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Be Willing to Get Woke with Dr. Jan Willis

Dr. Jan Willis Black American Scholar and Tibetan Buddhist

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And what did the Buddha do? He woke up. He woke up to what was happening all around him. And we need to wake up. We need to wake up to racism and white supremacy.”

—Dr. Jan Willis

Scott Snibbe:

Welcome to A Skeptic’s Path to Enlightenment. I’m Scott Snibbe and in this week’s episode I’m excited to share an interview with Dr. Jan Willis. Dr. Willis has a distinguished career as a scholar and teacher of Buddhism that spans fifty years. She first met Tibetan Buddhists in India and Nepal when she was nineteen and went on to earn degrees in Philosophy and Indic and Buddhist Studies from Cornell and Columbia Universities.

Dr. Willis has taught Buddhist Studies and Philosophy at UC Santa Cruz, the University of Virginia and Wesleyan University. Now in retirement, she teaches part-time at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia and leads workshops exploring Race and Racism through a Buddhist Lens.

In her academic and popular books and essays, Dr. Willis writes with moving precision on Tibetan Buddhism, the lives of Buddhist saints, Women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and Race. Her latest book is the compelling essay collection Dharma Matters: Women, Race, and Tantra.

Dr. Willis’ unique personal story is captured in her memoir Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist—One Woman’s Spiritual Journey. In crisp, moving words, Dreaming Me shares Dr. Willis’ experience as a Black woman raised in Birmingham, Alabama who suffered regular neighborhood raids by the Ku Klux Klan and who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King there in 1963. Her story takes incredible turns in brushes with the Black Panthers and as one of the first Westerners to dive deeply into Tibetan Buddhist study and practice

Dr. Willis’ work has been praised by TIME Magazine as one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millennium,” and by Ebony Magazine, who named her one of its “Power 150” most influential African Americans. We spoke with Dr. Willis by video conference from Georgia last month.

Scott Snibbe:

Dr. Willis, it’s a privilege to have you here on A Skeptic’s Path to Enlightenment. Thank you so much for joining us. I wanted to start out just by saying how much I loved your memoir, Dreaming Me. I found it so moving and I recommend it to everybody listening who hasn’t already read it. It’s one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.

Yours is such a unique life that I think is even more inspiring and relevant to people today. So thank you so much for joining us and I’m really looking forward to our conversation.

Dr. Jan Willis:

Thank you. Thank you. I’m always surprised when someone I’m talking to has read Dreaming Me. Yeah, It takes me aback, you know? I know that they know a bit more about me than I know about them and it’s a surprise, but I’m glad you found it helpful.

Scott Snibbe:

I love it. To me it does feel like the Autobiography of a Yogi, especially how much you openly talk about your own spiritual practice and journey and your connection with Lama Yeshe. So it was a really beautiful book.

So why don’t we get into the questions? There are so many interesting things to talk to you about. The first thing I want to talk to you a little bit about is how, with your background as an academic and as an author, you come across, of course, as a sharp, critical thinker. And I’d like to ask you, if you could share the role that critical thinking played in your journey as a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and as a professor?

Dr. Jan Willis:

Okay. Critical thinking, that’s part of Buddhism, you know, so it was attractive when I first encountered Buddhism. One of the things I tell my students often is, before the Buddha taught, before he gave teaching to the first five disciples, what did he say? He said, “Ehipassiko,” come and see, come and see for yourselves. Don’t just take my word for it. But see with your own experience if what I’m saying bears the test.

So, he asked everyone as I understand Buddhism, to think critically and to test it out for themselves. His Holiness sometimes says, he quotes the Buddha, that the Buddha said to his monks and his nuns, that you should test my teachings like you would test gold, you know, by burning; all the tests that are necessary until it becomes clear to you that this is a truth.

That’s great. You know, no accepting of creeds. Not having to believe something you don’t quite believe. So the testing and the being critical, as I see Buddhism, has always been a key part. That was attractive to me from the very beginning.

