic home. TIME Magazine named her one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millennium,” both for her considerable academic accomplishments and for her cultural relevance. Her writing engages head-on with issues current to Buddhist practitioners in America, including dual-faith practitioners and those from marginalized groups.
This collection of eighteen scholarly and popular essays spans a lifetime of reflection and teaching by Willis. Grouped in four sections—Women and Buddhism, Buddhism and Race, Tantric Buddhism and Saints’ Lives, and Buddhist-Christian Reflections—the essays provide timeless wisdom for all who are interested in contemporary Buddhism and its interface with ancient tradition.
- 368 pages
- ISBN 9781614295938
- 368 pages, 6 x 9 inches
- ISBN 9781614295686
Tibetan Art Calendar 2022
Coming soon! This book will be published in August 2021. Enter your name and email below to be notified when the book is available for purchase.
The Tibetan Art Calendar is a beautiful, affordable way to enjoy authentic, meaningful, and deeply inspiring works of sacred art, year-round.
This calendar features the artwork of Tibetan artist Tashi Dhargyal, who paints traditional subjects in the classical style, from goddesses of compassion to fierce protectors of the Buddha’s teachings. Tashi trained with master painter Venerable Sangye Yeshi at a school established at the behest of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. For five years he was the artist-in-residence at Ganden Jangtse Monastery before coming to the United States to continue his craftsmanship. This calendar features his most striking and powerful pieces, which will be enjoyed by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
The Extraordinary Life of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
One of the most revered spiritual figures of our time—His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama—tells the story of his life in this intimate, timeless, and approachable book. Featuring luminous illustrations from world-renowned artist Rima Fujita and some never-before-shared details, it’s the perfect way to explore the life of the Dalai Lama. This simple yet powerful text combined with stunning artwork will captivate readers of all ages—and will take you on a mystical journey you won’t soon forget.
“With my diagnosis of grade IV brain cancer, I no longer observe the truth of impermanence from a critical, analytical distance. I am crashing into it, or it into me.”
Facing a terminal cancer diagnosis, Karen Derris—professor, mother, and Buddhist practitioner—instinctually turned to books. By rereading ancient Buddhist stories with fresh questions and a new purpose in mind, she discovered evolving ways to make them immediate and real. Storied Companions interweaves Karen’s memoir of her lived experiences of trauma and terminal illness with stories from Buddhist literary traditions, sharing with the reader how she found ways to live fully even with the reality that she won’t live as long as she needs—or wants.
Using her knowledge, practice, and imagination, Karen illustrates how placing yourself within narratives can turn them from distant and static sources into companions, and from companions into guides. Reading along with her, you’ll realize how this practice of reading and these ancient narratives can help us come to terms with impermanence, develop empathy and compassion, and realize our own interconnectedness.
Honest, powerful, and insightful, Storied Companions itself becomes an invaluable companion, guiding the reader to discover new ways of facing and experiencing life, death, and impermanence.
Courageous Compassion, the sixth volume of the Library of Wisdom and Compassion, continues the Dalai Lama’s teachings on the path to awakening. The previous volume, In Praise of Great Compassion, focused on opening our hearts with love and compassion for all living beings, and the present volume explains how to embody compassion and wisdom in our daily lives. Here we enter a fascinating exploration of bodhisattvas’ activities across multiple Buddhist traditions—Tibetan, Theravāda, and Chinese Buddhism.
After explaining the ten perfections according to the Pāli and Sanskrit traditions, the Dalai Lama presents the sophisticated schema of the four paths and fruits for śrāvakas and solitary realizers and the five paths for bodhisattvas. Learning about the practices mastered by these exalted practitioners inspires us with knowledge of our minds’ potential. His Holiness also describes buddha bodies, what buddhas perceive, and buddhas’ awakening activities.
Courageous Compassion offers an in-depth look at bodhicitta, arhatship, and buddhahood that you can continuously refer to as you progress on the path to full awakening.
