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

Warm greetings to you all.

I am Matty Weingast, the person whose name is on the cover of The First Free Women. A friend recently sent me a link to this thread, and I just wanted to say how much I appreciated reading all of these comments, many of which I either agree with or can relate to. Some of these points I’ve addressed in the front matter of the book. All of the points are valid and important.

I consider this a very important discussion. Naturally, people aren’t always going to agree. But it feels like being able to disagree in a respectful and productive way is what makes me proud to be part of this community.

If someone is interested enough to organize a zoom meeting for all the commenters, I would be happy to attend and hear each of your concerns and respond to any questions.

Regardless of your positive or negative or mixed thoughts about this book, I wish all of you all the best in all things,

Matty Weingast

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Welcome Matty!
Thank you for reaching out to us on D&D!
Plus, congratulations on your publication! Your book generated a lot of discussion, and having you join the conversation, is well, icing on the cake :smiley:
If members do wish to organize a meeting/book discussion with Matty, I think it can be organized on the Discourse forum itself (an add-on called Jitsi). Please send us a message @moderators and we can open up a private PM thread for those interested (Please refrain from publicly setting up meetings for privacy and security reasons), and we can go from there.

Again, it is a pleasure to have you join us @mattyweingast

With metta,
Ficus
on behalf of the moderators

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Welcome Matty! Thank you for joining us.

Like several other posters, I found the samples you provided in the Insight Journal: The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns inspiring. There, and in the Brief Note at the start of your book you were very clear that your poems were not translations.

Unfortunately, the Summary on Amazon, Amazon.com, is not so clear, especially the headline:

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

It seems a pity that the phrasing further down the Summary, “poetic re-envisioning”, was not used in the headline. Perhaps, to be fair, that was the intent of the word “radical”.

I would like to close by thanking your again for the samples that I have been able to read on Insight Journal and Amazon. They inspired me to re-read and think about the originals. As Bhikkhu Sujato notes above, developing new literature based on the Dhamma is a commendable activity.

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Welcome, Matty!

Thank you for your offer to meet on Zoom and discuss. I would love to participate.

I will follow up via PM. Thanks, @Ficus.

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Matty, thank you very much for your kind and generous words, and also for the offer to discuss together.

I’d be most interested to join the discussion too. Thank you, @JimInBC, for taking the initiative.

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Thank you so much, Ficus. Yes, I will PM you in case someone does want to set up an online meeting.

With deep gratitude for all you do for the dhamma,

Matty

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Thank you, MikenZ66 for your post. Yes, I agree that possibly more could have been done to make it clear that this is not a translation. This issue, as you might imagine, was something that everyone who was involved with this book thought a lot about. I made sure never to use the word ‘translate’ anywhere in the book, and I hoped that what I said in the front matter would be sufficiently clear. It was somewhat tricky, because I knew that it was not a translation, but I wasn’t sure exactly what to call it. I tried to do the best I could, knowing that misunderstandings would arise.

With much metta and best wishes,

matty

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Hello Jim,

Thank you for your posting. I have just now PMed a moderator to say I would be happy to participate in an online discussion. If someone wishes to organize, I will do my best to be available.

With much metta,

matty

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Greetings venerable,

Thank you for this post. I PMed the moderator to say I would be happy to participate in an online discussion if someone wishes to organize.

With deep bows and much metta,

matty

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Hey Matty,

Thanks for getting in contact with us. I’m glad that we share the perspective on what it is and what it isn’t, namely a translation.

My only concern would be that I would ask respectfully that you contact your publisher and ask them to make it clear in the promotion and cataloguing data that it must not be registered as a translation. From the comments on Amazon it is clearly the case that many, probably most, of your readers believe it is a translation.

Creative re-imagination is essential for the lifeblood of any tradition. Here in Sydney we’re organizing a Buddhist poetry event to bring the hidden poets out of the woodwork! We just need to be clear what is what, that’s all.

In my Dhamma community I spend a lot of time with the Sri Lankan Buddhists. One of their great concerns is the literal and exact transmission of the Dhamma. A single word changed in meaning is of great concern for them. Sometimes I feel it can err on the side of over-literalness; but I have learned to value the degree of respect and care that is expressed in the treasuring of every single word and expression of our sacred heritage. We only have these words once, and when they are gone, they are gone forever.

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Hello, Anandabodhi Bhikkhuni here. A friend sent me a link to this thread, but it’s taken me a while to get signed up. I generally stay away from these discussion boards as they can consume so much time, but am happy to be part of this conversation.

Seeing the concern and what seem to me to be misperceptions in this thread is a good reminder to be careful in how I present these poems and not to use the word “translation”, which I have done. Sorry folks. While I recognize the concern that Matty’s version might be mistaken for a literal translation, or may obscure other more literal translations, my experience has been that people reading these poems have often been deeply moved and inspired by them and have then turned to some of the literal translations of the Therigatha to investigate more deeply. During the time that the draft manuscript of the poems was in our library (several months) the Therigatha section of our library suddenly got a lot of heavy usage by guests coming through the monastery. Previously they were mostly gathering dust.

These poems of “The First Free Women” are definitely not direct translations of the Therigatha. Some are close to the original, others have been completely reworked. To some people they appear “bland” to others they speak volumes and go straight to the heart. It gives me great joy that they are getting out there into the world to do their work on people. I’m happy to join the online discussion that has been mentioned in the thread. I’m not sure how that works…

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Hey Ayya, welcome! I hope you and your community have a wonderful Xmas!

