The recording is available at
Note: there is a long silent meditation at the beginning of the track.
“Ayya Anandabodhi and Matty Weingast read from their new translation of the Therigatha – The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns.
This is an unofficial transcript. Only the most minimal editing was done after the automatic transcription.
Ayya Anandabodhi: So, uh, this is the first time that Matty and I have presented on these posts together. We’ve spent many hours working on them together, some, some in this room here in the [unclear] library and sometimes outside and sometimes on zoom from different sides of the country. And, uh, it’s been, uh, a beautiful gift in my life to be able to, to work with these poems and also to work with Matty. I’ve learned a lot from Matty. So it’s been a very fruitful and insightful journey. And, uh, so the, and the Therīgāthā I often say about that is that it’s a collection of poems by the enlightened nuns of the Buddha’s time, or some of the enlightened nuns in the Buddhist time that have been passed down in the Pali Canon as part of our, uh, our heritage and many of the older translations, there have been many translations done made, and many of the older translations, uh, uh, uh, rather dry and literal. And so you can, you know, they, they’re still inspiring in that they are words of enlightened beings, but they’re written in such a way that it’s kind of hard to get the [true sense] with them. And I had waited for a long time years, um, for there to be a translation that, that really spoke to the heart. And, um, Matty has done that way beyond what I might have hoped for.
So the result is this book, which is just a little book, many, many hours of love and care gone into it. It’s just a little book, but it’s full of depth and insight. And in a way, to me, it’s like speaks to the part in me that recognizes the path. And I know that that’s true for others too. So, and so I’d like to read to you from one of the poems that came through while Matty was staying here. So we worked on zoom, mostly a car park where a couple of times when we were at IMS or Forest Refuge, where we were in the same place at the same time, when we went through the entire manuscript together, Matt, he’d already written all 73 poems and they’re at different stages of completion when I read them.
And it was almost like the first time I read them, I had this kind of mandate of like, I have these have to be available to people. They have to be finished to perfection, and then they have to be made available to people because I could see their potential. And, uh, so, so some, so some were already pretty much perfect when, when I first read them and some needed a bit of work and some have been completely, completely overhauled. And this was one of those. Um, so we’ve worked on zoom for some time. And then just when I, when it seemed like the posts were coming towards their completion, I invited Matty to come and stay here for a couple of weeks to finish working on the poems. But of course it took much longer than a couple of weeks. And, and, uh, that, that final part of the book was, was quite, uh, quite, uh, it was almost like, uh, like being witnessed to a birth, actually, it was quite a, quite a process.
And, uh, so Matty ended up staying for four months, uh, with the, with the, you know, sort of worked for everybody here with the blessing of all of the nuns. And while he was here, this one poem came through, it was kind of a feisty poem and it [??] Uppalavanna. So Uppalavanna means blue lotus. And it said that her skin was the color of the heart of a blue Lotus. And that that’s. In India. In the old days, you might’ve heard like Krishna that Krishna is blue. So in that in ancient India, when somebody had very dark skin, it would be, it would be called blue as soon as it was seen as beautiful. And it would be called blue. Don’t know why. So she is a woman of very dark skin skin, the color of a blue Lotus, who was said to have been from quite wealthy, comfortably off family, and had, there’s various stories about her life. And we not, we’re never quite sure which ones are the tree ones, but I’ll go into her poem now. And I wanted to read this one because of what’s happening in the world in America at this time of the right, race, protests and riots and brutality, and brutalities been going on for a long time, hundreds of years. And, uh, it seems to me that we’re in a time when there could be. Now, there’s a possibility of some turnaround, but who knows? So I’m going to read Uppalavanna’s poem.
Uppalavanna ~ Blue Lotus
[See side by side comparison]
I hated my father.
And I hated my mother
for making him my father.
I left home to get away from him—
and then found him everywhere I went.
But I trained hard.
I learned to make
glow red with fire.
And I handled the darkness with a chain.
Then one night,
while meditating in the woods,
I was grabbed from behind.
This sal tree is in full bloom,
the man said.
And here lying beneath,
I find a sal flower
with a lovely shaved head.
Tell me, my little flower.
Aren’t you afraid?
I turned around.
He looked just like my father.
It would have taken so little,
a flick of a finger,
to make him
I looked into his eyes
and saw the billion lifetimes
that he and I
had been running around
this same circle
Then I walked
all the way down
to the darkest parts
of my own mind—
and stood in front of
the blazing roar
into the furnace.
Burn with me, my sisters.
And when you’re ready,
come up from that dark place
where you’ve gone
to be alone
The Path leads directly through
these vast worlds of fear and hate.
We have all wounded and been wounded.
We have all been made to feel weak.
There is great strength in the darkness.
The mind can be used as a knife—
or a chain.
Your whole world
Ask the lizard how long this has been going on.
