First Free Women, a bogus translation of Buddhist scripture

Yes, in all fairness (though it may not be warranted) when you click on “more” you see this:

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I know this thread from @tasfan , and he translated this article into Indonesian. I will share this to my social media… :pray:

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I contacted Shambhala expressing my concerns and, to their credit, they replied within the week. Their response included the following:

While the book has been widely praised across the spectrum of Buddhist teachers, including many monastics, lay figures, and teachers, we have recently been made aware of concerns about our positioning of this book. We are thankful for this feedback and are taking steps to remedy this.
To that end, we are in the process of adjusting our online descriptions so that there can be no ambiguity around the question of translation. We appreciate the feedback from our readers and remain proud to be the publisher of this original and inspiring work.

So, it seems expressions of concern are being heard. That said, the proposed adjustment to the publisher’s online description is, by itself, insufficient to counter the confusion.

I’m wondering if a petition with a clear set of requests for Shambhala might be effective.

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I got that same reply!

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Would you and @Leon be willing to compare your letters and then if it is a stock letter, post it here? Actually, you could probably just post them as they can’t be considered private conversations, eh?

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Pretty confident Shambhalas’ reply wasn’t just a one off to me!

I didn’t say too much in my email to them, just “It is horrifying that the words of Enlightened Nuns could be so distorted and then marketed as a translation,” and then suggested they consult a few Pali scholars or other “translations” to compare and included a link to Sutta Central.

Here is their reply.

Dear Friend,

In February of 2020, Shambhala Publications released The First Free Women, by Matty Weingast, a work of poems inspired by the Therigatha, or Verses of the Elder Nuns, that is part of the Pali Canon of Buddhism.

As Matty notes in his introduction, “Many of the poems in this book closely resemble the originals, with shifts here and there of varying degrees. Others are more like variations on a classic tune…these are not literal translations.”

While the book has been widely praised across the spectrum of Buddhist teachers, including many monastics, lay figures, and teachers, we have recently been made aware of concerns about our positioning of this book. We are thankful for this feedback and are taking steps to remedy this.

To that end, we are in the process of adjusting our online descriptions so that there can be no ambiguity around the question of translation. We appreciate the feedback from our readers and remain proud to be the publisher of this original and inspiring work.

Shambhala Publications

I agree with @Leon 's proposal but am not really sure what we should be asking for.

I think the title alone is the worst offender as “The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns” implies that those nuns were the authors of the poems rather than merely their inspiration so changing that would be a start!

Shambhala and Weingast say the poems are “not literal translations” which implies they are continuing to maintain that they are still non-literal translations, which they are not. Elsewhere they are labelled ‘adaptations’ or ‘renderings’ which are also both misleading.

What steps they take to rectify the positioning of the book as a translation remains to be seen. Certainly, they haven’t acted all that quickly, here is what appears on the Penguin site:

" A radical and vivid rendering of poetry from the first Buddhist nuns that brings a new immediacy to their voices.

The Therigatha (“Verses of the Elder Nuns”) is the oldest collection of known writings from Buddhist women and one of the earliest collections of women’s literature in India. Composed during the life of the Buddha, the collection contains verses by early Buddhist nuns detailing everything from their disenchantment with their prescribed roles in society to their struggles on the path to enlightenment to their spiritual realizations. Among the nuns, a range of voices are represented, including former wives, women who lost children, women who gave up their wealth, and a former prostitute."

The blurb on the Shambhala website now calls it an “adaptation” which is still pushing it.

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Ha! I don’t think “just” could be used to describe what you wrote. :joy: It’s great, though. Thanks for posting.

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Yes, I got the same reply.

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Also got the same reply.

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I’m sure Shambhala wouldn’t appreciate a “translation” of their letter to you if it radically changed the message.

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Here’s my adaptation of Shambhala’s message. It’s not a literal version, to be clear, but preserves the essence of the original while re-imagining it in a fresh and exciting way.

Dear Patsy,

In February of 2020, Shambhala Publications released The First Free Women, by Matty Weingast. Let us begin by explaining to you, who contacted us concerned about the authenticity of this, what the Therigatha is. Because we still believe that we have credibility in explaining Buddhist texts to Buddhists.

The book’s full title calls it Poems of the early Buddhist nuns. It does not actually contain the poems of the early Buddhist nuns. But we’ll try leaving that bit out when we gaslight you, see if that works. :man_shrugging:

Matty’s inspiring and uplifting introduction talks about the women of the Therigatha and reassures us that, “Their voices are all here.” By which he means, “Their voices are all gone.” While others may take a more narrowly scholastic view of translation, here at Shambhala we believe that the unfettered spirit of Dhamma requires liberation from the shallow attachment to mere words. That is why we became Dhamma publishers.

