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

Indeed, and another important detail of her story is how she wanders free and unobstructed across the lands. By metaphorizing her journey, you glide over the fact that literal freedom of movement is still something that is explicitly restricted for many women, and implicitly probably for all. And especially bhikkhunis, for whom there are rules about movement, which must be seen in light of the freedom enjoyed by the bhikkhunis in the Therigatha.


One of the complaints against Weingast’s poems is that they remove the existence of rebirth from the actual words of the nuns. I’m finding that this isn’t exactly the case, but what I find is not good, either.

Take the verses of the Arahant Isidāsī Therī. She is asked by another arahant nun how it came to be that although she is still young, she left the household life. Ven. Isidāsī recounts the experience she had in her current life of being rejected by all the men she married. Weingast, although a paraphrase, covers this part.

Then in her actual verses Ven. Isidāsī explains that she was able to see that in a previous life she committed sexual misconduct and because of that she was reborn first in hell, then in a series of miserable animal lives. Next came a human birth when she was “neither a woman nor a man, because of having seduced another’s wife.” Finally, she was reborn as a woman again. In that final life she was married to a man who already had a wife and says there “I stirred up enmity with her.”

Ven. Isidāsī then says "447. “This was the fruit of that action for me, that they went rejecting me, although I served them like a slave-girl. Even of that I have now made an end.”

In Weingast’s poem, he has her say

While meditating late one night,
I saw far, far back—
back to before I was ever Isidasi—
back to when I was the daughter of a poor man
who was always in debt.

So he does indeed include rebirth here. But just barely! He completely skips over hell and everything inbetween. Not only that, but he goes on to have her tell the story of only her proximate rebirth and removes the action she did to sew discord.

He then has her say,

When I came of age,
the merchant’s son took me for his own.

And even though I served him as best I knew how,
after a couple of weeks, he started to complain.

And somehow I wasn’t surprised by what came next.

So a reader of Weingast’s poem is left with the impression that being rejected is just something that happens to Isidāsī for no apparent reason.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, he closes her stripped down poem with this,

When they send you away,
make sure you wave goodbye
with both hands.

One river flows towards you.
Another away.

In the end,
you will be the one
to carry yourself

Of course Ven. Isidāsī says nothing of the sort. And what does it even mean? The last verse could be interpreted to mean that we are responsible for ourselves. But home?


Thanks for the detailed analysis, it’s good to know. The lack of total erasure of rebirth is obviously something, but the problem is that rebirth takes its meaning from its moral context. The point is to see the patterns recurring and changing.

I feel like the Buddhist conception of character in rebirth doesn’t get enough attention. When we see how people are, their basic personalities, it often seems that people don’t really change. At the same time, they obviously do. But some people seem to not. So what is it?

The reality, I think, is that character is very slow to change. It happens, but at a (almost literally) glacial pace. And it happens through every thought, every perception, every memory. And it builds towards something. And the surface change can appear quite quickly (again a bit like a glacier). But the foundations have been building all along.

Sometimes we can see this happening in this life. We can see some things change in ourselves. Other things are at the same time stuck and don’t appaer to change at all. But they do, it just takes time.

If we are to consider the change and development of human character purely in terms of a single life, it’s hard to see a path forward to redemption for everyone. Some people just seem so evil. So stuck in wrongness in so many ways.

But Buddhism has always seen people’s redemption arcs as playing out over a long period, over multiple lifetimes. Even Devadatta, the worst of sinners, gets his redemption. It just takes a while.

It seems like a very realistic take to me. And it has practical implications.

If we think that not everyone can be saved, then that’s a pretty depressing view of human nature, and it runs counter to both experience (plenty of terrible people have in fact been redeemed) and to the whole idea of impermanence.

If we think that there is hope for everyone to find redemption in this life, we set ourselves up for disappointment, and end up agonizing over accepting the plain fact that some people just ain’t gonna change.

But if we think that change and redemption can be for everyone, but it may take many lifetimes, then we can act practically right now by stopping a bad person from hurting themselves and others. Rather than endless hand-wringing about how we can appeal to their better nature, do what the Buddha did and put behavior first. Don’t let people create harm. That’s something often is possible and a lot easier and more effective. Moreover, it prioritizes those who suffer the harm rather than those who inflict it.

Once stopped, the person doing bad things should have the chance to find redemption. If they don’t take it, we need to accept that it may be a while. Like, a long, long while. That doesn’t mean it will never happen.


It comes indeed from a place of love and wisdom to understand someone’s nature in this very moment and act upon it.


Another of Weingast’s poems that mentions rebirth is that of Arahant Sundarī Therī. However, again, it’s used in a way very different from the actual verses of the Therī. As well, his verses attributed to her are a complete fabrication. And it’s so short that I don’t mind posting them here:

[As Ayya Sudhamma has mentioned, word count doesn’t reflect the complete fabrication that many of Weingast’s poems are, but it’s interesting to note that his verses in this case are a mere 15% of the actual translation of KR Norman.]

The actual verses are are completely different. You can read Bhante Sujato’s here. Because the verses are spoken by several different people, this translation by Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda includes the speakers at each verses.

