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!
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.
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.