Scott Snibbe:

That’s wonderful. And as you got into Buddhism, you were one of the first Westerners to seriously study Buddhism. How did that critical faculty engage? Were there parts of Buddhism that you found hard to accept? And also, how did you eventually accept them? How did that critical reasoning workout?

Dr. Jan Willis:

There are so many stories there. For example, my judging mind and my own insecurity. When I first met Lama Yeshe—with my good buddies—we met Lama Yeshe together. And you know, we came out after the meeting, which was amazing in itself. And they were very excited saying, “Oh, he’s so compassionate.” And I said, having met Tibetans before, I said, “So they’re compassionate. I’m looking for the wisdom beings.” You know, this incredible judgmental mind! So I was looking for a certain kind of Lama when what I needed most of all was the compassion that Lama Yeshe was willingly offering.

So, Lama Yeshe was patient with me and some of the things I encountered—here’s another story:

I was having a discussion one day with Lama Yeshe, saying, “Well, you know, if everything is empty then who are all of these beings, so who are we supposed to be saving anyway?” (it’s the same kind of question my students ask) “So who attains enlightenment? If there’s no self, who attains enlightenment?”  

And Lama Yeshe very kindly said, “Well, you know, let’s not worry about that now. You don’t have to worry about that.” Like, don’t trouble your little mind about it.

You know, I had questions about, well, if we’re empty, what gets reincarnated? Reincarnation was a big one for me.

I was always testing also what we think about something, what we feel about something; always juxtaposing whether I could say, “That doesn’t make sense logically.” But my experience might have been telling me something quite different. And these two minds were jostling for positions.

Lama Yeshe was very, very patient with me. You know, he was always telling me, just be easy on yourself, dear.

Scott Snibbe:

Say a topic like karma, for example. Do you think there’s a way that people who don’t see some kind of mystical progression or metaphysical, immaterial aspect to our consciousness could understand karma?

Dr. Jan Willis:

I think if we made it less mystical by pointing out to people that we sort of work on a parallel assumption. We send our kids to school. We want them to go to good colleges. Why? Because we want them to get a job. So we plan. Planning ahead and looking ahead and tailoring our actions is a good thing.

And I think if karma is not used as an excuse, but it’s used more as I think it was designed early on, for ordinary people, then one should perform good actions. Because as a result of good actions, good results come. So as an ethical plan for looking forward, karma is effective.

I think in early seventies, you know, in the West in particular, people had a way of saying something when it happened, they’d say, “Oh, that’s your karma.”

You know, but that’s incorrect anyway, because karma is the activity that leads to a result, which is really the fruit. So it would have been that that’s the fruit you’re getting. But we used to say, you know, “That’s your karma.”

That way is sort of blaming the victim. And that’s unhelpful. And it seems to me that what Buddhism offers us is something that’s helpful and non-harmful. So I think, use karma as an ethical guide. And that’s the best way to do it. And not to look around and say, “Oh, that must be because in a former life, such and such happened.”

Be grateful—we should do that every day anyway. We wake up, be thankful. And then do good because good leads to good. My favorite, Scott, my favorite example of Buddhism in a nutshell is Dhammapada 183: “Do no harm, practice good, discipline the mind. This is the teaching of all the Buddhas.”

There it is, just in a nutshell.

Scott Snibbe:

That’s beautiful; that, simply, for the sake of living a happy life and having a happy mind, to do good and to be grateful. You said it even more simply as you were starting. I love that. It’s a great take on karma.

I have another question for you. Lama Yeshe has this great quote that I found where he said, “Give up religion. Give up Buddhism. Go beyond Buddhism. Put the essential aspect of the philosophy into scientific language.”

I’m curious if you could tell me more about Lame Yeshe’s interest in a secular form of Buddhism. And how that relates to the form of Tibetan Buddhism that you and I have studied and practiced. How does it relate to science?