In the actual verses, Sundarī does kind of follow her father in the sense that he becomes a monk (and quickly an arahant) and she does the same. But the actual story is devoid of the psychological drama of Weingast’s verses.


Truly tragic. It is easier for many to double down on a mistake than admit they made one.


Where can we message Shambala? Just at the “contact us” area, or is there a better place?


“Cut-up technique” I think it’s called. He got the idea from William S. Burroughs.

Burroughs is one of those strange writers of odd nonsense, like Lewis Carol but much darker, who occasionally seems to stumble on something deep. His cut-up phase is not his best work IMO.


I’ve heard that Bowie this. In his case it was his own writing he was reshuffling, though. Perhaps that led to new lyrics emerging from the creative interactions this technique gave rise to, but I don’t think he ever claimed to be channeling anyone but himself :slightly_smiling_face:


We’ll put details in the original post. But we’re going to be recommending contacting Shambala at:

Just remember there are lots of “Shambala” organizations around, make sure it’s the right one!


To me, it’s sad that any monastic should support this book which belittles great disciples of the Buddha.

The author and whoever he worked with should have made it clear that this is an original work by an American MALE who got inspired to write a book of poems after reading Therigatha.

Can’t they just be honest?

Am more than disappointed!


It may be worth using the ‘Report Record Errors’ link in the Library of Congress catalog record to report the Subject Headings as incorrect. The LCSH is an ‘authority vocabulary’ imported into library management systems, for use in catalogs e.g. at universities.


Do you know if changes made at the LC are automatically pushed out to libraries that use the system?

I think Bhante Sujato has already reported it. Do you think it is helpful to have multiple people report, or would that just annoy the people who read the reports? If the publishers have submitted it as a translation, do you think that the librarians at the LC will be able to make a dermination?

I’m also concerned with the actual LC catalog number. It’s current number, BQ1452.E5 puts it on the shelf right next to actual translations.


Definitely, and the more people that do this the better.


Bhante @sujato gave a nice talk about this issue last night, which showed some stark contrasts between the Therigatha and Matty’s poems. There should be a recording soon…
What I actually found most interesting was how the talk helped me better see the depth of the originals.

Bhante talked about how he was not good at marketing. It occurred to me that it would actually be nice for some low-key marketing if he would do a talk along the lines of the talks in the Itivuttaka course from a few months ago. Not worrying about “The First Fee Women” poems, just pointing out how powerful the Therigatha poems are, and how they subvert views about traditional roles of women, such as Bhaddā Kāpilānī’s verses SuttaCentral, which first praise her husband, Kassapa, then point out that she is just as accomplished. And Mahāpajāpati Gotamī, SuttaCentral, who previously was a mother, a son, a father, a brother, and a grandmother, but is now liberated.

It would be great if the readings were given by a Bhikkhuni, supplemented by the sort of exposition we had last night. Something we could point potentially interested people to, such as my insight group friends, who are aware of suttas but really don’t read them much, and perhaps even the people who are including Matty’s poems on their reading lists for feminist studies courses…

Having something positive and interesting out there about the original verses may be, in the end, be more effective than just criticising the marketing of “The First Free Women” book (though that is still important).

I do apologise for suggesting work for people. I just felt so inspired after last night’s talk… :heart:


Well said!

I wonder whether you have written to the Library of Congress? It would be wonderful if they can hear from you and your accurate feedback.



As Bhante Sujato encourages, every bit helps. Subject matter experts like yourselves can offer suggestions by searching the LCSH for more appropriate categories Library of Congress Subject Headings - LC Linked Data Service: Authorities and Vocabularies | Library of Congress. These can be added to your ‘report errors’ form via

I reached out to a US library colleague for advice on this - “A lot of the work happens through the cooperative cataloging program but the LC will probably be willing to look into it”.

Library systems importing OCLC bibliographic data will see the most recent version of the record.


Here’s a recent talk on Matty Weingast’s book by Bhante Sujato, where he outlines key issues with the text and the problematic way it has been promoted. He compares several of Weingast’s poems with his own translations, examining what is missing, what has been added and explains why this matters if we want to faithfully maintain our sacred Buddhist texts.


(Just so y’all know, Carmi works for CSIRO in this field. She’s an actual expert!)


Reading through this thread this morning, and seeing the positiveAmazon blurbs from western “Buddhists” that also derive their livings from teaching Buddhisms to affluent westerners, this is just another example of how the teachings of the Buddha are distorted in order to create a brand and financial platform for the authors and teachers, so that they can further monetize their involvement in consumer Buddhisms. It’s just irksome that so many that know better feel free to repackage the Dhamma in order to make money. This trend in western Buddhisms commercializes something that is by its nature anti-commercial, and further dumbs down the pool of resources that are available to suffering people.

Thankful to our friend Bodhipaksa for posting a review on Amazon, calling this Weingast book a “fraud,” because that is really what it is. A fraud by its nature is designed to deceive, and to knowingly do so for personal or financial gain. There’s just way too much of this already in western Buddhisms, and it’s sad to see that this ugly stick touched one of the Dhamma’s most beautiful and important works