The Lamp for Integrating the Practices (Caryāmelāpakapradīpa)
The Lamp for Integrating the Practices (Caryāmelāpakapradīpa) by Āryadeva, is a systematic and comprehensive exposition of the most advanced yogas of the Esoteric Community Tantra (Guhyasamāja-tantra) as espoused by the Noble (Nāgārjuna) tradition, an influential school of interpretation within Indian Buddhist mysticism. Equal in authority to Nāgārjuna’s famous Five Stages (Pañcakrama), Āryadeva’s work is perhaps the earliest prose example of the “stages of the mantra path” genre in Sanskrit. Its systematic path exerted immense influence on later Indian and Tibetan traditions, and it is widely cited by masters from all four major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.
This volume presents the Lamp in a thoroughly annotated English translation. It includes an introductory study discussing the history of the Guhyasamāja and its exegetical traditions, surveying the scriptural and commentarial sources of the Nāgārjuna tradition, and analyzing in detail the contents of the Lamp. The book also features a detailed, trilingual glossary.
Simultaneously presented online for scholars are a version of its Sanskrit original, critically edited from recently identified manuscripts, and a critical edition of the eleventh-century Tibetan translation by Rinchen Zangpo, including notes on readings found in “lost,” alternative translations.
“In this wonderful gem of a book, Andy Rotman offers us a compelling translation of a set of ten Sanskrit Buddhist stories about ‘hungry ghosts’ (preta) taken from the Avadānaśataka (“One Hundred Stories”), an important early Indian anthology of Buddhist narratives. Rotman has brought them into the limelight and shown how important they are for Buddhists and for all of us. Hungry Ghosts will become a standard work on the subject.”
—John Strong, Charles A. Dana Emeritus Professor of Religious and Asian Studies, Bates College
The realm of hungry ghosts is one of the unfortunate realms of rebirth in the Buddhist cycle of existence, and those reborn there are said to have led lives consumed by greed and spite. In one of the earliest sources about hungry ghosts, translated here, hungry ghosts know the error of their ways, and they sometimes appear among humans, like the ghosts that haunt Ebenezer Scrooge, as augurs of what may await. Artistic depictions of the travails of hungry ghosts are found throughout the Buddhist world, and some of the best examples are reproduced and richly described here. Discover how an understanding of the meanness (matsārya) that afflicts hungry ghosts illuminates the human condition, offering insight and inspiring compassion for readers both in ancient times and today.
“Rotman brings new life to old stories about hungry ghosts, and he provides unique insight into their development and their importance even for modern Buddhism. A must-read for students of Buddhist thought and art.”
—Monika Zin, Saxon Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Leipzig University
The Roar of Thunder
Coming soon! This book will be published in July 2021. Enter your name and email below to be notified when the book is available for purchase. By filling out this form, you agree to receive emails from Wisdom Publications.
An essential collection of texts and instructions for the practice of the wrathful wisdom deity Yamantaka. With pith instructions from famed siddhas and masters of the Gelug school, The Roar of Thunder offers an unprecedented panoramic perspective on the entire spectrum of Yamantaka practice. Also included in this amazing volume is the extensive sadhana of the Solitary Hero composed by Pabongkha Rinpoche that can be used as a reference to facilitate a more thorough understanding of the commentaries.
“The Roar of Thunder is the definitive collection of Geluk Yamantaka practice texts: essential rituals, generation and completion stage teachings, and the history of the lineage. David Gonsalez, himself a dedicated Yamantaka yogi, has provided us with reliable and readable translations of these amazing texts, truly an extraordinary gift of Dharma. Kudos to Wisdom Publications for its commitment to this new collection, the Dechen Ling Practice Series.”
—José Ignacio Cabezón, Dalai Lama Professor of Tibetan Buddhism and Cultural Studies, UC Santa Barbara
The Dechen Ling Practice Series from Wisdom Publications is committed to furthering the vision of David Gonsalez (Venerable Losang Tsering) and the Dechen Ling Press of bringing the sacred literature of Tibet to the West by making available many never-before-translated texts.
The material in this book is restricted.
This book may be read only by those who have received a highest-yoga-tantra empowerment. If, on the other hand, you intend to practice Yamantaka, it would be best if you have received the empowerment of Yamantaka together with the commentary and oral transmission. At the very least you must have received the empowerment.
Four Tibetan Lineages
The newest translation from master translator Sarah Harding.
Drawing primarily from the Pacification, Severance, Shangpa Kagyü, and Bodongpa traditions, Four Tibetan Lineages presents some of Tibet’s most transformative yet lesser-known teachings on meditative practice. Most works in this volume are drawn from a Tibetan anthology known as the Treasury of Precious Instructions compiled by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé (1813–1900). A vast preservation project, this anthology reflects Kongtrul’s attempt to rescue rare teachings from disappearing. By foregrounding the teachings of masters like Khedrup Khyungpo Naljor (d. 1135), Dampa Sangyé (d. 1117), Machik Labdrön (1031/55–1126/50), Jonang Tāranātha (1575–1634), and Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo (1820–92), this volume extends Jamgön Kongtrul’s preservation efforts into the modern world.
Meditations on the Trail
Meditations on the Trail offers a rich array of do-anywhere meditations that will help you explore and deepen your connection to nature, and yourself, in new ways, making the most of your time on the trail.
This small book—perfect for throwing in a daypack or a back pocket as you head out for the trail—is filled with practices to take you into the heart of the natural world and uncover your most vibrant self. You’ll return home grateful, more aware of interconnection, and maybe just a little wiser.
The Play of Mahamudra
“This new collected edition of Khenpo Migmar Tseten’s Play of Mahamudra volumes constitutes a veritable treasure for all who are deeply engaged on the path to enlightenment. Khenpo Migmar’s translation of Mahasiddha Virupa’s Treasury of Dohas and of Sachen Kunga Nyingpo’s Praise to Virupa makes us intimately familiar with the essence of these root texts, and his elucidation of the Dohas offers us a deep and clear understanding of their core meaning. Anyone who truly contemplates on Mahasiddha Virupa’s words is certain to attain realization.”
—His Holiness the Sakya Trichen
In this collection, renowned Tibetan Buddhist teacher Lama Migmar Tseten provides essential commentary on the mystical songs of the Indian Buddhist rebel-saint Virupa. One of the most celebrated tantric masters of Buddhist India, Virupa’s songs describe his realization of mahamudra, the ultimate nature of reality. Intimate and highly engaging, The Play of Mahamudra unpacks these songs with meticulous clarity, making Virupa’s insights accessible to modern readers.
“Gharwang Rinpoche’s work serves as a definitive manual, guiding aspiring mahāmudrā students along the complete path, beginning with a clear presentation of the preliminaries, through a detailed presentation of śamatha and vipaśyanā, and concluding with enlightening instructions on the actualization of the result.”
—from the foreword by His Holiness the Sakya Trichen
In this book, His Eminence the Twelfth Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche offers illuminating commentary on Bokar Rinpoche’s pithy teaching A Concise Commentary on the Ocean of Definitive Meaning, expanding and unlocking it for the reader, showing us the way to understand the very nature of our own minds.
“The line between saṃsāra and nirvāṇa is very thin. This is because saṃsāra is simply the projection of our minds, a projection created by confusion. Nirvāṇa is simply freedom from this confusion. You can sit on either side of the line between saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. It’s up to you. But although the line is very thin, it takes extraordinary skill and profound wisdom to traverse the path from one side to the other—to dissolve the division itself. This book and these teachings are intended to serve as support for that journey.”
—from H.E. Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche’s introduction
Superiority Conceit in Buddhist Traditions
Armed with his rigorous examination of the canonical records, respected scholar-monk Bhikkhu Anālayo explores—and sharply criticizes—four examples of what he terms “superiority conceit” in Buddhism:
- the androcentric tendency to prevent women from occupying leadership roles, be these as fully ordained monastics or as advanced bodhisattvas
- the Mahayana notion that those who don’t aspire to become bodhisattvas are inferior practitioners
- the Theravada belief that theirs is the most original expression of the Buddha’s teaching
- the Secular Buddhist claim to understand the teachings of the Buddha more accurately than traditionally practicing Buddhists
Ven. Anālayo challenges the scriptural basis for these conceits and points out that adhering to such notions of superiority is not, after all, conducive to practice. “It is by diminishing ego, letting go of arrogance, and abandoning conceit that one becomes a better Buddhist,” he reminds us, “no matter what tradition one may follow.”
Thoroughly researched, Superiority Conceit in Buddhist Traditions provides an accessible approach to these conceits as academic subjects. Readers will find it not only challenges their own intellectual understandings but also improves their personal practice.