Dr. Jan Willis:

I think it’s how Buddhism comes through Lama Yeshe. Lama Yeshe had this way of speaking. This biography has just come out. You probably know about it: Big Love.

Scott Snibbe:  

It’s amazing.

Dr. Jan Willis:

With the incredible 1500 photographs. Lama Yeshe’s way of speaking—for example, Robina Courtin edited Lama Yeshe’s talks, it’s gathered together in a small book called Mahamudra. You hear his cadence, the ways he spoke.

Lama Yeshe wanted to teach Buddhism to Westerners. And I think what that quote you just cited says about him is not so much about science. It’s not so much about the medium. It’s about how Lama Yeshe said there’s a kernel to Buddhism. This is what we want to communicate. As a Tibetan teacher coming from a strange land, he used to say: where I have to eat this different way all of a sudden, how do I communicate the essence of Buddhism?

Once Lama Yeshe asked me toward the end of his life in 1983, I get this phone call one day from Sister Max. She wants me to know that Lama Yeshe has asked me to compile a little booklet for him and to give him a month-long teaching on Western philosophy. Because he wants to understand his Western students even better. He’ll understand where they’re coming from philosophically. He can communicate better.
So I think Lama Yeshe was always trying to find the means to communicate better with his students. So it’s secular, it’s scientific, it’s philosophical. It’s all these ways. Well, what he wants to do is to impart to us the essential message of Buddhism.

Scott Snibbe:

That’s wonderful. Obviously, Tibetan Buddhism is quite complicated. Were there aspects that you think he simplified particularly well for, you know, the secular point of view?

Dr. Jan Willis:

Yes. It might seem to an outsider that Tibetan Buddhism is full of rituals. It’s in this other language that seems sort of difficult. There are these blaring horns sometimes. You know, there’s a lot of ritual.

But is that Buddhism or is that cultural stuff? So I think he had a special way of lessening the cultural baggage. And that goes back to your first quote there. Let’s get to its essence and impart that, so that we understand why we’re doing this. So that it doesn’t remain a strange thing that we do in this strange world.

Scott Snibbe:

That’s beautiful. That’s really beautiful.

Could you share a little bit how Buddhism built your confidence? And especially how it could help others build theirs? You wrote about that so much in your memoir: the power of Tibetan Buddhism to instill confidence, even with people who have deep wounds like some of the ones you suffered.

Dr. Jan Willis:

This was all Lama Yeshe and this is all the blessings: that he held me dear, that he loved me. I needed someone to love me up. Because white supremacy and white society has told me I’m worthless; has told me I cannot accomplish anything; has told me I’m not fit for anything except to be a slave, perhaps. Right?

That’s been my whole, it was wounding over and—I had to drink only at the fountains where the sign said colored. Okay, there are a lot of stories. And I do recommend, I hope people will read Dreaming Me. And I’m, I’m happy that you enjoyed it.

So I’ve gone through all of this. And I meet Lama Yeshe. And rather than tell him, or at least begin to tell him that I’m wounded, you know, I am suffering gravely. I gave him a book answer. And still he stuck with me.

So a few weeks, maybe just a few days later I was at Kopan again. Lama Yeshe was on his way from his room. And he looked over at me and he said, “Yes, dear.” He said, “Pride and humility in conflict. So much suffering. This is painful, dear.”

And I thought, this man has my number. He knows exactly what’s happening: pride and humility. Because what I wanted was to be treated with dignity and respect like anybody would. But I didn’t want to be some arrogant jerk saying, “I demanded it. I demand it.” I just wanted to be equal. And he saw that. Now this is how he worked with me to impart confidence.

Scott Snibbe:

That’s so beautiful. And for someone who doesn’t have a Lama Yeshe to encourage them in person, what would you recommend to build up that confidence without stemming towards pride or arrogance?

Dr. Jan Willis:

I know the great fortune I had. I gained confidence that we all have it. We each have this goodness. We have these capabilities.

