A powerful collection of essays on race and gender in contemporary Buddhist practice, which is a hot-button topic in the West right now, by one of the leading thinkers in the area.
Jan Willis was among the first Westerners to encounter exiled Tibetan teachers in India in the late sixties, instantly finding her spiritual and academic home, and she has engaged with virtually all of the great Tibetan Buddhist lamas of that time as well as with numerous Western scholar-practitioners. Recognized 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 over thirty years 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 timely and topical reading for Dharma practitioners in America who are interested in Willis’s penetrating perspective on questions such as:
-How can women fashion their own lineage outside of and apart from patriarchal traditions?
-How can the stories of women ancestors empower contemporary women?
-What is the value of going beyond a strict reliance on sacred scriptures to an actual social history of Buddhism as it relates to women?
-What is the significance of an individual’s ethnicity in Western Buddhist settings?
-How does it feel for African American Buddhists to practice in American Buddhist centers?
-Can Buddhist Dharma in America teach all individuals, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity, how to be free?
Within tantric Buddhist narratives, Willis explores the life story in its traditional hagiographic form but also gives readers access to the real story of living human beings outside of the formulaic narrative framework of the saints’ lives. As she delves into Buddhist scriptures, Willis’s inquiries balance sacred text and historical perspective to address contemporary social issues meaningful to all Buddhist practitioners. With regard to her own “Baptist Buddhist” identity, she explores dual-faith identities as well as highlights what is central to their ethical practices.