The Dharma of Poetry
In The Dharma of Poetry, John Brehm shows how poems can open up new ways of thinking, feeling, and being in the world. Brehm demonstrates the practice of mindfully entering a poem, with an alertness, curiosity, and open-hearted responsiveness very much like the attention we cultivate in meditation. Complete with poetry-related meditations and writing prompts, this collection of lively, elegantly written essays can be read as a standalone book or as a companion to the author’s acclaimed anthology The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy.
Sounds of Innate Freedom
Sounds of Innate Freedom: The Indian Texts of Mahāmudrā are historic volumes containing many of the first English translations of classic mahāmudrā literature. The texts and songs in these volumes constitute the large compendium called The Indian Texts of the Mahāmudrā of Definitive Meaning, compiled by the Seventh Karmapa, Chötra Gyatso (1456–1539). The collection offers a brilliant window into the richness of the vast ocean of Indian Mahāmudrā texts cherished in all Tibetan lineages, particularly in the Kagyü tradition, giving us a clear view of the sources of one of the world’s great contemplative traditions.
This first volume in publication contains the majority of songs of realization, consisting of dohās (couplets), vajragītis (vajra songs), and caryāgītis (conduct songs), all lucidly expressing the inexpressible. These songs offer readers a feast of profound and powerful pith instructions uttered by numerous male and female mahasiddhas, yogīs, and ḍākinīs, often in the context of ritual gaṇacakras and initially kept in their secret treasury. Displaying a vast range of themes, styles, and metaphors, they all point to the single true nature of the mind—mahāmudrā—in inspiring ways and from different angles, using a dazzling array of skillful means to penetrate the sole vital point of buddhahood being found nowhere but within our own mind. Reading and singing these songs of mystical wonder, bliss, and ecstatic freedom, and contemplating their meaning in meditation, will open doors to spiritual experience for us today just as it has for countless practitioners in the past.
The Esoteric Community Tantra with The Illuminating Lamp
This volume is a translation of the first twelve chapters of The Glorious Esoteric Community Great King of Tantras (Śrī Guhyasamāja Mahā-tantra-rāja), along with the commentary called The Illuminating Lamp (Pradīpoddyotana-nāma-ṭīkā), a commentary in Sanskrit on this tantra by the seventh-century Buddhist intellectual and tantric scholar-adept Chandrakīrti. Regarded by Indo-Tibetan tradition as the esoteric scripture wherein the Buddha revealed in greatest detail the actual psycho-physical process of his enlightenment, The Esoteric Community Tantra is a preeminent text of the class of scriptures known to Indian Buddhist scholar-adepts as great yoga tantra, and later to their Tibetan successors as unexcelled yoga tantra. The Illuminating Lamp presents a system of interpretive guidelines according to which the cryptic meanings of all tantras might be extracted in order to engage the ritual and yogic practices taught therein. Applying its interpretive strategies to the text of The Esoteric Community Tantra, The Illuminating Lamp articulates a synthetic, “vajra vehicle” (vajrayāna) discourse that locates tantric practices and ideals squarely within the cosmological and institutional frameworks of exoteric Mahāyāna Buddhism.
The Chakrasamvara Root Tantra
A key text for one of the most important Buddhist tantric traditions, the Chakrasamvara Root Tantra has been passed down to us from the ancient mahasiddhas and yogis of India. This foundational ritual text is one of the earliest of the yogini tantras—tantric scriptures that emphasize female deities. This melodic translation by David Gonsalez maintains the poetic structure of the original, making it ideal for practitioners and harmonious to recite. It is at once an object of devotion, a profound instruction, and a beautiful poem meant to inspire spiritual seekers.
The Dechen Ling Practice Series from Wisdom Publications is committed to furthering the vision of David Gonsalez (Venerable Losang Tsering) and the Dechen Ling Press of bringing the sacred literature of Tibet to the West by making available many never-before-translated texts.
The material in this book is strictly intended for those who have received the proper empowerments.
Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics, Vol. 2
Coming soon to the Reading Room on the Wisdom Experience.