So I think it takes love to bring it out. But doesn’t necessarily take love from someone else. I think what a lot of us need is to put down guilt and insecurity and love ourselves. But just allowing ourselves, I think space to tend to our own wounds.

It’s like Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Oh, you’ve arrived. Whatever emotion that is, take it in and hold it for a while. And know that that’s all right.” I know it’s easier said than done. And I feel really blessed. Maybe we can do it for each other.

Scott Snibbe:

Seeing that love is essential. But that it’s love for yourself, recognizing your good qualities, recognizing the love that’s already around you. And then returning back to that innate capacity that we each have for boundless growth and positive energy. That distills it very clearly. Thank you.

I want to get to a topic I believe you’re dedicating much of your life to now—and it’s very relevant—of course, is the topic of bias. Could you talk a little bit about how Buddhism can help us recognize and transform our bias? More people than ever are recognizing it in themselves, which is very positive. But then what’s the work? You often hear people say, we need to work on ourselves. What does that mean to work on ourselves? How can we transform bias?

Dr. Jan Willis:

All right, this is, this is a very large question. And I’m only trying a little bit. I think that what Buddhism itself, that Buddhist philosophy in particular helps us to ease into the conversation so that we’re not uptight. We don’t draw back from it.

Buddhism says very simply that our mind is always judging. I mean, we walk into room and even though we don’t bring it to mind as a conscious thought, we notice the color of the paint of the walls. Our mind notices all these things. So of course, what it does with people in terms of over-exaggerating, that’s not my point.

My point is, Buddhist analysis says we’re always doing things that we’re unaware of. Let’s become more aware of them so that—we are always judging—that’s okay. That’s how the mind works. It’s always thinking about things. It’s when we martial all these things and then somehow they harden into ideology. They hardened into judgements about whole groups of people.

I’m not doing “The Work.” But I have an idea that if you started from these principles, that we’re always doing this and we should accept that and notice it more. And noticing it more is like becoming mindful. So Buddhism offers, an entrée, which doesn’t make us cringe.

And then it shows us how being mindful, gradually it can impact, inform, and reform our behaviors.

Scott Snibbe:

Well, you know, it was interesting when you started talking about this mental factor that’s always present; how when we enter a room, we notice everything. And, ironically, one of the words they use for that mental factor is discrimination, right? That’s a common translation.

Dr. Jan Willis:

You know, naming something, the ability to call it out of all these things—“apple,” “picture frame,”—that kind of discrimination. It’s exactly right. If you have this appreciation that Buddhism offers these kinds of analyses, then starting there is a way to lessens people’s fear.

You know, no one wants to just talk about racism because if the N word is bad for Black people, the R word is bad for everybody else. Don’t call me a racist. No. I think that we’re like fish swimming around in water that’s white supremacy, and that we have to wake up. We have to be able to see that. Systemic means that we’re in it to every day. It affects everything.

“No one wants to just talk about racism because if the N word is bad for Black people, the R word is bad for everybody else. Don’t call me a racist. No. I think that we’re like fish swimming around in water that’s white supremacy, and that we have to wake up. We have to be able to see that. Systemic means that we’re in it every day. It affects everything.”

Some of my students do say, you know, “I had nothing to do with slavery.” And I wanted gently coax them to understanding that their zip code came about because of all these factors: red lining, blockbusting, GI Bill, all of these things, you are a zone. You are born, you live in a place because of profit and white supremacy and what it’s done to everything that touches it.

But that’s a big thing. You have to be able, you have to be willing to enter this without being intimidated, you know. You have to be brave. Be willing to wake up. I have my students look at The Matrix.

Scott Snibbe:

Oh, that’s wonderful. That’s a great one.

