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Transforming Prejudice 


Jan Willis and Marlies Bosch


          When Time magazine (December 11, 2000) dubbed African American professor of Religion and Buddhist Studies, Jan Willis, one of its six “spiritual innovators of the new millennium” and called her a “philosopher with a bold agenda,” it had reference to her continuing efforts to make Tibetan Buddhist teachings more accessible to a wider audience, particularly to people of color.  In fact, Willis’s efforts are to make the spirit of Buddhist teachings more readily accessible to Westerners of all colors and in ways that are practical and immediately useable.  Teaming up with Dutch friend and colleague, Marlies Bosch, whose own expertise grows out of more than fifteen years of leading health and empowerment workshops in the Netherlands, the two women have designed a program of practical exercises, visualizations, and bodywork aimed at helping its readers to transform both individual and systemic forms of negative prejudices, from personal low self esteem and self-loathing to negative and hate-filled prejudices directed towards others.

           Basing itself on the immense difficulties of actually putting into practice the Judeo-Christian injunction to “love one’s neighbor as thyself,” Transforming Prejudice moves methodically through the dismantling of harmful prejudices, beginning with the recognition that we all harbor them, exploring the origins of our particular prejudices with honesty and resolve, understanding how and why we as particular human beings have come to harbor the specific views we do and, through this understanding, to the willingness and confidence to replace them with more positive views and behaviors.  The text concludes with a unit devoted to how we can commit ourselves to making a difference in our world by generating the confidence and commitment to work together for positive change in society as a whole.  For a future of peace to be possible, we must first find methods for disarming our own hearts, ridding them of hateful stereotypes about others and of self-loathing and limiting views of ourselves.  Though work on Transforming Prejudice began more than two years before the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001, the practical tools it provides could not be more urgently needed than they are today. 

           There are countless personal meditation guides and self-help books available.  What makes this book unique is its step-by-step practical approach and its focus, namely: the transformation of the harmful prejudices that cripple our own self-images as well as those negative images we harbor regarding other human beings. Moreover, the exercises, visualizations and bodywork contained in Transforming Prejudice have already been tested out and found to be helpful in a number of different venues: in schools, retreat centers, and in particular, at the York Correctional Institute for Women in Niantic, Connecticut (the state’s only prison for women).

           After a month-long hiatus between workshops conducted at York CI, the co-authors returned for a new series of exercises.  Before the formal session began, an inmate named Patricia reported on what had transpired since the last visit there.  With tears streaking her face, she recounted the following: “My mother passed since you were here.  They let me go to the funeral, though.  But they shackled me like this (with her arms crossed over her chest).  They had never done that before.  I couldn’t lean over and kiss my mother in the coffin.  But I didn’t even want to; I didn’t want her to see me like that.”  Then, she continued, “But I’m still using that ‘obstacles and goals’ meditation, and it’s helping me a lot.”

           In approximately 60,000 words, enhanced by anecdotes and quotations for reflection, Transforming Prejudice provides hands-on, easily performed methods for helping us to recognize and to transform our negative views of ourselves and of others.  These methods can be effectively employed by any individual or group who seriously seeks to explore their own prejudices and to transform them.  One does not have to be Buddhist to practice any of them.  Hence, the readership for Transforming Prejudice will undoubtedly include a large cross-section of the population, namely: individuals, school groups, Buddhist and other religious retreat groups, peace activists, church groups, prisons, corporate management teams, and others concerned with appreciating diversity in our multicultural world.

Used with permission of Jan Willis