Anyone could’ve written this. Until it’s certain who wrote it and why, I don’t see much use in responding.
Sabrina joined last year.
Yes, my apologies, again. I was wrong. I assumed that first time posting meant that they had just joined. Obviously that is not true. I forget that people create accounts even when they never post. I’ve edited my post.
Perhaps we could get back to the topic.
Especially after that disclaimer at the top was posted. And “teacuplane” has their name listed as “Morgan Lane.” Very odd all around…
I had felt quite sure that the message purporting to be from Matty wasn’t his, due to the cryptic presentation from someone not unfamiliar, and content that I deemed unlikely. I then launched into a critique of that content that would’ve been ok if I’d been correct. I learned by phone call from Aloka Vihara that the post as indeed Matty’s. Oops. My apologies to Matty and all inconvenienced by the post.
Thank you, @Snowbird
As the statement is called “A Note from Matty Weingast” and was signed with his name and the date, I assume these are indeed his words and that maybe a friend of his posted them for him. I cannot blame him if - for his peace of mind - he’d rather not engage directly here on the forum. However, I have no inside knowledge to know one way or the other.
As I understand, Matty has agreed to make it more clear in the upcoming edition of TFFW that he is the author of the poems and while his inspiration came from the Therigatha, it is for the most part no translation but rather an interpretation of these ancient texts. I think at this point, basically everyone agrees with that.
However, I get the impression that the poems are still seen as problematic by many here on this forum. And that is something I don’t understand. Why are the poems seen as in contrast to the Dhamma and not as some kind of commentary by a serious practitioner who sat with these poems for a long time to see how they resonate for him and then put his meditative understanding of them in contemporary form? Why is is seen as a corruption of the teachings and not a contribution, just like those of any Buddhist teachers teaching in this day and age?
In my opinion, these poems are not some kind of “feel-good, anything goes, good vibes only” fluff, but they do speak about renunciation, about letting go, about observing the arising and ceasing of everything, about dealing with sexual abuse, with grief, about how to see the body and mind clearly without attachments etc (and even mention rebirth which was doubted by some). I cannot imagine that the ancient nuns would have a problem with that if it clearly comes from a place of respect for the scriptures and the Dhamma.
This is also very perplexing to me. An author - no matter their gender - using the literary device of talking in another’s “voice” is very common in poetry as well as in other forms of literature. Otherwise the only literature we’d have would be autobiographic. He is not actually pretending to be an enlightened nun from ancient India, he is just writing from their (imagined) point of view.
And yes, if he would insist that these are the exact words of the ancient nuns, then that wouldn’t be true. And as I already said in my previous post, I am glad that this was made more clear thanks to the efforts of many dedicated advocates of the original Therigatha.
All in all, I just wanted to express my thanks to Matty for his poems with my first post because I felt sad reading some unkind and harsh judgements of him and his work on this forum and I felt that he didn’t deserve so much vitriol for something that - in my opinion - comes from his love of the Dhamma and not from any cold-hearted monetary calculations. And as we cannot look inside his head, maybe it would be a good idea to at least not assume the worst.
The @moderators have added two different disclaimers at the top of the post. It probably would have been better if they had also done a green-box mod message at the current end of the thread because none of us who have already read the thread will ever see that message. So I post it here, as it currently stands at the time of my posting:
Forum participants are advised that Matty Weingast is NOT available on the forum to respond to any feedback on this note. The content presented hereunder has been posted by him under a nom-de-plume with a proviso that he shall not be responding to comments. Please keep in mind the forum guidelines while responding!
This was confusing to many of us, especially those who knew that he already had an account here.
You raise many good questions and I hope to reply later.
Though it has been independently verified that teacuplane is indeed the nom de plume for Matty Weingast, the author has expressed his desire to abstain from any further discussion. His statement on the issue is as presented above in the thread.
Dear Sabrina, thanks for your post. I’ll try to answer the questions you pose below
In part it is exactly because they are still dealing with the issues (suffering), it becomes hard to distinguish where they veer off track so much - this is what makes them so very destructive. It is like a demonstration of Ayoniso Manasikara (unwise attention) because it focuses attention on the wrong things, and diverts or erases the salient parts from a Dhamma perspective.
