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From Lioness Roars to Purrs - A Review of The First Free Women by Matty Weingast (Therigatha)

So … you’d better get on with that then! :pray:

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Actual laugh out loud :rofl:

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I’m trying to come up with some objective ways to compare the poems of Weingast with an actual translation. Not because it’s debateable that this is a translation—it’s not. But I think there may be some statistical ways to show the stark contrast. One of them is word count. Here are a few

Sujato-Walton Weingast
complete including Theri names 12969 8283 63.87%
2.2 Jentā Therī 49 105 214.29%
2.3 Sumaṅgala’s Mother 50 68 136.00%
6.1 Paṭācārā Therī, Who Had a Following of Five Hundred 168 124 73.81%
8.1 Sīsūpacālā Therī 191 112 58.64%
14.1 Subhā of Jīvaka’s Mango Grove 951 198 20.82%
15.1 Isidāsī Therī 1199 477 39.78%
16.1 Sumedhā Therī 1895 464 24.49%

One of the most shocking is Sumedhā Therī’s verses, arguably one of the most powerful teaching on the need to take up the life of a nun. MW’s poem is a mere 24.5% of the actual verses.

If anyone is interested in this kind of analysis and would like to help gather word counts, let me know.

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@Snowbird @sujato
No, please, numbers cannot convey how very badly Matty has misspoken for many famous bhikkhunis and misrepresented the enlightened voice in general. Although his short poems tend to be similar to the original, perhaps close enough to pass, Matty’s longer poems are off the rails. This can be conveyed through concrete examples.

Compare, for example, the respected Harvard translation by Charles Hallisley of Mahapajapati Gotami’s words (Thig 6.6) with Weingast’s verses re-written in Mahapajapati Gotami’s name:

Harvard ed. by Charles Hallisey pp. 85-87 (18 paragraph breaks removed for convenience)
Praise to you, hero among Buddhas, best of all beings, you freed me from suffering, just as you did so many other people.
All suffering is known, the craving that is suffering’s cause has been destroyed, the eightfold path of the Noble one has been traveled and cessation reached:
The four noble truths/ each one done/ all done by me.
I had already been a mother, a son, a father, a brother, and a grandmother, but not knowing things as they really are, I was reborn and reborn, never having enough.
As soon as I saw the Bhagavan, I knew that this is my last body, that the realm of births is finished, that now there is no rebirth for me.
When I look at the disciples assembled together, energetic, resolute, always making an effort, I see that this is how Buddhas are rightly worshipped.
Mahamaya gave birth to Gotama for the sake of many, to drive away the mass of suffering of all those struck down by sickness and death.

Weingast’s supposedly same verses pp. 77-78 (39 paragraph breaks removed for convenience)
I know you all. I have been your mother, your son, your father, your daughter. You see me now in my final role – kindly grandmother. It’s a fine part to go out on.
You might have heard how it all began – when my sister died and I took her newborn son to raise as my own.
People still ask, Did you know then what he would become? What can I say? What mother doesn’t see a Buddha in her child? He was such a quiet boy. The first time he reached for me. The first time I held him while he slept. How could I not know?
To care for all children without exception as though each will someday be the one to show us all the way home. This is the path.

Not only did MPG not say Matty’s words, she absolutely never would have said most of them, nor would any enlightened person speak such worldly non-Dhamma. Matty’s wholesome mundane sentiments posing as MPG’s voice may cause readers to sigh and feel good but won’t help break them out of samsara.

The Therigatha was the first EBT from which I read, handed to me by a Buddhist monk at a Burmese monastery I was visiting. (He saw me reading Jataka tales, shook his head, and brought out a few other scripture books which he placed in front of me, ordering, “Read this!”). After perusing the Therigatha a little while [edit: for about an hour], I picked up another book, the PTS translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, and opened it to “Simile of the Snake” (MN ). <— (will add citation later)

Then I set the book down and pondered, with dissatisfaction, “Why were the Buddha and those enlightened nuns so down on sense pleasures? What’s wrong with them?” [edit: ie, “what’s wrong with these supposedly enlightened people?”] Then the thought hit me: “Maybe they were right; maybe sense pleasures really are that dangerous!” Goosebumps arose on the back of my neck, my shoulders and arms, then whole body. In that moment I became an avowed celibate for life. About a year later, in late 1997, I left home seeking a monastery that would give a woman a chance.

You think Matty’s version of the Therigatha would drive a woman from ordinary lay life to seek a solution to the rounds of rebirth?

So not only is Matty fooling women’s studies departments, history buffs, and lovers of poetry by passing off his new poems as translations, he is teaching a false Dhamma in the name of the elder enlightened bhikkhunis, causing incalculable loss of potential wisdom.

