Of Color and The Cushion

In 1981, during a visit to a temple of 1,000 Buddhas in Bangkok, Jan Willis lingered over a single, ungilded statue. Unlike its golden neighbors, the Buddha was black. In that moment, the assurances of her Buddhist teacher--"You're already a Buddha; you just have to manifest it"--became real.

Willis, 52, is an African-American professor of Buddhism at Wesleyan University. At her home in Middletown, Conn., she points to a snapshot of the 1981 encounter, noting that only after a decade of meditation was she able to examine her blackness. She adds, "I became able to deal with the deep wounds...

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