This, the second volume in the Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics series, focuses on the science of mind. Readers are first introduced to Buddhist conceptions of mind and consciousness and then led through traditional presentations of mental phenomena to reveal a Buddhist vision of the inner world with fascinating implications for the contemporary disciplines of cognitive science, psychology, emotion research, and philosophy of mind. Major topics include:
- The distinction between sensory and conceptual processes and the pan-Indian notion of mental consciousness
- Mental factors—specific mental states such as attention, mindfulness, and compassion—and how they relate to one another
- The unique tantric theory of subtle levels of consciousness, their connection to the subtle energies, or “winds,” that flow through channels in the human body, and what happens to each when the body and mind dissolve at the time of death
- The seven types of mental states and how they impact the process of perception
- Styles of reasoning, which Buddhists understand as a valid avenue for acquiring sound knowledge
In the final section, the volume offers what might be called Buddhist contemplative science, a presentation of the classical Buddhist understanding of the psychology behind meditation and other forms of mental training.
To present these specific ideas and their rationale, the volume weaves together passages from the works of great Buddhist thinkers like Asaṅga, Vasubandhu, Nāgārjuna, Dignāga, and Dharmakīrti. His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s introduction outlines scientific and philosophical thinking in the history of the Buddhist tradition. To provide additional context for Western readers, each of the six major topics is introduced with an essay by John D. Dunne, distinguished professor of Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice at the University of Wisconsin. These essays connect the traditional material to contemporary debates and Western parallels, and provide helpful suggestions for further reading.
Illuminating the Intent
This work is perhaps the most influential explanation of Candrakirti’s seventh-century classic Entering the Middle Way (Madhyamakavatara).
Written as a supplement to Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, Candrakirti’s text integrates the central insight of Nagarjuna’s thought—the rejection of any metaphysical notion of intrinsic existence—with the well-known Mahayana framework of the ten levels of the bodhisattva, and it became the most studied presentation of Madhyamaka thought in Tibet.
Completed the year before the author’s death, Tsongkhapa’s exposition of Candrakirti’s text is recognized by the Tibetan tradition as the final standpoint of Tsongkhapa on many philosophical questions, particularly the clear distinctions it draws between the standpoints of the Madhyamaka and Cittamatra schools.
Written in exemplary Tibetan, Tsongkhapa’s work presents a wonderful marriage of rigorous Madhyamaka philosophical analysis with a detailed and subtle account of the progressively advancing mental states and spiritual maturity realized by sincere Madhyamaka practitioners.
The work remains the principal textbook for the study of Indian Madhyamaka philosophy in many Tibetan monastic colleges, and it is a principal source for many Tibetan teachers seeking to convey the intricacies of Madhyamaka philosophy to non-Tibetan audiences.
Though it is often cited and well known, this is the first full translation of this key work in a Western language.
For half a century this wise professor-scholar, conscious feminist, deeply dedicated practitioner, and icon of genuine diversity has taught Buddha Dharma. The beautiful fruit of her work is visible here.
Jack Kornfield, PhD, author of A Path with Heart
In Dharma Matters, Dr. Willis weaves together personal, historical, cultural, religious, and universal wisdom, eloquently and tenderly offering a textured tapestry of intelligence and transformation. In this heartwarming and sagacious book, we are invited to recognize the green and golden threads of women and race wrapped in the warmth and timeless wisdom of the Dharma.
Ruth King, author of Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out
Jan Willis has practiced, reflected, and taught at one of the most important crossroads of American Buddhist life—the intersection of the activism of the Civil Rights movement and feminism, of Buddhist meditation with authentic Tibetan masters, and of the academic translation of Buddhism. This collection of her pioneering essays reveals her at once as a brilliant visionary, a pristine scholar, a heartfelt Vajrayāna practitioner, and an incisive social commentator in the twenty-first century. What ties these together is her wise heart.
Judith Simmer-Brown, Distinguished Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies, Naropa University, and author of Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism
This new book by Dr. Jan Willis is not only a must-read for all Buddhists interested in an unbiased inside look at gender issues in Buddhism; it is a delightful read that jumps off the page. It is a clear window into the many great contributions to the legacy of enlightenment made by Buddhist women in India and Tibet over the centuries, as well as some of the challenges that these women faced because of their gender. Put ten copies on your shopping list, and share the gentle wisdom of this African American female sage.
