Women and Buddhism
with Professor Jan Willis

Tuesdays, Jun 29, Jul 13, 20 & 27, 7–8:30pm EDT ONLINE

The Buddhist community has always consisted of men and women practitioners—of monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen, in that order, largely in deference to the social and cultural structures and conditions of its birth. However, the question of women’s place and standing within Buddhism has remained a problematic and often contentious one. In this short seminar, we investigate why this has been so, and explore the complex and changing status of women—in relationship to Buddhist literature, doctrine, and practice. In addition, we look at some women practitioners themselves with the aim of understanding the ideals and concerns which sustain, drive, and empower them.

Course Requirements

  • Registration for the entire course is required.
  • Students will need to acquire the books listed below, links to the other readings will be posted on the website:

(i)     Dharma Matters by Jan Willis

(ii)    In Search of Buddha’s Daughters by Christine Toomey

(iii)   The First Free Women by Matty Weingast

  • Reading of all class materials prior to each session.
  • Thoughtful engagement with the materials and verbal contributions to discussions.
  • Three short essays (one-page, typed, double spaced). These will be read and “graded” by Professor Willis.

Required Assignments

  • Thoughtful and Engaged attention and contributions to class discussions.
  • All the details for the required weekly reading and writing assignments are provided in the Syllabus. Please review the requirements before registering for the course.

Important Note

This is an online-only event that is administered using Zoom, as the center is currently closed due to COVID-19. Zoom is an interactive video-conferencing tool that allows participants to see one another and ask questions. You will need a computer, a tablet or a smartphone with the Zoom application to attend.

After registering, the system automatically sends a confirmation and/or a receipt email that contains the Zoom meeting link or other instructions. If you are using Zoom for the first time, please login a few minutes earlier to allow any necessary installations on your device.

If you don’t immediately receive the email(s) with the Zoom information, or you have questions about Zoom or accessing the class online, please contact us at [email protected].

Registration / Schedule

Suggested: $72 for all 4 sessions
Other offering options: free, $25, $50, $108

The suggested amount helps support teacher offerings and expenses, direct costs and rent. Shantideva member discounts or benefits will be applied automatically if you have a membership in MindBody. 

Shantideva Center may publish recorded sessions in the public domain (e.g., on YouTube). By registering for this event, you are agreeing to give your consent to this process. To protect your privacy, we recommend being conscious about any personal information you share during the sessions. To further enhance anonymity, you may want to consider turning off video or naming yourself using abbreviations.

Time zone: US Eastern Daylight Time (GMT/UTC-4)

For questions regarding registration, please email [email protected] for assistance.

Additional Materials

If you are a registered student, you may access the readings on our password protected page. After registering, an online receipt will be sent to the email address that you used to register. The page link and password will be on the receipt. Please contact us at [email protected] if you have questions about accessing this page.

Dana for the Teacher

Shantideva Center makes offerings to all of our teachers using the funds collected through registration. You can give additional support to the teacher and create a stronger karmic connection by offering dana. Please make sure to select the teacher’s name in the dropdown menu. Dana offered is passed entirely to the teacher, but please note that it is not tax-deductible.

About the Teacher

Jan Willis, Ph.D. is an author, activist, scholar, professor, and long-time Buddhist practitioner. TIME magazine named her as one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millenium”, and Ebony called her one of its “Power 150” most influential African-Americans.

Dr. Willis is Professor Emerita of Religion at Wesleyan University and now Visiting Professor of Religion at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA. She received her B.A. and M.A. in Philosophy from Cornell University, and her Ph.D. in Indic and Buddhist Studies from Columbia University. 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, she has published numerous articles and essays on various topics in Buddhism—Buddhist meditation, hagiography, women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and race. Her best-known work is her personal memoir, Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist—One Woman’s Spiritual Journey. 

Dr. Willis is one of Lama Yeshe’s earliest Western disciples and sees him as one of her root spiritual mentors. She grew up in the Jim Crow South of 1950s and 1960s and took part in the Civil Rights movement. While traveling through Asia in the early 1970s, she met Lama Yeshe and discovered a path to healing the wounds of racism: “[Buddhism] has helped me in real ways to find what I was looking for as a young person in a world that was violent,” she explained. “It showed me how to locate deep wounds that racism caused in my early life … and having found them, how to heal them.”