Actions you can take RE: The First Free Women(TFFW) by Mathew Weingast

Hello

I have recently come across a letter seeking signatures, before it is sent to Shambala. It is mostly a good letter.

I felt it important to state here that in the interests of representing the Buddha Dhamma in the EBTs, which is why everyone is (rightly) concerned, we must do so with great care; that is we are ambassadors for what we defend. Check the letters you put your name to are accurate (eg. relevant names are spelled correctly, facts are facts etc.) and that they are not even remotely harsh.

May the Sangha continue to guard the Buddha’s words, and may those of us able to help, do so skillfully.

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This link could also be included with online reviews and be sent to these various groups and organisations that are using the TFFW to teach etc. I mean, this actual translation is both free and true - which is how the Dhamma, which leads to truth and freedom, should be honoured, by being given freely and truthfully.

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I think most of us would encourage people to write individual letters if one of the public ones doesn’t fit the tone or strategy that authentically represents them. If you would like your letter to be available to the public as well, you can post it as a comment here and it will get included as a post.

I also hope that everyone speaks with compassion and kindness. It’s a bit tricky because any time Buddhists speak out against something they are accused of not really being Buddhist.

Absolutely!

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A bit of good news I just found out: library of congress has changed the listing to “American Buddhist poetry”. It’s still referred to as a translation in the summary, but it’s a start.

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Oh wow! That’s great. Now this is what it will keep company with:

Unfortunately, though, the catalogue number has not changed, so it will still sit on the shelf next to real translations.

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So let’s contact them again.
https://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/sendFeedback?page=Item+Information+(Full+Record)
ISBN: 9781611807769
LCCN: 2019013712
If anyone wants to join in on doing this, here’s a suggested format to get you started:

  1. Expression of gratitude for cooperation so far.
  2. Ask them to change the summary to not use the word “translation” (or adaptation or revival).
  3. Ask them if they could change the catalogue number to make sure it doesn’t appear next to translations.
  4. add a link to Bhante’s letter as proof in case an unfamiliar employee picks up the message First Free Women, a bogus translation of Buddhist scripture
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How about submitting a petition on line? If someone, may be Bhante Sujato, can start it, it may influence them to correct their mistake.
With Metta

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There’s been a lot of talk of a petition, anyone can start one, I’d be happy to sign. But I’m afraid I have too much going to do that right now.

Meanwhile, if anyone is wondering whether leaving online comments has any effect, well, clearly the Shambhala CEO thinks so.

In the Goodreads comments for FFW, a user by the name of “Nikko” left the following comment:

So, so good. I am still a fan of the classical translations of the Therigatha (Hallisey’s in particular) but this filled me with a deep appreciation and struck me woth its immediacy more than the others and I will certainly reread this again.

His full username clarifies that it is in fact Nikko Odiseos, the CEO of Shambhala. He’s not hiding his identity, but nor is it disclosed anywhere on Goodreads, and obviously hardly anyone would be aware who he is.

I commented:

Hi Nikko, as the publisher of this book, do you not think it ethical to disclose that fact when upselling your own books? Especially given that you have sold it by systematically misrepresenting it as a translation, stealing women’s voices, and erasing people of color.

And I flagged it as self-promotion.

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Done my part as well. It should take only a couple dozen of reviews there to bring the score to where it should be and become a source of information for others, saving them from buying and reading this waste of ink and paper.

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Last I’d looked, the only negative Amazon review was from a lady complaining that her copy looked chewed up. Now there are many 1 or 2 star reviews, and they are eloquent. Wish I could upvote them all. Can’t - don’t have an Amazon account!

But if you do, please upvote these well-written statements, and maybe add your own. More upvotes place a review first. (At this point the upvoting has lifted negative reviews to the top, with nearly a dozen appearing before the 1st 5-star review appears. Well done, friends.)

Here’s the review by respected Pāli teacher John Kelly, for example

John L Kelly
Not a Translation at All
Reviewed in the United States on January 21, 2021

This book is often touted as a translation, yet it definitely is not. As a Pali scholar and teacher, I can assure you that these poems by Mr Weingast, a white American male, barely reflect the original voices of these highly advanced Indian women practitioners from 2,500 years ago at all. Much of what is true in Buddhism is left out of the author’s renderings, which at best one could say are occasionally loosely inspired by the original poems. This book should be withdrawn, or at the least re-labelled, by the publisher as it is unethical to misrepresent the true Buddhist teachings.

This also caught my eye

Livia
Reader beware: Falsely inspiring rewrites

Reviewed in the United States on January 24, 2021

I first encountered this book on a meditation retreat with Buddhist nuns. I felt very moved by the select few poems read, as they were placed context during talks. To think of other women on the path and reach full enlightenment, is amazing! And fortunately, that part is very real. However, doing a bit more research I realized that these poems are NOT the voices of fully enlightened female disciples of the Buddha. These poems were the voice of a white, American man who read the originals, took a walk, and then rewrote his own poem. The real voices were quite pure and clearly focused on insight into true dhamma and liberation. Matty’s voice often focuses on the path, confusion, sexuality, oppression, relationships…all “hot” topics for a modern American [secular] Buddhist, but not the Real Thing.

And this!

