Jan Willis (BA and MA in Philosophy from Cornell University; Ph.D. in Indic and Buddhist Studies from Columbia University) is a Professor of Religion Emerita at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. She has studied with Tibetan Buddhists in India, Nepal, Switzerland, and the U.S. for five decades and has taught courses in Buddhism for over forty-five years. She is the author of The Diamond Light: An Introduction to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation (1972), On Knowing Reality: The Tattvartha Chapter of Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi (1979), Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition (1995); and the editor of Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet (1989). Additionally, Willis has published numerous articles and essays on various topics in Buddhism—Buddhist meditation, hagiography, women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and race. In 2001, her memoir, Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey, was published, and in 2008 it was re-issued by Wisdom Publications as Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist—One Woman’s Spiritual Journey.
In December of 2000, TIME magazine 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. Newsweek magazine’s “Spirituality in America” issue in 2005 included a profile of Willis, and Ebony magazine in 2007 named Willis one of its “Power 150” most influential African Americans.
In October and November of 2012, Jan spent seven weeks in a Buddhist nunnery in Thailand and in September of 2013, she walked the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. In April of 2020, her book Dharma Matters: Women, Race, and Tantra— Collected Essays by Jan Willis appeared.