Vajrapani Institute
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Making the Invisible Visible:

Exploring Bias and Racism through a Buddhist Lens

Event Description


December 7-10, 2017


All Levels

Silence Level


Retreat Overview

What insights can ancient Buddhist teachings offer to the challenges of racism, inequity and other issues of social justice we face today? How can we become aware of, and challenge, our own biases? How can contemplative practice extend beyond the meditation cushion into activism in our daily lives?

Join us for a weekend of discussion in the safety and sanctity of Vajrapani Institute with renowned scholar and practitioner Jan Willis as she draws from her personal experience and decades of teaching to explore these questions. Participants will read important pieces, watch films about, do exercises on, and discuss together the challenging and thorny issues of race and racism in our world and in our lives.

Some of the material that will be explored in the course includes films such as “Race: the Power of An Illusion” and “I Am Not Your Negro,” and excerpts from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Debbie Irving’s Waking Up White, and other selected readings.

Suggested Reading List
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
  • James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
  • Debbie Irving, Waking Up White
  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
  • Marc Lamont Hill, Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable
  • Carol Anderson, White Rage
  • Robin DiAngelo, “White Fragility”
Additional Information
    • Please plan on arriving between 3:00 and 5:00 PM on the first day of the retreat.
    • Please plan on departing approximately 2:00 PM on the last day of the retreat.

If you are interested in serving as Course Liaison for this retreat, please apply here.

  • 7 December 2017 to 10 December 2017

Already Registered? Prepare for your Group Retreat Want to offer Service? Volunteer to be Course Liaison

Teacher Bio

Jan Willis

Jan Willis is one of the earliest American scholar-practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, having studied Buddhism with Tibetan teachers for fifty years. She was one of the first western students of Lama Thubten Yeshe. Jan discovered the Dharma as a path to healing the trauma of racism she experienced growing up in the segregated south and has forged paths for the integration of Buddhism and social and political justice.

Dr. Willis is a Professor Emerita of Religion at Wesleyan University and a Visiting Professor of Religious Studies at Agnes Scott College in Decatur Georgia. 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 years.

She is the author of the memoir Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist (2001) and scholarly and popular works on Buddhist meditation, hagiography, women and Buddhism, and Buddhism and race. TIME magazine named Willis one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millennium,” Newsweek magazine’s “Spirituality in America” issue in September of 2005 included a profile of Willis and, in its May 2007 edition, Ebony magazine named Willis one of its “Power 150” most influential African Americans. See also: A Genuine Guru: Jan Willis Remembers Lama Yeshe (Mandala Magazine)

Option A is a slightly lower cost designed to allow as many people to attend as possible. Option B reflects the true cost of hosting visitors and is higher as a result. The accommodations are the same for both and you can choose whichever price suits your financial needs.

Fees (inclusive of accommodation, meals, retreat fees)
Option A Option B
Main Dormitory $276.00 $345.00
Semi-Private Dormitory $357.00 $465.00
Private Room $537.00 $645.00
Private Room – extra person $330.00 $435.00
$642.00 $750.00
Cabin – extra person
$345.00 $480.00
10% membership discounts are applicable for members.
Level 1: One Student $170.00
Level 2: Two Students $340.00

We want to make retreat available to everyone.  With this in mind, we will gladly work out a payment plan with you. If you need even more assistance, we offer several scholarships. Please note that the scholarship deadline is one month before retreat begins.

If you have additional questions after reviewing the guidelines for payment plans and/or scholarships, please email the Office at