Dr. Jan Willis:

The first words in the movie, Neo is asleep on the computer and the computer says to him, “Wake up. Wake up, Neo.” And what did the Buddha do? He woke up. But he wasn’t dreaming. right? He woke up to what was happening all around him. And we need to wake up. We need to wake up to racism and white supremacy. How can we? We have to start small and be willing to stay alert; be willing to stay aware; be willing to get woke!

“Be willing to get woke!”

Scott Snibbe:

That really is encouraging because it isn’t that different than the messages we’re hearing, which is, “Listen. Educate yourself. Become aware of your thoughts. It’s actually not enough just to be a good person, a person who thinks they’re not a racist; that you actually have to become aware of the four or five hundred years of history and how that lands you where you are in our country right now. And how it changes, how the person you’re chatting with on the street or seeing a car sees reality a little bit differently than you do.

But that’s very encouraging what you’re saying. It’s actually nothing more than what everyone recommends: spend some time every day actually educating yourself understanding the history of racism in America; anti-Blackness; how I’m not separate from that. I’m the product of one side or the other of that equation, whether I like it or not. You know, you don’t have to feel bad about yourself for it. But become aware of it.

Dr. Jan Willis:

Right. And all of this tends to happen with love. You know, I marched with King. The best way to transform an enemy is to make them a friend. And through Buddhism with compassion, with non-harm.

Scott Snibbe:

It’s beautiful. That’s what’s really important because we’re not always hearing that message.

That brings me to some amazing stories from your book. You talked about your house being surrounded by Klan members. And then in the face of that hatred of getting ready for them to break into your home, you just recalled wishing to want to talk to them; that if I could just talk to them, they’d understand I’m just a human being like them.

And then you also talk about another story in your life where you were part of an armed takeover of your university buildings, carrying weapons with real ammunition in them; briefly considered joining the Black Panthers. So you have an incredible experience on both sides of this equation.

Of course, then becoming a Buddhist and going to India. Tell me a little bit about your views on the role of violence and the threat of violence in social change.

Dr. Jan Willis:

Scott, the house wasn’t surrounded. The Klan members were in front, across the street in an alleyway. The arms amounted to eight rifles. And it was because I was a senior, the only senior woman. There were seven other senior men there at the time. And we were the head of the Black Student Alliance that I was involved in this.

Now, the thing that connects them both is that both times I was frightened to death: scared, you know? So I did want to talk to them. I wanted to say to those Klan folk that they were mistaken because I could see that they had kids with them, that there were men, women, and children. “Here inside this house, you may not know it, but there’s just my mom and my sister and myself. We’re a family too.” The logical part of my mind really wanted to make that statement to them. Because I thought if they could see that we were a family too, they could see that we were the same, that we were people too. We were just like them.

I wanted to say to those Klan folk that they were mistaken because I could see that they had kids with them, that there were men, women, and children. Here inside this house, you may not know it, but there’s just my mom and my sister and myself. We’re a family too. I thought if they could see that we were a family too, they could see that we were the same, that we were people too. We were just like them.

The other part of me was afraid. I was not brave as a teenager. I was scared.

In terms of the Cornell thing, which I regard as a gift, while we took eight weapons into the building. Things had changed so much from the first time I got to Cornell to my senior year. One of the things was that my junior year had been spent in India and I had met Tibetans there. And I sort of knew what I wanted to do.

But when I came back to Cornell for senior year, the organization Black Student Alliance that I had helped to form was feeling under threat. And one of my best buddies there called me one day and he said, “Get ready. They’ve taken over the street. And we are going in.”

You know? So it was like one of those moments, you know, when your eyes go, “What? We’re doing what?”

But part of the takeover was to circle around Ithaca. And that made me really frightened because we actually witnessed people—townspeople—putting guns in their cars. We were in a bad way. We had done something that was scary. These people didn’t like those uppity Black students. How dare we take over a building? They weren’t having it.

So our job was to scout out the town. We did that. That made me more frightened. And our one job was to pick up two people who were flying in to help us out: the Panther folk. They were going to give us advice. And one of them invited me to join. Well, the reason we were in the student union at all was that I’d had a cross burning when I won scholarships to college.