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I wasn’t able to attend the zoom session, how did things go and conclude? Thank you.

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Hi @owl, funny you should ask, as I was just about to post this message that happens to address your question of how the meeting went.

Matty’s creative process by which he wrote the First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns, as I understood him to explain, was this. After having read multiple translations, he then:

  • read each poem in Pali,
  • read Ven. Thanissaro’s translation,
  • sat in meditation;
  • took note of “the feeling” the poem gave him, then
  • wrote a new poem to convey that feeling.

He believes that his writing was guided by the bhikkhunis themselves. In his preface he wrote, “even in the freest renderings I don’t hear my own voice. I hear Uppalavanna, Khema, Mahapajapati, [etc].” (p. xvii)

During the December 28th meeting on Zoom that Matty requested with his critics, he defended calling the creative work a translation, saying, “I feel like it is a translation!” Throughout the meeting, he sidestepped and dodged concerns. He offered many platitudes (isn’t it great we can “agree to disagree”). He made justifications (including the gem, “Choices were made that were made,”) and minimized concern about misrepresentation saying that’s just an “opinion” that differs from his. He said repeatedly that we critics are simply “dissatisfied” with “the many steps [he] took to make sure there would be no misunderstanding” about the nature of his creative work. He also made excuses, such as insisting that he had pondered the possibility of people mistaking his book for a translation and made efforts to prevent it, and that he had to negotiate with the publisher and didn’t get the cover the way he wanted it.

Matty also said, “There are lots of good translations. [My book] is so far from these, so different, that those familiar [with the Therigatha] would know it is not a translation.”

(So why are universities placing his book alongside the Middle Length Discourses and other actual scripture, not with modern poetry? And how did he get the book to bear the Library of Congress label of “translation”?)

The last thing I heard Matty say (before I dropped off the Dec 28th call) was his adamant statement that he will not ask the publisher to make changes to fix the misrepresentation - “I will not change the title, will not change the front cover, will not change the back cover…!”

Since Matty refuses to correct the fraudulent presentation of his poetry book that is being sold as authentic translation of scripture, we have a few recourses. First thing is to complain to the publisher Shambhala. Then to inform sites on which the fake translation is for sale.

At this point, in my opinion, it is too late for mere new labeling to convince fans of the book that it is not a translation, particularly since Matty himself won’t lead the effort; only a retraction of the book will do the job, and that’s what everyone should request. (Also, since it is against publisher Shambhala’s policy to accept original poetry for publication, they may be reluctant to change the labeling, making it more an all or nothing call for them.) To clean up the damage, it’s also important to raise awareness generally, particularly among interested professors and university departments that have been fooled into embracing the book.

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Wow, what a sad state of affairs. Hopefully Shambala does something about this travesty.

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This is so beautiful, Ayya, thank you for sharing. And I think this is why preserving the authenticity and veracity of the texts is so important, because the words themselves contain such profound and beautiful meaning. The Therigatha was also one of the first texts I read and it holds such a an important place in my heart.

I’m very sad to hear this.

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Thank you for your thoughtful words Ayya, Like you, I was rather stunned at how the meeting played out. He seemed surprised at what I thought were quite reasonable and logical requests to clarify the nature of the book, which seemed strange, given how strongly you, and others have spoken on this thread.

I felt rather sad and surprised after the meeting. I had expected Matty to lead off with some statement like: “It’s unfortunate that readers are confused. I’m not sure I can do much about it, but I’ll make sure I am clear about the nature of the book in the future.” That would have set a much more positive tone to the discussion.

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Someone asked me today whether Matty’s rendering of a particular poem, the one by Jenta (Thig 2.2), stayed true to the original. No. The original is a no-frills declaration of victory over rebirth due to following the Buddha’s instruction. Matty’s creative version of it is a lovely poem that elaborates on the original poem’s topic before wandering off into sweet Westerner-friendly vulnerable sentiments.

Hallisey’s Harvard edition of poem of Jenta Thig 2.2 - Footnote 2 indicates her name may mean “Victorious”. (5 paragraph breaks removed )
I have cultivated all seven wings of awakening [bojjhanga], paths to the attainment of nibbana / just as they were taught by the Buddha.
I have seen the lord, this is the last body, the swirl of rebirth finally finished, there is no more birth ahead.

Matty’s version (p. 24) “Jenta ~ Conqueror” (27 paragraph breaks removed)
I was forever getting lost, until one day the Buddha told me:
To walk this Path, you will need seven friends - mindfulness, curiosity, courage, joy, calm, stillness and perspective.
For many years, these friends and I have traveled together. Sometimes wandering in circles. Sometimes taking the long way around. There were days when I thought I couldn’t go on. There were days when I thought I was finally beaten.
It’s scary to give all of yourself to just one thing. What if you don’t make it? Oh, my heart. You don’t have to go it alone. Train yourself to train just a little more gently.

