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

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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To be honest, most fiction writers channel the voices of completely made-up characters when they write novels with complex characterization. I mean, it isn’t just a case of some intellectual ideas thrown together to make a character that simulates a person in a story. The best writers actually imagine a person to the point that they have a relationship with that person. The person doesn’t exist, but it functions like a real person in the writer’s mind. Writers often complain about how their characters refuse to stick to the outlines they had made for them!

It’s like there’s a little holodeck in the human brain that can render imaginary personalities, complete with appearance, behavior, and history. I suppose it’s the same apparatus used to understand real people in ordinary life. So, it’d be a simple slip of logic to think those imaginations are actually real entities or alternate planes of existence that are being contacted somehow. I mean, when you really go into the samadhi of imagination, it’s like real experience.

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Oh, absolutely. The difference is not in the process, but in how the author relates to their imagination. In many of these cases of channeling, the authors apparently genuinely believe that these are somehow voices from another dimension.

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This is similar in some ways to how Lorin Roche’s method of “translation” as outlined in the article that @Javier linked to above:

This, then, is his method of ‘translating’: he memorizes a verse and repeats it over and over to himself (sometimes for weeks on end), then he looks up each word in a Sanskrit-English dictionary and writes all the possible meanings found there on note cards and spreads the cards out on the floor (up to 250 cards per verse) in a mandala-formation and then walks around and around them “until I feel the richness of the words vibrating in my body. Then I start to pray for English words . . .” until a poem takes shape…

We all seem to think we can “channel” to some extent. Who amongst us hasn’t come across a scriptural passage that doesn’t seem clear and thought, “Oh, I bet what the Buddha meant was this…”? It’s just that most of us don’t do it on such a large scale or get our intuitions published.

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It’s perfectly good way to write original works, as it often does involve allowing the creative subconscious to flow naturally. As a method of translation, though, this is bizarre to me. Suppose I were to be interpreting for a friend who’s talking to someone in a foreign language. That’s basically what a translator is doing, just in written texts. Now, if I were to simply dream up whatever my subconscious thinks the other person “said” in my friend’s language, would either of them be very happy with the result? Probably not, if they understood what I was doing. But I might be able to hoodwink both of them, mightn’t I?

This sort of thing is why translators, as a whole, get a bad rap. There’re bad translators and also bad readers who think they are translators.

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I believe David Bowie used a somewhat similar technique, writings words and phrases on cards and shuffling them.

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This is exactly why I am against applying the methods of lectio divina to reading the Pali scriptures. By having this structure it can raise our “feelings” and “intuitions” to the same level as the text itself. Of course we need to think about the suttas deeply, and we need to specifically apply them to our lives. But that is quite different from what is taking place here.

Thank goodness for that. And it’s a valid question to ask, “Who are the people who are getting their intuitions published?”

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White dudes, mainly.

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Right.

At some point in all this discussion someone mentioned that they were deeply disturbed that a monastic had “wished that this book didn’t exist.” But we need to be very clear that book publishers around the world are telling thousands of people every day that their book should not exist. They may couch it in more benevolent words like “this isn’t a good fit for our mandate” etc, but the end result is the same. Some books get to exist and some books don’t. And books written by men claiming to be the voice of women tend to be in the former group.

And although Shambala seems to want to address this issue, when you look at what they ask for in a book proposal, they want to see books by authors that are well connected in their field and already have social influence. Good from a business standpoint, but not so much from an inclusion standpoint.

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