Dear Ayya, I cannot say how much I appreciate your apology. I just want to dwell here a little bit, because it is such a rare thing in the world, and especially in the online world of battling egos. You are a senior and respected teacher and practitioner, yet without hesitation you straightforwardly apologize, showing no ego or pride. I bow to you! :pray:

Having said which, while I appreciate your perspective, I’m afraid it does little to assuage my concerns. I get what you are saying in terms of how a creative work of imagination like this can spark interest and enthusiasm in new ways, and this is why we need to encourage the creative talents among us. But this is also why I am so sorry that, rather than simply celebrating a valued contribution, we have to get caught up in this unnecessary bother.

You say,

The problem isn’t that it might be mistaken for a “literal translation” but that it is explicitly being sold as a translation when it is no such thing. Maybe some places appropriate something of the Therigatha verses, but certainly not all of them do. Dynamic translations are fine, but Matty’s work is not a rendering of the content, but rather new content that is sold in the marketplace as if it were a translation.

Let me review how the book is marketed on Amazon. The problem starts with the title. It is called The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns. But it is not the poems of the early Buddhist nuns, it is the poems of Matty Weingast.

The blurb on Amazon describes the work as:

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

It is not a rendering of the nuns’ poetry and does not represent their voices. It elides them, because people are being explicitly told that these poems are their voices when they are in fact the voice of Matty Weingast.

The extended description continues in the same vein:

remains true to the original essence of each poem, he infuses each verse with vivid language that is not found in other translations

But the “original essence” of the verses is gone. Matty has not “infused” verses with vivid language, he has composed new verses that do not exist in the Pali.

The readers of the book clearly understand the work to be a translation that represents the voices of early Buddhist women:

  • Outstanding translation! I had read these poems before in other translations, but this collection really brings them to life! My friends who can read the original Pali texts assure me these are valid (though not literal) translations.
  • I really enjoy the plain spoken translation.
  • Literal translations can be a bit stilted, so the author carefully retranslated the poems
  • This is, by far, my favorite translation of this collection.
  • Amazing poems, by amazing women.
  • Exquisite poetry written by women
  • A beautiful rendition of the poems from the earliest Buddhist nuns

There is little wonder readers assume it to be a translation, since it is constantly described as such in the promotional blurbs by Buddhist teachers, none of whom apparently realized that this was not a work of translation.

  • the words of these liberated women are transmitted
  • These are fresh, powerful, poetic translations that bring our ancient wise women to life
  • inspiringly poetic translation
  • renditions of the enlightenment songs of the early Buddhist nuns
  • rarely heard female voices
  • the voices are distinctly female
  • beautifully translated collection of po­ems
  • voices of the first bhikkhunis in this contemporary rendering of the Therigatha
  • voices of these awakened Buddhist women can be heard
  • Hearing the awakened heart expressed in such distinctive strong, clear, fem­inine voices
  • fresh rendering of these ancient words will be of interest to anyone looking for feminine Buddhist voices

In your own blurb, you say,

as Rohini says in her poem, ‘then you will know the true welcome that is the very essence of the Path.’

But Rohini says no such thing. These are the words of Matty Weingast’s imagination, not Rohinī Therī’s awakened wisdom.

Matty needs to contact the publisher and ensure that they change their marketing completely to make it clear that they are not selling a translation. And I would suggest offering an apology and refund to readers who purchased the book under the mistaken impression that they were buying a work of poetry by early Buddhist women. I would also suggest that he contact all the teachers who were kind enough to read the book and contribute a blurb, inform them that this is not in fact a translation, and invite them to change their endorsement if they wish. While they’re at it, they also need to change the Library cataloguing data.

The book represents a work of empathetic imagination, where a white, male layperson in the 20th century tries to imagine what it would have been like to speak as Asian, female renunciates of 500BCE. And that is a perfectly valid creative act. But it is not what it is being sold as.

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Does there in fact exist a translation? I listened to their podcast some days ago and I was so thrilled to know more, honestly.

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There’s a translation by Bhikkhu Sujato here: SuttaCentral

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Which is obviously the best one! But there is in fact a long history of translation, starting with the ecstatic translation of CAF Rhys Davids (To free my path from all that breedeth Ill, I strove with passionate ardour, and I won!), the literal academic rendering by KR Norman, and more recent work by Susan Murcott, Anagairka Mahendra, Charles Hallisey, and others. It’s one of the most studied and adapted of early texts.

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Susan Murcott’s First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening is also availabe from Amazon. It could be interesting to compare Murcott’s approach to Weingast’s and Sujato’s very different ones.

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Thanks so much, I’m eager to read how translations made by men and women vary & correspond.

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The phenomenon of original poetry passed off as translation and artfully described as a “rendering” also applies to Thomas Byrom’s “Dhammapada,” which is more Byrom than it is Buddha. And both of these books are published by Shambhala. I believe journalists go by the rule that you have to have three instances of something before you can call it a trend, but I’m wondering if there is a trend with this particular publisher.

I maintain the website, fakebuddhaquotes.com, and Byrom’s “rendering” is one of the largest sources of fake quotes that I’ve commented on there. I’m wondering, Ayya @Charlotteannun, if you would be willing to grant me permission to reproduce your post on my website, fully attributed, of course. I think many people would find it helpful and I’d like to help put it in front of a wider audience.

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Yes you may use my analysis, thanks for asking.

If possible, please highlight for your readers this link to an excellent translation by Anagarika (now Samanera) Mahendra - it’s sadly obscure due to the translator’s wish to distribute by free download (hence no mainstream publishing) while also being determined to keep all his explanatory notes (hence not possible to publish on SC).

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Many thanks. I’ll make sure to highlight that link. I thank you for providing it; I’ll read the book with great interest.

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