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FYI, Shambala also has another book published around the same time: Songs of the Sons and Daughters of Buddha: Enlightenment Poems from the ‘Theragatha’ and ‘Therigatha’; translated by Andrew Schelling and Anne Waldman.
Also similar vein to Weingast’s (which I find useful as a bridge, some light-reading perhaps; but definitely not as EBT).

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Thanks for letting us know. i’ve checked a few verses on google books, and they seem fine, pretty much what you’d hope from a book like this: conveying the poems keeping the content mostly there while expressing them quite fluently.

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Just to add some info, I believe that this is a second edition, the original being published in 1996. Songs of the Sons and Daughters of Buddha: Schelling, Andrew: 9781570621727: Amazon.com: Books

The 1996 version is 112 pages; the 2020 is 176. The latest edition includes more poems.

From the introduction to the 2020 edition:

A NOTE ON SPELLING AND THIS NEW EDITION
This book first came out in 1996. The title we chose, Songs of the Sons and Daughters of Buddha, riffed on two formulaic terms, kulaputra and kuladuhitri, “son or daughter of good lineage.” For the present edition we have added a handful of poems. If we have made a contribution, it is to free these elders—buried under piety, interpretation, poor translation, and neglect—to breathe again. The original poems received no titles, only a heading with the singer’s name. Sometimes we make up descriptive titles. The names of the poets may look unfamiliar, but many are known to Buddhist lore, and several of the old-timers have very solid histories indeed.

Table of contents for 2020 edition

Introduction

PART ONE: SONGS OF THE SONS OF BUDDHA

Mahakala Speaks
Vanavaccha
Gangatiriya Speaks
Jambuka
Matangaputta Speaks
Bhaddaji
Kottitha
Mahanama
Nandaka Meets His Wife
Belatthakani Observes
Yasoja
Candana Speaks
Sundara-Samudda Resists
Ratthapala Rebukes the Women and Instructs a King
The Monk Kulla
Nagasamala
Gotama
Sirivaddha
Migasira and the Oracle of Skulls
Songs of the Little Hut
Sivaka Speaks
The Monk Cittaka
Khandasumana Remembers
Anupama
Rajadatta the Merchant
Kassapa the Great
One of Moggallana’s Songs
Usabha
Yasadatta
Bharata Speaks
Sona Potiriyaputta
Kankharevata

PART TWO: SONGS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF BUDDHA

Citta Speaks
Addhakasi
Uppalavanna
Mutta Speaks
Another Mutta
Sumangala’s Mother
Vimala, the Former Courtesan
Ambapali Speaks
Patacara Speaks
Thirty Sisters
Sangha Speaks
Tissa
Punnika the Slave
Ubbiri’s Lament
Siha
Vasitthi
Kisa-Gotami and the Mustard Seed
Nanduttara
Subha Speaks: Moon as Toy
Sukka
The Ballad of Isidasi
Buddha Speaks to Therika
Buddha Speaks to Punna
The Second Tissa
Sela
Mittakali
Sakula Speaks
Subha the Metalworker’s Daughter
Rohini Emerges from Girlhood
Uttama Speaks
An Anonymous Sister Speaks
Dantika (Little Tamed Woman)
Bhadda Kundalakesa, Called “the Curly Haired,” the Ex-Jain
Sisupacala Speaks with Mara

Afterword: On the Tradition and Its Translators

Glossary

Bibliography

About the Translators

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Hello all. I’ve come here from Bhikkhu Jayasara’s sharing of the fakebuddhaquotes.com page, and I’m very appreciate of this conversation here, as I’ve been unsettled by the release of this text for some time now.

I’d like to share a finding of my own that I’ve not yet seen mentioned here, and that is one of the poems of Weingast’s collection, “Tissa the Third”, is actually not a poem of the Elder Nuns at all.

Here is Weingast’s version:

Why stay here
in your little
dungeon?

If you really want
to be free,
make
every
thought
a thought of freedom.

Break your chains.
Tear down the walls.

Then walk the world a free woman.

But there is no Tissa the Third in the Therigatha, and I find this to be the most troubling thing I’ve seen in this collection so far. There are two verses in the Therigatha named for a bhikkuni Tissa, both in the first book of single verses, one of which is actually a verse by the Buddha to Tissa.