There I was in Ithaca, New York at Cornell University, this grand Ivy League university. And a cross had been burned the night before we took over the street on the house where 12 Black women lived. The campus police had apparently come and kicked over the cross and said something like “Those uppity Black kids who helped protect those women.”

That’s why the students decided to take over the building. I determined that the peaceful marching with Dr. King, maybe that wasn’t going to bring about change. So maybe we were going to, as Malcolm said, we were going to have to demand it, not just plead for it, for equality.

So I made the trip out to California, where I was supposed to meet a person in the Panther office and join. And every step of the way, and the three whole months, every day I was frightened.

And this was not me, I felt like, you have to listen to your heart and mind. You have to really listen, be aware. I was shaking. You know, I had this fever. I couldn’t sleep. I was just scared of that.

And I learned on the trip over more and more things, negative things I heard. The closer I got to joining the more frightened I got. It just felt like, though I had learned to shoot a weapon, I never wanted to prove it.

And the closer we got, the more the signs, the posters with Huey and the rattan chair. Fred Hampton was very inspiring when I heard him speak at Wisconsin. But I was scared and I didn’t want to do this thing. It didn’t feel like me.

So the next morning, when I was supposed to go to the office, that night I picked up the phone and I called a professor who offered me a traveling fellowship, so that I would—and he hoped I would—return to accept the invitation to the monastery. I picked up the phone and said, “Professor Carmichael, I’ll take the fellowship.” And I slept for the first time in weeks. So it was the right decision, I think.

Scott Snibbe:

I’m not sure very many people have faced such a stark choice between violent revolutionary and altruistic nonviolent Buddhist practitioner. But for a young person today struggling with some of those issues themselves it’s not clear, is it? Should I be more forceful or even potentially violent or destructive in making a point? Or take this high road, purely peaceful path. Because this question is still being asked by millions of people today. What would you say to them?

Dr. Jan Willis:

You’re right. Your question was about violence.

Scott Snibbe:

No, I love that. What you just said is an amazing story. But now I’m curious what you’d say to someone today.

“Under no circumstances should hatred be leading the revolution. Besides, it will fizzle out. Hatred is not the greatest fuel, not for the long haul. Better to love these folk you’re with and let love fuel the struggle.”

Dr. Jan Willis:

I still think that under no circumstances should hatred be leading the revolution. Besides, it will fizzle out. Hatred is not the greatest fuel, not for the long haul. Better to love these folk you’re with and let love fuel the struggle.

Just as King said, “If you look at that person, even if he’s wearing a Klan”—well, I don’t know, that’s hard. King also said, “It’s good The Lord told us that we didn’t have to like them.” And I think that was really wise. But what he said was—and I’ve heard Tibetan nuns say this who’ve been tortured by the Chinese soldiers. They say, you look at the person who’s harming you. And you think this is not all of who they are. This is not all of them.

So the nuns say in this documentary called Satya by Ellen Bruno, they say about their Chinese captors that this same soldier who tortures me now goes home and kisses a wife and picks up a child. So they know love. This is not all of who they are. And that’s a way that those nuns held onto their humanity and that Chinese soldier’s humanity. That’s what you can’t lose sight of.

Shantideva says this in the beginning of chapter six, Bodhisattva Avatara, All the goodness that’s been created over eons and eons of practicing—goodness—can be destroyed in an instant. By what? By hatred.

Because my understanding is—and trying to listen to His Holiness—hatred always is destructive; always wants to kill the enemy. So how can that be Buddhist anywhere? What’s that first principle in Dhammapada? Do no harm. Hatred’s essence is harming. So I think that we should all resist. We’ve been through this. We have to do this all together. Love will take us in the long haul to better places than hatred.

Scott Snibbe:

That’s beautiful. And, and again, it distills into something really simple and practical: just to see the full humanity of even the people you most despise, even your enemies.