Ask the sunflower and her million seeds.
The mind is more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
Ask yourself what
you are really
to give up
in order to be free.
I want to read that to you again.
[read a second time]
Just sit with that for a moment.
Your whole world is burning itself to the ground. Ask the lizard how long this has been going on the sunflower and half a million. See the mind is more powerful than you can possibly imagine. Ask yourself what you’re really prepared to give up in order to be free.
Matty Weingast: Yeah, thank you. Um, you know, she, Anandabodhi and I spent a long time working on these poems and, yeah, I still really enjoy listening to her, read them. I mean, it’s nice getting to be here at the monastery together again through this time and, um, kind of be sharing these poems together. […]
Um, You know, it’s interesting sharing these poems tonight because, you know, and as ayya and I were talking about the world is burning itself to the ground right now, kind of. So for me, in some ways, um, poetry feels a little thin.
Um, Maybe it’s not the most important thing right now, but also there’s just, it just for myself, I’ll say that, um, these teachings of the Buddha have been instrumental for me in the way of building a life. You know, that makes sense. And that’s helping me to become the kind of person I want to be.
Um, So in times like this too, it feels important for me to, to find, um, some kind of solace and direction, you know, in those teachings. And for a lot of us, I think, especially in difficult times, like this its going to be in a very personal way. So it might not be satipatthana or it might not be, you know, what other people are doing with them. But I think, um, for me, it’s been important to find a personal relationship with the path and the work on these poems has been a real part of that for me. Um, just allowed them, the teachings to become a lot closer, a lot more real. And a lot ah just closer to my heart, you know, no longer at arms length, you know, and no longer like, Oh, we should do this because we’re supposed to do this. Um, but finding, finding where the true path is for me and then seeing whether my faith in it can be fulfilled, you know, seeing if it’ll take me actually, where I want to go.
Um, So I mean, this poem is, is a, is a kind of a perfect example of these two sides of the Buddhist teaching. One of which is that time is beginning lists and endless, and there have been a billion worlds and they’re going to be another billion worlds and holding that, that quality of equanimity. But also here we are, you know, this is our world right now
And how are we going to show up for it? You know, and how are we going to relate to what’s happening? Um, how are we going to relate to our own heart and how are we going to, um, find a way of living in a way of practicing, That makes sense for us. And I think that too is going to end up being very personal. It doesn’t always have to look the same for everybody. Some people are going to do one thing or another thing, and, um, that’s as it should be, I think, but to find something there, you know, there ought to be, there ought to be something in these teachings for us right now, you know, both for our formal practice and how that practice gets expressed in the world, because in the end, these, these poems of the, of the Terīgāthā, you know, um, and all the Buddhist teachings is really instructing us, you know, how to practice and also how to live so we can take direction from there directly, um, and see what speaks to our heart in a genuine way. And, and then do our best to fulfill that.
Ayya Anandabodhi: Yeah. One, one piece from this poem that feels very resonant for me right now is, is, um, That’s, you know, this is not as, is being confronted by a man in the forest and it was kind of a scary scenario. She’s a powerful woman. She has, uh, she, she was, she was actually known as foremost in psychic powers that she was one of the Buddhist chief disciples. So sometimes people hear about Sariputta and Mahamoggallana the two male chief disciples of the Buddha. He had also two female chief disciples who get mentioned so often don’t get so many statues made of them as the male versions and, um, uh Khema and Uppalavanna were his two female chief disciples. And Uppalavanna was foremost in psychic power. So she’s a powerful woman. So she doesn’t actually have to be afraid of this man. And when she says it would have taken, so little, a flick of a finger to make him burn. That’s kind of literal.
Um, but, uh, this, this, uh, situation where you, where there’s, you know, where you’re confronted and there’s conflict and things are difficult, and you could just do the same old thing again, that you’ve done a billion lifetimes already. And then, uh, it’s just this little bit of verse “so I looked into his eyes and saw the, billion lifetimes that he and I had been running around this same circle together.” And, uh, for me, the situation that that’s really hot right now in America, and that, racial oppression, violence, reactivity, and so on, uh, protests. And this is something that’s been going on for a very long time. And we may have been relating to it in the same way for a very long time. And there may be ways that we’re afraid of it or ways that we sort of defend from it or ways that we don’t want to deal with it or ways that we, um, are overwhelmed by it.
And, and then she says this, “then I walked all the way down to the darkest parts of my own mind.” So those places that are, those places where the , the fear, the resistance the defending the defensiveness and whatever we might feel, and then the guilt, the shame, the denial, and then whatever it is, the longing. So “I’d go and walk down all the way down to the darkest parts of my own mind and stood in front of the blazing wall as countless lifetimes of fear and revenge threw themselves into the furnace.” So this is very powerful and in a way the path asks that of us, that we don’t often hear such strong imagery, but that is what the path asks of us. Is it that very simple, beautiful nutshell teaching than I, which to me just kind of encapsulates the whole of the Buddha’s teaching of refrain from doing harm, do good and purify the mind.
