Prof. Jan Willis

Religion Department
Wesleyan University
Middletown, Connecticut

As a tenth grader in the ’60s, Prof. Jan Willis marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham, Alabama. That moment, which she often still reflects on, changed her life forever.

“The nonviolence that I witnessed there is echoed in Buddhism,” she said. Though she grew up a Baptist, she now practices and teaches Tibetan Buddhism at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University. Tibetan Buddhism focuses on three areas of self-reflection – outer, which is physical; inner, which is emotional; and secret, which is spiritual.

“Buddhists wish for happiness for all people,” said Prof. Willis. “They live selflessly and practice generosity, reasoning – as King did – that if one of us is unhealthy, we are all unhealthy. We are all responsible for one another.”

Prof. Willis said her students are most intrigued by meditation – a common practice in Buddhism. “Meditation is health care for the mind. We lavish attention on our bodies, but rarely give attention to our minds. Meditation offers the opportunity to do this, and to find rest and peace,” she said.

In addition to her teaching, Prof. Willis encourages her students to visit a variety of places of worship. “I want them to see that the world’s population is not just made up of the people they see every day,” she said.

A teacher, an author, a public speaker and a humanitarian, Prof. Willis said Buddhism gives people space to determine who they are. “We are tough minded but tenderhearted,” she said. “Good health comes from giving yourself time.”