Dr. Jan Willis:

You can’t say, “I want to take everyone to enlightenment except this one and this one.”

Scott Snibbe:

So one last question in the spirit of becoming self-aware and self-critical, it’s actually a question more about Buddhism, which you’ve reflected on a little bit. You’ve talked about the small number of Black people in American Buddhism today, and historically. Could you share a little bit why you think that is, and also how it can become more inclusive?

Dr. Jan Willis:

Making Buddhism in America more inclusive has been one of my pet peeves for a long time. Early on I would often be the only person of color in a large gathering of Buddhist. And I have published work that argues, since 1996, the Buddha taught not only all casts, but allowed women into the sangha.

So I’d like to see Buddhism in the American context become more accessible. Class and race keep people out of Buddhist centers and retreats because of the way Buddhism is organized here in America. They have retreats and, you know, it requires money and it requires leisure time. And working-class people don’t have that.

Scott Snibbe:

No, definitely not.

Dr. Jan Willis:

So we’ve got to figure out ways, new ways. That’s been one of my pet peeves. But I’m happy to say, very happy to report, that last year was housed at Spirit Rock 68 Black Buddhist teachers gathered together for six days.

And at the weekend, 300 Black Buddhist practitioners and 370 of a set in the hall, Black Buddhist teachers and practitioners. It was marvelous. The program for the first night was a dialogue between Angela Davis and me on Freedom and Liberation.

“Freedom and Liberation” began by talking about our similarities: both from Birmingham; we both knew about the struggles there and the civil rights campaign. Angela began by apologizing that she wasn’t there for that, the marches. Well that’s okay! You went on and you did the work girlfriend, right? But we talked about liberation and freedom. And we could just look out and see. It was such a celebration.

So I want to just put in a plug that there’s a pipeline of Buddhist teachers, which is one of the things that’s required. You don’t want Blacks to look at Buddhist groups and never see themselves there: as students and as teachers. That’s important.

So there’s this pipeline that’s begun. Let me please name them: Larry Yang, Gina Sharp, Kate Wheeler. The three of them have been teaching a four-year first group of teachers, the first graduation of the four-year-long program: 20 people of color and LGBT folk will be graduating. And they will get the Spirit Rock credentials.

Scott Snibbe:

It sounds completely coherent with all the research about education, right? That if a Black child has a Black teacher is one of the very strongest correlates of their lifelong success. And that’s what you’re saying for the Buddhist centers too, is to cultivate that pipeline and have teachers of color.

Dr. Jan Willis:

It makes sense that Buddhist centers would operate like the rest of society. But still, that’s the water we swim in. So we have to be proactive and take steps to make it more welcoming for all people. Buddha taught all people. Let’s make it All Access Dharma.

Scott Snibbe:

Thank you so much for joining us. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and I really appreciate your making time in your schedule. You said some extraordinary things and I think our audience is really going to appreciate them. So thank you so much for your time.

Dr. Jan Willis:

Really enjoyed talking with you. Thank you.

Scott Snibbe:

Thanks for joining us in this episode of A Skeptic’s Path to Enlightenment with Professor Jan Willis.

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Willis, I highly recommend her memoir Dreaming Me, which we link to on this episode’s website at skepticspath.org, as well as her most recent book of essays, Dharma Matters: Women, Race, and Tantra. You can also find links to the dharma teachers Dr. Willis mentioned in this episode, a transcript of this episode, and links to join our newsletter and our private meditation discussion group.

This episode was produced by my partner in Skeptic’s Path, Stephen Butler, who conceived, created and produces our entire interview series. 

If you have any questions or comments on this episode, please share them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIN, where we can be found as “skepticspath.” And if you enjoyed this episode, leaving a review for us on Apple Podcasts helps others discover our show. Until next week…


Hosted by Scott Snibbe
Produced by Stephen Butler
Theme music by Bradley Parsons of Train Sound Studio


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