Here is the first poem, attributed to the Buddha’s voice (I am using Charles Hallisey’s translations):

Tissa, train yourself strictly, don’t let
what can hold you back overwhelm you.
When you are freeom from everything that holds you back
you can live in the world
without the depravities that ooze out from within

And here is the second verse, which according to Hallisey’s note is something of a refrain she composed to repeat to herself in response to the Buddha’s verse:

Tissa, hold fast to good things, don’t let the moment escape.
Those who end up in hell cry over moments now past.

Clearly, neither of these two verses reflect the content of Weingast’s version, but this is not the most egregious part to me… because there is poem in the Pali canon titled “Tissa the Third.” Only, it is found in the Theragatha.

Bhikkhu Sujato’s translation of Thag 2.17, “Tissa (3rd)”, follows:

A shaven one wrapped in the outer robe
gets many enemies
when they receive food and drink,
clothes and lodgings.

Knowing this danger,
this great fear in honors,
a mendicant should go forth mindfully,
with few possessions, not full of desire.

Looking back at Weingast’s, this is definitely the poem he based his off of. But he changes the content, and adds lines to make render the speaker’s voice into that of a woman’s.

A lot of things would have to go wrong for this to have been just an accident, if this work had been intended to have been a scholastic translation. Someone proofing would have noticed earlier that not only is this poem not found in the original collection, but that the titled poem does exist in the collection of men’s verses.

I think this evidences that it goes well beyond just creative reinterpretations and a loose definition of what a “translation” is, but a very steep and deliberate act of intellectual dishonesty. And it is quite sad to me.

I hope I am adding to this discussion constructively, rather than throwing fuel onto a fire, but I felt that the degree and scope of dishonesty here needed to be highlighted.

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Wow, thanks for that. That’s unbelievable.

I am writing to Shambala and hoping to get a resolution.

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If this is the belief of the author, then it’s not surprising that any arguments don’t work… Quite extraordinary really, to claim to be actually ‘channeling’ the voices of the ancient Bhikkhunis… And as many have said, misunderstanding what they were saying so completely. If it is his own voice - he can say what he wants… but to claim that it is the voice of those Bhikkhinis… :flushed:

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The Therigatha is a text I find enormously uplifting, so I just want to say a brief thank you out of gratitude for everyone who is working to ensure the voices of the original authors are remembered as accurately as possible. I personally appreciate your efforts.

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And this, to me, the only actually interesting thing in this whole miserable affair.

There’s a long and deep tradition of spiritual works that are in some sense “channeled” whether it be from a divine source or the departed. The Vedas were meant to be channeled from Brahmā; much of the Bible has been regarded as in some sense the word of God; the Quran was channeled by the prophet; some Mahayana sutras appear to have been created by meditators who “saw” the Buddha. And down to the present day, with books like A Course in Miracles leading a range of “inspired” literature.

If we take all this seriously, what does it say about us? How is it that so much of the literature that creates humanity’s deepest sense of meaning and value stems from sources like these? It’s too flippant to dismiss all these as merely hallucinations or delusions, as there is clearly some kind of wisdom in some of them that genuinely improves peoples lives.

Perhaps it is a kind of knowledge that appears so separate from mundane reality that it can only be perceived as divine; and it is, in some sense, a reassurance that such a world or truth and meaning might be real for all of us.

Such knowledge, purely by virtue of being dislocated in the psyche, is not integrated or mature. It is as apt to communicate banalities or evils as wisdom. But it exerts a strange fascination.


The more I think about it, the more I think that this is the correct way to frame this work. I have been calling it a work of “original poetry”, but that’s not how Matty and those caught up in this see it. It really is more like a work of channeling. And like so many works before it, it seems to create this vortex of unreality that catches up otherwise rational people in a shared hallucination.

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I completely agree, but while this is true, there is also a procession of cult leaders etc, who also claim to be channeling the ‘word of God’. The challenge is to discern between them. I don’t blame anyone for this - the mind is a very tricky thing.

In the Buddhist context I’d say it is relatively easy, and follows along the Buddhas own instructions on how to decide whether something aligns with the Dhamma. Ehipassiko - and when something is wholesome and leads to wholesome states, fosters relinquishment and the ending of craving, then that is what should be done, if not, then it is to be abandoned. The Buddha anticipated and instructed how to deal with corruptions of the Dhamma. I think this thread is a pretty good illustration of following those instructions :pray:

Added: The embedded assumption here is that the Enlightened Bhikkhunis of the Therigatha would presumably only ‘channel’ the Buddha Dhamma, and not words that diminish the meaning or are contrary to it…

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Welcome to the forum @animus! And thanks for pointing that out!

It’s incontrovertible data-points like this that will help snap people out of their default to trust and get them to actually question what’s going on here. So yeah, very helpful in my opinion :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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