157. Buddha, hero, homage to you, best of all creatures, who released me and many other people from pain.
158. All pain is known; craving as the cause is dried up; the noble eightfold way has been developed; I have attained cessation.
159. Formerly I was mother, son, father, brother, and grandmother; not having proper knowledge, I journeyed-on without respite.
160. I have indeed seen that blessed one; this is the last body; journeying on from rebirth to rebirth has been completely eliminated; there is now no renewed existence.
161. I see the disciples all together, putting forth energy, resolute, always with strong effort; this is homage to the Buddhas.
162. Truly Māyā bore Gotama for the sake of many. He has thrust away the mass of pain of those struck by sickness and death.
I know you all.
I have been your mother,
You see me now in my final role—
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
as though each
be the one
This is the Path.
- Bhikkhu Sujato, including Pāli
- Caroline Rhys Davids, including commentary
- Ajahn Thanissaro
- Ven. Gnanananda Thero
- Andrew Olendzki
The following is a comment from Ven. Sudhammā:
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.
Apart from a vague similarity of theme there is almost no overlap between the Therigatha and Weingast’s poem.
The Therigatha verses open with Mahāpajāpatī’s exultant devotion. According to orientalist Buddhism, however, devotion is merely a product of Asian culture with no real role in the “true Buddhism” imagined by Westerners. Weingast therefore removes this as he creates his orientalist vision of the early nuns. He likewise removes her celebration of the diligent practice of the Sangha, and her insight, surely a relevant one, that this is what true homage consists of.
The main theme of Mahāpajāpatī’s verses is the suffering of transmigration, and the need to practice the eightfold path and realize the four noble truths to escape this suffering. None of this, the central message of Buddhism, finds its way into Weingast’s poem. Mahāpajāpatī no longer celebrates her own spiritual achievements with unabashed joy. Orientalist Buddhism thinks of rebirth as a primitive superstition of Asians, to be politely passed over by enlightened Westerners. Mahāpajāpatī’s spiritual achievements are an embarrassment.
Instead, Weingast’s concern is to relocate Mahāpajāpatī in her conventional role as a “kindly grandmother”. Both the Therigatha and Weingast’s poem present the idea that Mahāpajāpatī—and by extension everyone—has occupied all kinds of gender roles in the past. However, the implications of this are drawn out in very different ways.
In her own voice, Mahāpajāpatī says these gender roles belong to a past that she has left behind. This 2500 year old text by a woman contains both the idea of the fluidity of gender and of its ultimate transcendence. You might hope that a modern re-imagining would find something interesting to say about this.
By contrast, however, Weingast eliminates Mahāpajāpatī’s transcendence of gender and imagines that she defines herself solely in terms of her maternal role and familial relations. She no longer situates her gender roles in the past, but quite explicitly in the present (“It’s a fine part to go out on.”). The idea of transcendence of gender has been quite deliberately removed.
Mahāpajāpatī herself says nothing of her role as the Buddha’s aunt and foster mother. Yet this is all Weingast is interested in. Unable to escape his own fixation on femininity, Weingast puts in Mahāpajāpatī’s mouth the idea that universal motherhood is the Buddhist path. She is no longer a free woman, but one bound by the limitations of a man’s understanding.