Glenn Mullin, author of 25 books on Tibetan Buddhism
It is rare for a professor’s mastery of teaching to shine through their scholarship so vividly as in this welcome collection of Jan Willis’s work. Accessible, insightful, and warmly engaging, this volume demonstrates the range of her unique academic contributions while exemplifying her commitments to teaching, self-exploration, and self-discovery, which brightened the minds of countless students and inspired a whole new crop of professional Buddhologists to emerge from among them.
Daniel A. Hirshberg, PhD, University of Mary Washington
A dip-into book that reveals gems of erudition and fascination in the historical development of Buddhism. Whether your interest is gender, race, tantra, or insight into Dr. Jan Willis’s own spiritual journey from a black Southern Baptist to a Tibetan Buddhist, you will be greeted by a rich fare of well-researched information.
Vicki Mackenzie, author of Cave in the Snow, The Revolutionary Life of Freda Bedi, and other titles
For longtime fans of Jan Willis such as myself, it is a treat to have these essays gathered in one place. Her style of fine scholarship coupled with her unique personal touch and lifelong experiences will also delight new readers. There are important and even urgent issues discussed in these pages; the section on Buddhism and race is a rare contribution to a field with far too few resources for concerned practitioners and researchers. I would definitely assign the whole book if I still taught at a university. I hope others will.
Sarah Harding, Tibetan translator and author of Machik’s Complete Explanation
People (mainly professors) write books about philosophy, religion, race, and feminism. The best of them impart knowledge, but in a book by Jan Willis, she shares herself and her wisdom as well as her knowledge. It is a rare and rewarding experience.
Allen Wood, Indiana University Bloomington
This wonderful collection of essays and studies testifies not only to Professor Willis’s achievements as a scholar with multiple interests but also, in the more personal essays, to her dedication to teaching and her role as a pioneering African American Buddhist whose call for greater inclusiveness in American Buddhism is always enfolded in love, compassion, and plain human decency.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, translator and scholar
This volume of essays exemplifies the life and work of Prof. Jan Willis, a scholar-practitioner and teacher extraordinaire. The essays express her heartfelt and insightful reflections on a lifelong journey from the Jim Crow South of her childhood, into the contemporary and historical worlds of Buddhist South Asia, and back to an emerging American Buddhism. Though based on intrepid and innovative research, it is Willis’s gift for storytelling that transports the reader into the ‘lived worlds,’ the human dimensions, of her varied subjects—be they contemporary African American Buddhists (or ‘Baptist-Buddhists’ such as herself), Buddhist women both ancient and modern, or Tantric Buddhist practitioners whose contemporary or exemplary lives (rnam thar) she has illuminated with empathic understanding.
William Waldron, Middlebury College
This collection of essays reflects the extraordinary range of Jan Willis’s scholarly voice and her authentic quest to make studies of Buddhism significant to students and a variety of academic audiences. She writes to underline the large, often neglected role of women in Buddhist history and to bring the Dharma into discussions of the original American sin of racism. Her scholarship on biographical literature highlights an important popular genre in Tibetan tradition, using prominent examples, and the discussions of Buddhist-Christian dialogue are rich in pedagogical and autobiographical insights. Hers is an authentic personal voice informed by scholarly acumen, lifelong meditative praxis, and deep engagement with her subjects. Jan Willis’s essays unfailing invite creative (re)thinking of why Buddhism matters, from scholars to practitioners.
Todd T. Lewis, Distinguished Professor of Arts and Humanities, College of the Holy Cross
In Dharma Matters, beloved teacher Jan Willis blends warm, masterful storytelling with rigorous research and deep wisdom. The result is an educational, inspirational book that gives voice to a unique, academic-practitioner, Buddhist-Baptist perspective on the pressing cultural and spiritual issues of our time—women, gender, race, truth, freedom, and love.
Pamela Weiss, author of A Bigger Sky: Awakening a Fierce Feminine Buddhism
Few Western Buddhist scholar-teachers of the past half-century have bridged so many worlds, and so successfully, as Jan Willis. She has helped pioneer the study of such key topics as Indian Buddhist understandings of reality, the nature of Tibetan biography, and Vajrayāna meditation. She also has delved deeply into current conversations surrounding such difficult issues as Buddhism’s relation to race, gender, and interreligious relations. Dharma Matters brings together some of Willis’s most notable essays on all these topics, and whether written thirty years ago or just recently, each one sparkles with her inimitable voice—full of clarity, passion, intelligence, and self-awareness. No one interested in contemporary Buddhism—or its interface with older traditions—should be without this fine collection.
