Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

Dreaming Me - Praise

Black, Baptist, and Buddhist: One Woman’s Spiritual Journey

“Her story is a testimony to the way in which ordinary life can be transformed. Well, maybe her life is not so ordinary. Smart and quick-tongued, and also fiendishly clever, Jan Willis ran the gauntlet of all kinds of prejudices and overcame personal fears to emerge as the ’beautiful and strong’ Buddhist woman Lama Yeshe knew she could be. She and her contemporaries have forged a new world of racial equality.”—Mandala

“Jan Willis’s book is a compelling, beautiful, and informative guide for anyone interested in transformation. She skillfully weaves together her personal story and the Buddha’s teaching, evoking the reality of walking a path to liberation.”—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness

“Raised in segregated Alabama, as an adult Willis journeyed to the monasteries of Kathmandu. In this memoir, she remembers the segregated South of the 1950s and 1960s. She lets readers travel back with her: growing up with TV channels that had ‘trouble along the cable’ whenever a black performer appeared, avoiding getting swatted by the spirited ’shouters’ in her church or marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham. She takes readers inside the Cornell black students’ protests of the late 1960s and reveals the temptations of the Black Panthers. Ultimately she chose inner peace over carrying a piece: it was the Buddhist path, which acknowledged suffering but focused on healing, that won her heart. While her Tibetan mentor, Lama Yeshe, had no personal experience with American racism, he saw his student’s wounded self-esteem and helped her cope with her perfectionism. Willis returned to America, becoming one of the first tenured Buddhist scholars in academia (she is currently a professor of religious studies at Wesleyan University). Although she recounts several difficult experiences from her early days as an African-American professor and practicing Buddhist, Willis is strong. She realizes that the Baptist she was raised to be and the Buddhist she has become share basic beliefs: ’We are all human beings...all wish to have happiness and to avoid suffering.’ Hailed by Time magazine as one of the top innovators in religion for the new millennium, Willis delivers a gripping, intimate account of her spiritual journey that will move anyone who is compelled by the examined life. With a whisper to Oprah, she could be the first African-American Buddhist feminist guru to be embraced by reading groups across America.”—Publishers Weekly

“Destined for the same shelf as Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk and Amazing Grace, this is a powerful memoir of a ’Baptist Buddhist’ who writes with courage, compassion, and forgiveness. Like Lamott and Norris, Willis (religion, Wesleyan Univ.; Enlightened Beings, The Diamond Light) did not find her faith in the ‘easy way.’ Born into a ‘colored’ Baptist family in Birmingham, AL, during the 1950s, Willis was subjected to hatred and humiliation firsthand. One of her earliest memories is of watching her mother stand behind a door with a loaded gun to protect her daughters as the Klan burned a cross on the family’s lawn. The most heart-breaking scene is of Willis’s father, who also loved learning, running away to the closest black college, camping out because he had no money, and being forced to go home because there were no jobs for educated blacks. A lesser spirit might have given up, but Willis followed her conscience, marching with Dr. King in Birmingham and opting to attend an Ivy League university. Eventually, her choices led her to rendezvous with both the Black Panthers and Buddhists in India. This searching memoir is recommended for all collections.”—Library Journal

“Jan Willis’s honest, lucid, mindful, and heartful account of her amazing life thus far, its struggles and woundings, its triumphs and joys, is certainly the roar of a lioness of truth-awakening, empowering, inspiring! Listen to it with pride and pleasure!” —Robert Thurman, author of Inner Revolution

“Willis writes frankly about family, race, spirituality, and finding grace among life’s most difficult challenges. Dreaming Me is more honest and fascinating than anything I’ve read in a long time.”—David Pesci, author of Amistad

“Intensely felt... highly personal... A moving story that aims to reconcile the experiences of faith and racism.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A great read and an important biographical history of spirituality and social justice in the twentieth century.”—Tricycle

“Willis incorporates the oral traditions of Alex Haley’s Roots, the historical perceptions of Diane McWhorter’s Carry Me Home, and the good humor of Anne Lamott. Dreaming Me is a memoir filled with forgiveness, acceptance, and transformation.”—Eastern Horizon

“Jan Willis’s story is astonishing, in part due to the opportunities that open to her at pivotal moments in her life. Looking back on her life’s accomplishments and receiving the praise of her students and her spiritual guide, Lama Yeshe, upon her teachings in the classroom, Willis recognizes that she has always had a lioness spirit, longing to really roar. This book is a powerful and vulnerable telling of a phenomenal woman’s life. Neither Black, Baptist, nor Buddhist, I found this autobiography beautiful and enlightening. I imagine that for readers who can more closely identify with Jan Willis’ experience, Dreaming Me offers a model of profound hope and inspiration.”—Feminist Review