This is the teaching of all the Buddhas. And so what Uppalavanna is describing there as purifying the mind to just let it all burn up, you know, and we, we all, we all have ways that we can , through the precepts really that we can refrain from doing harm. And we all have ways we can do good. And then there’s the wish and refrain from doing harm, do good. It’s like it creates a basis for the practice. And it gives us a foundation of good merit from which to practice from, and then the burning up, it’s the, where the karma ends. So this is very important too, and it burns up the old patterns and it burns up the blocks. You know, when we don’t know what to do next, go back in there, have a look. “The Path, leads directly through these vast worlds of fear and hate.”
If it didn’t, you know, it would be, it wouldn’t be a path because they’ve always been here. They were, they were, The Buddha was alive during the, when the cast system was very strong, very cruel, deeply cruel system [ ]. He understood that this was a social construct, just as race as a social construct. And, uh, he overrode that in the monastic sangha, which was a very radical thing to do in that time. And, uh, so, you know, and he was showing the path that leads out of suffering the way that leads to the ending of suffering, because there was suffering then, and their is suffering now. And That there’s a path that leads out. How we use our mind and our body speech and mind is, it’s very important. And it’s up to us, only we can do that work and we can cultivate that.
?? And then we go into QA after.
Ayya Anandabodhi: So this is the poem. of
Vira ~ Hero
[see side by side comparison]
who think themselves
who hide their
who talk of heroes.
Don’t be fooled by outward signs—
lifting heavy things
or picking fights with weaker opponents
and running headfirst into battle.
A real hero
walks the Path
to its end.
Then shows others the way.
So this is the poem of
Punnika ~ The Slave
[see side by side comparison]
In the early morning,
well before dawn,
I would go down to the river.
It was my job to carry water
up the hill
to my master’s house.
We all want to be free.
But what good is freedom,
when your sisters remain slaves?
I used to imagine an old man down there by the river.
I used to imagine what I would say to him.
What does it mean—
to own another human being?
What does it mean—
to feel your own skin,
to touch it,
and know you are not free?
We all have bodies.
My sisters, I don’t have to tell you.
But where did I get this body?
Who made me a slave?
The old man and me—
watching the river.
But for what?
Over the years,
Sometimes it doesn’t feel safe—
to feel anything at all.
Don’t give up, my sisters.
Whatever you have to say,
now is the time to say it out loud.
All our dreams of the past.
All our dreams of what will be.
Reach out your hand.
Some rivers we must cross together.
I love that ending. I think that’s, that’s really, that’s kind of where we are. “Don’t give up my sisters, brothers, friends, whatever you have to say now is the time to say it out loud, all our dreams of the past or our dreams of what will be come reach out your hand. Some rivers, we must cross together.” [inaudible].
so Matty just pointed me to the poem a bit, Vijaya, Victor, and this is, Ayya Santacitta’s favorite poem.
Vijaya ~ Victor
[see side by side comparison]
When everyone else was meditating,
I’d be outside circling the hall.
Finally I went to confess.
I’m hopeless, I said.
The elder nun smiled.
Just keep going, she said.
Nothing stays in orbit forever.
If this circling is all you have,
why not make this circling your home?
I did as she told me,
and went on circling the hall.
If you find yourself partly in
and partly out—
if you find yourself drawn to this Path
and also drawing away—
I can assure you,
you’re in good company.
Just keep going.
Sometimes the most direct path isn’t a straight line.
[inaudible] Uppalavanna, she’s one of my favorites though, the one I read it earlier.
Matty Weingast: Yeah, yeah.
Ayya Anandabodhi: It’s very simple poem, but it’s says so much. Then Matty can do his favorite.
Upasamma ~ Calm.
[See side by side comparison]
at a time,
at a time,
or not at all.
Matty Weingast: So this was my favorite for at least for today.
Ayya Anandabodhi: This is wonderful,
Uttama ~ Great Woman.
[see side by side comparison]
For years I couldn’t sleep.
Most nights I’d throw off the covers
and take long runs through the dark.
When sleepless nights come
to tear you into little pieces,
rise to meet the day
as a tree rises to meet the axe—
as a scalp bows to meet the blade—
as sparks from a dying fire
reach out to meet the darkness—
as all of our bones
someday fall softly down
to meet earth.
When you stand,
send your roots down between the stones.
When you walk,
walk like a skeleton walking to its grave.
When you lie down,
lie down like a blown-out candle
being put back in a drawer.
When you sit,
My sisters, sit like you are dead already.
How could this world possibly
give you what you’re looking for
when it’s so busy
Don’t move until you see it.