The work has been widely praised by people who did not realize that they were being duped, and widely condemned by people who see it for what it is. So there are good people on both sides.

We are truly and genuinely thankful, no really, unbelievably thankful and incredibly grateful, for all the one-star reviews and online criticism. Oh so thankful. No we mean it, truly. Just like, so incredibly thankful you wouldn’t believe it. Without you there would be no possible way that we, a Buddhist publishing house for fifty years, could have known that this was not a translation.

We proud of getting away with it for a year. As ever, we remain committed to doing the bare minimum in the hope that people will stop saying things about us that we have to pretend to be thankful for. I am sure we can all agree that the most important thing is for Shambhala to avoid admitting any wrong-doing so that we can save face and continue to sell the book.

We are looking to reposition the book under the title, Lower Your Expectations, Sisters: a man gives unsolicited advice to women. With our extensive experience in deceiving women, we are excited at the potential to expand our audience in the manosphere.

(And a special message for any Shambhala employees who are reading this: You are not responsible for the choices of your bosses. But you do have the power to do something about it.)

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I actually laughed at this.

If it wasn’t so sad, I’d be more amused. At least we have some Sujato humor to diffuse the outrage

{Desperately fights the urge to re-activate suspended FB account to post on their page} :face_with_symbols_over_mouth:

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Did I just break a precept by enjoying such entertainment as reading this ‘reimagining’ of a letter? :rofl:

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It would be wrong to post this to the firstfreewomen.org site, wouldn’t it? Maybe you could leave your radical interpretation as a comment on their letter.

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Did someone ask for this as a meme?

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Need more context?

EDIT: Sorry, I did a bit of radical adaptation of my own on this one, removing a paragraph so it could all fit.

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That’s like so deeply appropriate on so many metalevels.

This whole realm is a complex one, and unfortunately I have been reading some of the background of Trungpa’s Shambhala movement: he was even more of a monster than I thought. Yet Shambhala Publications is still promoting his books. If anyone’s interested , r/ShambhalaBuddhism has a lot of historical information and first-hand accounts.

But what caught my eye was this discussion on the writings of the most popular of Shambhala’s authors, Pema Chodren and Trungpa:

Suddenly I remembered that her first three books weren’t actually written, as in the close-yourself-away and grind out 500 or 1000 words per day. They are edited transcriptions of talks given to dedicated and attentive students over many years. The tapes were recorded by students. Students transcribed them — a painstaking process back in the day, even if you did have a pedal-operated cassette transcription machine. In the forward of When Things Fall Apart, Chödrön writes (she actually wrote-wrote the forward) that she first looked through the two cardboard boxes of transcripts and tapes while on retreat for a year, and then sent them to her Shambhala Publications editor, who ““sifted and shifted and deleted and edited” to generate a draft. (I’m wondering is the editor did data input as well from hardcopies.)

The result is a book. But it’s not authored in a way that justifies the elevation of Chödrön as a literary figure. It’s more accurate to say that the book is a collation of interpersonal moments generated by the feedback loop of charismatic exchanges in a highly-concentrated, high-demand setting. It’s a recording of speeches made to people on retreat, who were likely nodding at every turn of phrase. That in itself will factor into things like tone and cadence and length of sections. Then, by virtue of Gampo Abbey economics and the hierarchy of labour and the privilege of “a year of doing nothing”, these moments wind up in print, and attributed to a single person, who then goes on to become a key public face of the group, helping to sanitize and domesticate its “crazy wisdom” past.

So there’s nothing wrong with making a book this way per se; it’s also the way most of the forest tradition books were created. Again, so long as everyone is transparent about the process. But when you see this you begin to understand how notions of “authorship” have become so slippery in Shambhala’s work; Trungpa and Chödrön are their biggest authors, and they’re not really authors.

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I’m read Ven Sujato review on Goodreads and I can’t stop laughing at this… :rofl:

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Someone named Katy (possibly the same person?) commented on my review, too. Saying that the preface of the book makes it clear that its not a translation. So is the FFW the word of the Buddha or not? Oh, if only we had pali scholars around to help us out /s (not even gonna comment on how the Therigatha is the words of nuns not the Buddha anyway so ???)

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The Amazon ratings for FFW is still at 4.5 stars. Amazon’s method of calculating the rating is not simple and is explained elsewhere. My understanding is, if you click on the “Helpful” button below a review, you are giving it the same rating as the review and that’s calculated into the overall rating. So clicking on a one star review’s “helpful” button tilts the overall rating lower.

I read all of the one star reviews and clicked on the helpful buttons. Perhaps over time, as others do the same, the book’s rating will get to a low enough point where the buyer may pass it over.

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