Note: if these were just independent poems and not presented as either the direct or even ‘re-imagined’ versions of the Therigatha, there wouldn’t be this problem, then it is just a person giving their take on life …like any one of the thousands of authors writing in this field.
Here is an example Bhante Sujato provided
It is precisely because the focus has moved, from the process of Liberation and penetration of delusion, to the ‘suffering’, that the Dhamma quality has been removed.
One of the tragic things about watering down or adapting the Buddhas teachings to make them more ‘palatable’, is that the very purpose of the teachings and training is removed. If the Buddhas teachings are like a map of samsara, it is like someone has gone in and kicked over and removed the EXIT sign. But that is the whole purpose - Liberation from samsara, and how to realise it… Instead it is glorifying/romanticising all the obstacles and the difficulties of the journey - but removing the destination , the end, the cessation of suffering.
It might be easy to relate to the suffering, as the Weingast poem focuses on the
and ends with a vague statement perhaps referencing mindfulness? This isn’t challenging, it is just a vaguely empathetic expression for how tough it can be…
But it doesn’t tell you how to solve the problem, which the Therigatha does
Now this is challenging, and difficult (each word references specific practices outlined in detail by the Buddha in the suttas) - but it is the solution. It’s no coincidence that the Buddha is often compared to a surgeon… the process may be difficult, but it is the medicine that will cure the disease. By substituting the medicine with candy/lollies one is simply being given a placebo and kept in ignorance.
This is what moves it from Dhamma to ADhamma.
And I’m pretty sure the Enlightened Nuns would indeed have quite a bit of a problem with this
I hope that this clarifies the issue a bit more
Since this discussion is still going strong, I’ve decided to also finally give my perspective on it.
I’ve followed the TFFW controversy since the beginning, and it’s been a very emotional thing for me. This is also one of the reasons why I haven’t posted here before - I did not trust myself to be able to practice right speech in the face of the emotional turmoil and especially anger I was feeling. By now I’ve gained a better understanding and am mainly experiencing sadness, so I’ll finally give it a try. It is not in any way my intention to personally attack anyone and extend my sincerest apologies if I should fail in expressing this properly. My aim with this post is to offer my personal perspective and with that, hopefully, further mutual understanding, just as I have after a long struggle come to understand the dominant perspective in this forum a bit better (I hope).
Some people here have expressed perplexity on why Matty did not post his statement here himself, under his own account (side note: I believed this to be authentic, and by now it has been thankfully clarified). My assumption is that his motivation for this is basically the same as my second major reason for not posting earlier: I don’t feel safe here.
I have been in forums since before web-based versions of them existed, and while SuttaCentral certainly has the most fancy words of all, I have never once witnessed the amount of viciousness, hatred and baseless allegations leveled towards Matty here. This has deeply shocked me and eroded my trust in the Dhamma and the Sangha (how can long term practitioners still be acting like this and consider themselves righteous for it?). I still don’t feel safe here, but by now I don’t care anymore. If necessary I can simply decide that this is not a place I want in my life and walk away. And in all likelihood I will do that. I however still fear that some backlash against my post(s) will be intentionally or subconsciously directed towards my friends, which is the reason why I won’t disclose more about myself and especially my associations here.
Now, since these are certainly strong words, please let me reiterate that this is not in any way intended as personal attack, but as a truthful and open description of how this controversy has impacted me, in the hope of furthering better mutual understanding.
Which leads me to my other point, namely my aforementioned (hopefully) better understanding for the dominant view expressed here on the topic. To be able to properly explain this I first have to describe a bit my view of Buddhism (my “truth”, to pick up on the paragraph I quoted from Matty’s message in my first post):
In my personal view, Buddhism is at its core about developing and embodying the 5 precepts (or more, if you are a monastic), about developing and embodying the brahmaviharas, and about developing a clear view of reality as it truly is through realizing non-self and impermanence. Or, to put it even more succinctly, to develop the often quoted “Wisdom and Compassion” and the Dalai Lama’s “My Religion is Kindness”.
Now, what I have picked up here and what appears to be the view dominant in this forum (or at least among the most vocal forum members) is that there is something even more important than these noble qualities, and that is the preservation of Dhamma in the form of the scripture or, in other words, Dogma. As Bhante @Akaliko puts it in the other thread, referring to what I experienced as shockingly vicious attacks against Matty:
I have also come to realize why this view (this “other truth” commonly held here which is very different from “my truth”) had such a strong emotional impact on me (among other reasons): because as I see it it fits (or at the very least strongly reminds of) this definition:
Fundamentalism usually has a religious connotation that indicates unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs. However, fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups – mainly, although not exclusively, in religion – that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established “fundamentals” and their accepted interpretation within the group often results from this tendency.
(Source: Fundamentalism - Wikipedia )
I am deeply sorry for continuing with such “big guns” and want to emphasize (again) that this is not intended as personal attack in any way. On the contrary, it is a heartfelt offer of an outside perspective that hopefully provides some insight on how words written here may be perceived by others.
And please don’t get me wrong: I consider it very important to preserve the old scriptures as closely to the original as possible, as is done on SuttaCentral. I am very grateful to everyone contributing to this monumental effort. I am only trying to explain that I personally consider it very dangerous to react to someone else publishing his interpretation of the Dhamma somewhere else by essentially (in my impression) abandoning core teachings of the Buddha - especially Metta, Karuna, Upekkha and Right Speech.
Furthermore I want to express that I now think I can better understand what pain the initial mischaracterization of the poems has caused here - considering the described view of Buddhism as base, such pain is an obvious and natural response. I also hope that I could provide a little insight on the pain the response on this forum has caused to people holding the other view, like myself. May we develop better empathy and understanding for each other and may this help a bit with restoring harmony in the Sangha.
Just a friendly reminder to all users to respect the forum guidelines and practice Right Speech.
For example, please avoid:
- Ad hominem attacks.
- Responding to a post’s tone instead of its actual content.
- Knee-jerk contradiction.
- Passive-aggressive tactics.
- Psycho-analysing other commenters.
- Threatening people with kammic retribution
Do you have a source for this? Because in his post above, Weingast is clearly saying that he only acknowledges people’s individual truths, which can only mean that he will continue referring to his poems as translations if he feels that that is his truth.
We have no indication that Weingast agrees with that. Which rather begs the question why, after 6 months, is he unable to stop this whole mess by simply saying what we all know to be true.
The Aloka nuns and Shambhala, on the other hand, have—after a massive expenditure of time and effort on our behalf—said that they accept that it is not a translation. Yet the Aloka website still calls it a translation. Shambhala website still calls it a translation. Amazon still calls it a translation. Goodreads still calls it a translation. Library of Congress still calls it a translation.
Can you not understand how frustrating this is for us? Can you not understand how difficult it is to trust people’s words when they are not backed up by actions? Do you not find yourself troubled at the mismatch between words and actions?
We left this whole issue behind months ago, satisfied with assurances that it would be fixed. We moved on, and got on with our lives. Then it was raised again by Ayya Anandabodhi’s criticism of myself and Ven Akaliko, upon which we realized that essentially nothing had been done to rectify the situation.
I am proud of this community, and proud of the way we have handled this. Overwhelmingly, the responses have been fair-minded and reasonable, and a healthy diversity of views has been aired.
I know that it has been emotionally draining and enervating for many of us, including myself. We are heartily sick of the whole affair, and just want to move on.
Why is it so hard to simply fix a mistake? On this very thread, @snowbird did it. @Charlotteannun did it. I do it all the time. Hey, I just did it again! It’s easy and fun and you learn stuff. Just say, “Yep, my bad, I made a mistake. Let me fix it.” Then you fix it. And we can all move on.
Well, to state the obvious, this is not what the Buddha taught.
The general understanding of “truth” is something that is in accordance with facts and reality.
In 2021, we have become so desensitized that people actually need to say that.
I notice that any direct address of the issue is strikingly absent from this note. It seems clear that all of us are looking forward to moving on from this issue. That much is established. And yet, the issue can not die down until it is actually addressed. All this note accomplishes is sharing intentions of goodwill. Which I appreciate and reciprocate. But it can’t end there. To actually resolve the issue, there needs to be open discussion about how we can best move forward to preserve the true Dhamma. Because there is such a thing. My truth and your truth are irrelevant. What matters is the truth the Buddha shared with all of us out of compassion. The least we can do in veneration to him is preserve it to the best of our ability. I sincerely hope we can all agree on at least that. Otherwise there is no hope of this issue ever being resolved.
I haven’t gotten involved in this whole debate here up to now. Anyway, here are a few short thoughts.
On “truths”, there are things that can be verified and other things that cannot. Religious “truths” are often less subject to verification, e.g. most Jews wouldn’t agree that Jesus is their Messiah and, then also, Christians wouldn’t agree with the rather different picture of Jesus presented in the Koran. Obviously, these different pictures cannot all be simultaneously true. Religious/spiritual claims just are what they are (they can be stated and people can make up their own mind as to their veracity). Some here have objected to the process of inspiration (or “channeling” perhaps, though I’m not sure that you’ve used that word and it may be a mischaracterisation) that you as used to get these poems. I’ve no objection to that as such. If the process is clearly described in your book, then that’s fair enough. Adult readers can make up their own minds. Objections because you are male (or “mansplaining”) wouldn’t be a particular concern of mine (again, readers can see from your name that you are male and make up their own minds as to whether it is an issue or not for them).
However, it really is a long stretch to think these poems are translations. It’s clear from online reader reviews for this book, that many readers were under the mistaken impression that this was a translation (likely many bought the book on this basis). IMO that was a mistake. Everything should be done to make this clear (some work has been done but likely more needs to be done). This is probably the only thing that needs to be done in my view. Some of the Ayyas have apologized if they were in some way part of creating such a false impression, which is good (though hopefully all links related to the book can be updated).
I’d be wary of analyzing the motivations of others also. Like religious “truths”, this is often something we cannot really know for sure. Perhaps the “translation” label originally arose from “sloppy” or fuzzy thinking about whether this was all a translation and not any deliberate intent. It has also occurred to me that the publisher may not have any particular expertise in the Pali scriptures. Given there were many prominent people, including monastics, giving glowing reviews and referring to this as a “translation”, then perhaps the editors at the publisher just assumed this was a legitimate claim. Likewise, it was a bit disappointing that some of these well-known reviewers didn’t actually do their homework and go back and look at some earlier translations for comparison.
Overall, I don’t object to the book of poems itself. As long as everything is transparent (you describe your process etc.), readers can form their own impressions. Many people seemed to enjoy the poems.
However, IMO the decision to call it a translation was a mistake (however, that came about – I make no judgements on that). We all make mistakes. Primarily, I think you just need to ensure that it is clear in the book blurb and elsewhere that this is not really a translation (call it a poetic re-imagining or creative reinterpretation or whatever but not a translation). That’s the one thing, I feel, that needs to be corrected.
When I said in the other thread that Weingast should come forward and publicly apologize or if he didn’t think he was fault, explain why, this kind of statement is not what I had in mind. It’s a series of platitudes, neither an apology nor an explanation about anything. Whatever it is, it’s not forthright. If I look past the platitudes to see the message he’s really communicating…At best, it’s a brushing off of the concerns about his book. At worst, it’s essentially a middle finger followed by walking away.
There is more to gain than simple wealth. The pleasures of praise, fame, recognition, and being celebrated come to mind. Now I’m not saying these were or weren’t motivations in writing his book, but they certainly have come about as a result of it to some extent. Those things aren’t easy to let go of and admitting even the slightest fault would require some letting go.
We can’t look inside someone’s head, but we can see how they act and speak and come to tentative conclusions based upon that. In more difficult situations, like this one dealing with blame and accusations of fault, we can learn quite a bit about a person’s character.
I’m always willing to reevaluate my tentative conclusions about others. But if this is the last Weingast has to say publicly on the subject…there’s no need.
Dear @Viveka thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! I really appreciate it.
I can see where you’re coming from with this point and why that would be troubling. I don’t know if it’s because I’m neither very well versed in the Suttas nor a proficient meditator, but I find it much easier to relate to Matty’s version than to the original poems. In order to understand those and the concepts they refer to, I’d either need a better grounding in the EBTs and/or a good explanation of the whole context and the specific practices alluded to in the poems. Whereas Matty’s poems make sense to me on an intuitive level.
Bearing in mind that I’m not an expert, I understood the following quote from Matty’s poem in the comparison by Bhante @sujato
not as a vague statement but as a description of the Theri doing mindfulness of breathing meditation and observing her thoughts arise and cease and while doing that, she realizes how insubstantial (impermanent, non-self) her thoughts are and how her mental clinging to her old life is based on delusion and she wakes up from that delusion and that’s liberating for her. I found that to be inspiring and a good motivation to practice in that manner. Maybe that’s not the full practice to reach total liberation but I would imagine it certainly helps the practitioner move in that direction.
That is why I simply cannot bring myself (at this point in time and with the knowledge that I have) to see Matty’s poems as ADhamma.
However, I am aware that I am still very much subject to delusion so this is not me saying I am right and all you diligent long-term practitioners are wrong!
To say it with the example about the medicine that you mentioned - I see Matty’s poems not as the (somewhat) bitter, pure medicine of the original Therigatha, but neither do I see them as a placebo. Maybe a slightly lolly-flavored medicine which goes down more easily for those like me who are still in the early stages of their practice. Or just for people who have a different, more intuitive approach and/or are not as familiar with the whole cultural context of the ancient poems and might be deterred by unfamiliar terms etc.
Since I was a bit troubled and confused by this statement - having been under the impression that actually quite a lot has been changed - I looked into it. And now I’m even more confused:
- The pages on the Aloka Vihara website you linked to in your post in the “core values” thread don’t mention any translation. Maybe that has been changed in the meantime? The TFFW entry on the “publications” page links to the second edition of the book on the Shambala website
- The Shambala page has exactly one mention of it being a translation, and that’s in a short blurb by Jack Kornfield. That’s certainly not optimal, but given that (a) the other 16 blurbs are fine and (b) the book cover and description make it abundantly clear that it’s not a translation, this certainly can’t be seen as fatal flaw.
- Both amazon and Goodreads have the same cover and the same description as the Shambala page, with Goodreads lacking the blurbs.
- The Library of Congress currently has unfortunately technical difficulties and won’t complete my search for the book.
Or are you referring to the first edition of the book, which has been pulled from the market but still has entries on amazon and goodreads? I’m not sure it’s even possible to remove these. In the case of amazon it also might be difficult to change the description, since the book is being sold by amazon itself.
No, I don’t have any source on this I could quote, aside from the new cover and description on the Amazon page which says
In The First Free Women, Matty Weingast has reimagined this ancient collection and created an original work that takes his experience of the essence of each poem and brings forth in his own words the struggles and doubts, as well as the strength, perseverance, and profound compassion, embodied by these courageous women.
and IMHO makes it clear that it’s not a translation. I don’t see why Matty should go around and state things differently than what is written on the cover of his own book.
I do understand the frustration and I also wish that Matty could have addressed this in his statement. However, I can also see why it might be difficult for him to do so. After all, his poems did start out as a translation and later evolved into a different thing. For me, it’s like his poems are not a clone of the original (i.e. a translation) but the relationship is rather like child to parent - i.e. his poems were born from the contemplation of the original poems and his own inspiration. Which is why his poems are not an entity completely separate from the original poems - but neither are they a translation.
I have the hope that the Dhamma is big and wide enough to provide room for content like this - if it’s clearly delineated from the original text so as not to confuse anyone… something that unfortunately happened in this case. I agree with what @Konin said here:
You make many excellent points.
Firstly I should make a correction or explanation about this point.
I’m sorry if my expression was clumsy here. I don’t mean to say that what M Weingast writes is ‘bad’ or wrong in and of itself (I have no opinion on this at all). But more of a principle in the context of changing/removing the message that was given in the Therigatha. The problems come when the new text looks/appears to be from the Theri.
I understand and accept what you are saying here. It is great that the poems have helped you make a connection to the Dhamma But I believe that this all comes under the category of teaching and presenting the Dhamma. One of the important aspects is to teach/hear the right teachings at the right time. The Buddha taught for over 40 years and there is an abundance of material. It is not difficult to find something that specifically addresses almost any need. There are many texts and poems in the Canon. But I don’t even think it is necessary to just stick with Early Buddhist texts … my point being that there is a vast choice available - there is NO Necessity to alter existing texts to change their meaning to illustrate a different point - one just needs to choose the right text in the first place. Or a poem written by someone else that can be used to illustrate aspects of it…
I am viewing this whole issue as having several different parts. Firstly and most importantly was the issue of this book being published as a translation - which it was, which has been acknowledged as a serious mistake (to the point the publisher is retracting it and re-issuing). This is a vital issue, since the work was in danger of replacing the original - This cuts off and destroys the opportunity of individuals to have access to the true Dhamma in the future.
The second issue is on a much smaller scale (imo) and is about appropriation of the voices of the Theris and putting different words into their mouths, as in the example above.
I really don’t like to speculate, specualtion is all fantasy - but in this case, in the absence of clear responses we are left with a vacuum. I can see that a project that initially starts as an intention to translate, can evolve over time. In imaging how this could happen, I can see that the original structure of the work follows that of the Therigatha, with chapters, names, formatting etc. But what comes next is the bit that is a bit disjointed and causes the problems… If the mode is now mostly inspiration and generation of new material, but the format and structure is not changed, then it looks like appropriation. It’s like re-using a jar for a different purpose - but care needs to be taken with the Label… If the label says ‘honey’, but it is filled with something else you can get into trouble. If the new contents is clearly and obviously different (eg with pebbles), you get the idea pretty clearly that it has been re-purposed. But if the label says honey, and the contents still looks like honey but is actually oil, then we are starting to get into murky waters…
I would suggest that by keeping the structure, the names of the Theris at the head of the poems etc, that this makes it unclear that these are new poems and not the message that the Enlightened Nuns gave. Because of this dynamic, and the removal of the Dhamma lessons that the Nuns were giving, this is what is causing the problem.
But as I said before, this is a secondary issue and of much lower impact overall, but is why I can’t see it as very skillful. But this is my opinion only, though it has obviously caused a lot of angst for many people.
This is great But this same result would come simply from having the right materials and methods for teaching You would get this same effect if the poem were written without being packaged as what Sangha Theri said.
As I said before there are so many rich materials to choose from. And if one wants to write some new and inspiring material that is great One doesn’t need to appropriate an existing treasured scripture to do so. There is no reason why suttas and additional material can’t be presented together either.
When teaching anything, specially something as complex as the Dhamma, many examples are given. If we were to again use the example of the verse above, there is no reason why one can’t focus in and draw out aspects.
I’m spelling this out, so as to try to be as clear as possible and avoid misunderstandings, so apologies if it seems to be labouring a point …
So this contains the entire practice, and the entirety of the teaching could be extrapolated from this. (As one becomes more familiar with the teachings of the Buddha, one begins to appreciate the absolute genius of how the Buddha taught. The Dhamma is presented like a fractal - one can telescope out to immense perspectives, or focus down to microscopic perspectives, and the whole time there is perfect integrity and repetition from multitudinuous angles and perspectives - it is truly a joy)
So lets focus on the words ‘dispelled ignorance’ in the poem. One of the practices involved in facilitating Wisdom (the opposite of ignorance) is meditation - one of the practices of meditation is mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati). But there are also many more practices. So by only drawing out this one very small aspect of the sutta, and discarding the rest, it is a reduction of the Dhamma inherent in the words of the Nun. It is already in there, but is only one small aspect. But you can’t teach everything all at once - so the materials relevant to breath meditation need to be brought in. If one wanted to, (not that I’m recommending this at all, just as an illustration of a point) one could structure an entire series of classes using just those few words in the Theri’s verse. It would involve expanding it out, and then zooming in to each relevant element. There is no need, and I have to ask how skillful it is, to make a new version of the poem. Note, a wholly new poem, not ascribed to the Theri, is no problem, as long as one knows that it is oil and not honey…
Of course every one teaches differently, and thank goodness for that! We are all so different and so access to a wide variety of materials and approaches is really important. And we are so very fortunate to have access to such great materials.
I thank you for your earnest engagement here and I hope that I have been able to articulate this perspective a bit more clearly.
I hope that you also have an opportunity to have a bit of a look around the Suttas and what the Buddha actually taught Not all of the texts are difficult or hard to understand
With much metta and best wishes for your journey on the Path of Peace