Scott Knickelbine
White Guy Mansplains Indian Nuns

Reviewed in the United States on January 24, 2021

Coleman Barks’ manhandling of Rumi looks mild in comparison with the whipping Weingast gives these bhikkunis. His Buddhist women are wives, sweethearts, mothers, grandmothers – everything but arahants, which was the revolutionary point of their real verses in the Therigatha. Most of his poems have only the vaguest relationship to the gathas they were apparently “inspired” by. This is by no means a translation, nor should it be read as one. It is a ventriloquist act, with a dummy in saffron robes.

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This one is me…let me know if anything should be changed. Tried to write it in a balanced and approachable manner.

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Hi @owl, I thought that was lovely. It came across as a comment from a serious practitioner, not just someone’s first impression.

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As a general reminder, it might be worth it to see if one does actually have an amazon account associated with one of your emails. Kindle owners probably have an amazon account. And I don’ believe you need a credit card to create an account. That would at least allow for up voting.

And another general reminder. If you do have a goodreads account, be sure to rate other actual translations to help people find good Dhamma.

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It touches on one of the interesting aspects of the whole thing: is there such a thing as “false inspiration”? Which is complicated, to be sure. But in your case, at least, knowing the truth has forever changed the way you respond to it. At that is a sure sign of wisdom.

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Some good news on Amazon.

First, the overall rating for the book is visibly dropping. When we started our campaign the rating was lose to five stars and there was just a tiny sliver of white visible. Now the rating shows as being 4.5 stars. If we can get a few more critical reviews posted quickly, then we might get that down to 4 stars. The lower the rating, the more people are likely to dig in and read the reviews, which you can’t see unless you click.

Speed is of the essence, because glowing reviews are still coming in and we need to counteract those. You may not be eligible to post reviews on Amazon yourself, but I’m sure you know people who are. So please encourage them to head over to Amazon and express their disappointment. And ask them, while they’re on the site, to flag other critical reviews as “helpful.”

Secondly, if people from the US do visit the ratings, they’ll see the “Top Ratings from the US,” which are overwhelmingly negative. The same is true on the UK site, and hopefully in others as well.

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More good news. Douglass Smith (@dougsmith), who has a YouTube channel for his Dharma talks, with 46.8 thousand followers, just posted a video explaining the literary scandal around The First Free Women. I’m still watching it, but it looks like I’ve just finished watching it and it’s a very useful resource.

If you’re on Twitter, you can like and retweet this:
https://twitter.com/dougsdharma/status/1356248532227862528

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Oh, that’s a good way to spread the news.

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This email I just got from Nikko Odiseos sounds encouraging:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your letters and contributions to the online discussions regarding The First Free Women by Matty Weingast, and Shambhala Publications’ presentation of it. We are taking the issues that have been raised to heart and appreciate the constructive feedback we have received.

Although it was certainly not our intention to mislead readers regarding the nature of this poetic reimagining of the Therigatha, we see that many were, in fact, unclear about this point, and we fully acknowledge our misjudgment in how we presented this author’s work.

There is a long and wonderful literary history of works brought into English not as scholarly, line-by-line renderings but as loose reimaginings. And there is a place for such works. But for a sacred text like the Therigatha coming from a Buddhist publisher like us, it is a more nuanced affair. We did not present it as we should have, for which we are sorry to both the author and to readers who very reasonably expected something different.

In consultation with the author, we have decided to reissue this book in a manner that positions it clearly and unambiguously as an original work, rather than as a translation. We will also be updating the subtitle, cover, descriptive copy, and the Library of Congress information (the CIP data). The CIP data can take time to be issued, but we have commenced the process. There will be no further ambiguity on the matter once these are completed. The old edition is being cleared from the marketplace, and while a small amount of copies are out of our reach, there will be no further opportunity for retailers to order copies of the current edition.

We have commenced reaching out to all who endorsed the text to give them the opportunity to revisit their endorsements before the new edition comes out.

We would like to make clear that it was in no way our intention to misrepresent this work for monetary gain. That is not who we are, it is not how we work, and it is not why we do what we do.

As the largest publisher of Buddhist books, we feel an immense responsibility to consider our publications with care. At the core of our mission is our intention to support the many Buddhist traditions, and while we need to be sustainable, we publish books every year with little or no chance of financial success, only because we feel they are important to practitioners.

Although we now see how we fell short of our goals by giving the impression this book was a translation, our aim in doing so was certainly not to deceive, but to find a way to classify this unique and creative work by someone intelligent, sincere, and deeply devoted to the Dhamma.

It is our hope that after these clarifications are made, this remarkable and imaginative work, which we remain proud to publish, will in its own way continue to inspire people to learn and practice the teachings of the Buddha.

Thanks again for your feedback and engagement in this discussion.

Sincerely,

Nikko Odiseos
President, Shambhala Publications

It falls short for me in terms of an explanation of how this situation came about, but unless there’s some weaselry I’m overlooking, it does sound like the book will be withdrawn as currently published (“cleared from the marketplace”), and then brought out again “in a manner that positions it clearly and unambiguously as an original work.”

Endorsers are being invited to revisit their endorsements.

“Subtitle, cover, descriptive copy, and the Library of Congress information” all to be revised.

“There will be no further ambiguity on the matter once these are completed.”

That (minus the explanation of how this happened) is what we we looking for. Yay, us! (Again, assuming that Odiseos writes in good faith and follows through on his promises.)

With metta,
Bodhipaksa

https://www.shambhala.com/ffw-response

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What an achievement!

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It would be interesting to know if they will be giving it a new title (which would certainly help)

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