Roger R. Jackson, author of Mind Seeing Mind: Mahāmudrā and the Geluk Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism
Dharma Matters offers us the depth and breadth of Jan Willis’s work in over thirty-five years in the academy. With forewords by the African American Buddhist and National Book Award–winning writer Charles Johnson and by the renowned Buddhist studies scholar Janet Gyatso, this volume includes Willis’s essays on Buddhist nuns, on African American and American Buddhism, on the role of love as a Baptist-Buddhist, and on teaching Buddhism. This collection is incredibly valuable for Buddhist studies, African American studies, and Religious studies.
Carolyn Jones Medine, University of Georgia
In Tibet it is customary to gather together the collected works of prominent lamas. It is fitting that we should do something similar to honor Jan Willis, one of our own great teachers whose work has benefited so many. This volume is a testament to the depth and breadth of Willis’s engagement with Tibetan Buddhism and with issues of race, gender, and identity.
Brandon Dotson, McKenna Chair of Buddhist Studies, Georgetown University
As a black feminist scholar-practitioner, Jan Willis has been a unique voice in American Buddhism. This collection provides a welcome overview of her important contributions in many different areas.
David R. Loy, author of Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis
Dr. Jan Willis is a remarkable practitioner-academic whose work is easily accessible and responsive to both practitioners and academics. This collection allows us to join her inquiry of Buddhist practice and faith and the various intersections that have often been ignored. It is a treasure reflecting a deep knowledge and respect for the fact that without faith, practice, and study, Buddhism would cease to exist.
Bishop Myokei Caine-Barrett, Nichiren Shu Order of North America
Wisdom flows from every page of Jan Willis’s Dharma Matters. Her clarity of thought and insight remarkably expands the academic discourse of Buddhism into sacred conversations about gender, Buddhism, and race. Her art of storytelling and her voice bring Buddhism to life in a new way that offers hope for the present day and keeps the tradition alive for practitioners across the planet. Her scholarship sings with a deep resonance that rocks the soul and awakens the heart-mind. This powerful collection of essays is a cherished gift reflective of an incredible life of scholarship, spiritual activism, and devoted practice.
Melanie L. Harris, American Council of Education Fellow and Professor of Religion and Ethics at Texas Christian University, author of Gifts of Virtue, Alice Walker, and Womanist Ethics
Insightful and reflective, covering not only her personal journey into Buddhist studies over the past fifty years but also topics central to the field as a whole, Willis’s collection of essays are as relevant and engaging today as they were when she first composed them, speaking with a voice that inspires readers to reflect on a wide range of issues in both society and their own personal lives.
Paul G. Hackett, Columbia University
Jan Willis—beloved teacher, learned scholar, pioneering practitioner-translator, cultural activist—is a national living treasure. With magisterial grace, wit, insight, wisdom, and compassion, she ranges in these eighteen diverse essays over vitally important topics of gender, Dharma, race, tantra, and liberation. In a rare yet inclusive achievement, she has kept faith with all her ancestors.
Gaylon Ferguson, PhD, Acharya and Core Faculty in Religious Studies, Naropa University
Dr. Jan Willis is a pioneering voice gently cutting through superficiality in both traditional and popular notions of scholarship. In this collection, you will find each essay to be a precious jewel shining light on the engaging topics of women and Buddhism, Buddhism and race, Tantric Buddhism and Buddhist saints’ lives, and Buddhist-Christian comparative reflections. This book is a compelling, socially grounded witness to embodied and engaged spirituality, to the intersectionality of human suffering, and to the transcendent healing power of looking deeply into topics that matter.
Dr. Willis first came to my attention while completing my doctorate in Religious studies with an emphasis on Buddhism. As both a Baptist minister and Buddhist Dharma teacher, I yearn for such essays as these offered by Dr. Willis, which are offered with joyful wisdom. If you desire an uplifting companion on your life journey, Dharma Matters is a worthy guide. Do not miss this book.
Larry Ward, PhD, director of the Lotus Institute, coauthor of Love’s Garden: A Guide to Mindful Relationships