Explain Jan Willis's definition of rituals and practice throughout her journey in Dreaming Me

In Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist, Jan Willis discusses rituals as outward manifestations of spiritual discipline and defines practice (in her own case, since she is a teacher) as acquiring and passing on wisdom. These definitions emerge from the author's discussion of the concepts rather than an explicit statement.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist, Jan Willis allows her definitions of rituals and practice to emerge from multiple references in the text. Her first comments on rituals are rather disparaging, as she refers to stereotypes of "bloody tantric rituals" in which Tibetans are said to drink human blood from cups made of human skulls. However, through her work with Lama Yeshe, the author comes to see that the formal rituals of Buddhism are only an outward sign of the inner spiritual discipline practiced by Buddhists. These ceremonies are important because of the effect they have on spiritual life. A ritual is still defined as a puja or special ceremony, but the point of it is the self-forgetfulness it promotes.

With regard to practice, the author quotes the sixteenth Karmapa of Tibet, who said, "We have to do what we know." Willis is a scholar of Buddhism but also a practitioner, and says her students always ask her about this, enquiring as to whether she practices meditation. While she points out she is not teaching them to meditate, but conducting an academic class on the history and philosophy of Buddhism, Willis ultimately regards her teaching as a form of practice. She is not preaching to her students or trying to convert them, but she is equipping them with ideas which will help them in life. Willis therefore defines her own form of Buddhist practice as the acquisition and transmission of wisdom.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 23, 2020
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial