What is the Therīgāthā
The “Verses of the Senior Nuns” is a collection of about 524 verses attributed to 73 of the senior nuns alive in the Buddha’s time, or in a few cases, a little later. These verses celebrate the bliss of freedom and the life of meditation, full of proud and joyous proclamations of their spiritual attainments and their gratitude to other nuns as guides and teachers. The Therīgāthā is one of the oldest spiritual texts recording only women’s voices. It is a pair with the Theragāthā, the “Verses of the Senior Monks”. Together these collections constitute one of the oldest and largest collections of contemplative literature. Based on style and content, these collections belong to the early discourses. They are referred to on occasion in the northern canons, but no parallel collections have survived.
Are there modern translations of the Therīgāthā?
Absolutely. There have been at least four new translations in the last five years. Please see the bibliography. Many are available for free online.
What language was the Therīgāthā written in?
The Therīgāthā, and all of the scriptures of Theravāda Buddhism, was written in the Pāli language. It has been studied extensively and there are several respected dictionaries and grammars to assist translation.
Do we know any personal details about the nuns included in the Therīgāthā?
Absolutely. There is an ancient commentary on the Therīgāthā (the Paramatthadīpanī VI) that tells about the situation that led to the verses being spoken. Many of these nuns also appear in the canonical texts, either in the Suttas (scriptures) or Vinaya (monastic code).
What is The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns?
The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns is a book of mostly original poetry by author Matthew Weingast, Published in 2020 by Shambhala Publications.
Is The First Free Women a translation of the Therīgāthā?
No. The author has admitted it is not. And you are welcome to view these poems side by side on this site with a respected translation by K.R. Norman.
Was The First Free Women marketed as a translation?
Unfortunately, it appears so. The following is the description that was submitted to the Library of Congress:
“This new and captivating translation of the Therigatha (Verses of the Elder Buddhist Nuns) is a modern rendition of classic stories from the very first Buddhist nuns. Reflecting on their lives and revelations, these women wrote countless poems as they embraced their new lives as nuns. Heartwarming, enlightening, and sometimes tough in all the right ways, these poems have now been translated to reach a modern audience”– Provided by publisher.
It also appears that the manuscript given to other authors included the term “translation” as you can see it appears in many of their book blurbs included on the book’s web page and frontmatter:
|“This powerful, beautifully translated collection of poems gives us direct insight into the lives of bhikkhunis at the time of the Buddha and their very human struggles and breakthroughs on the Path to Nibbana. A treasure trove of inspiration that will uplift the hearts of sincere seekers everywhere, reminding us that we, too, have the potential to be truly free.”||Bhikkhuni Canda, founder of Anukampa Bhikkhuni Project, UK|
|“These are fresh, powerful, poetic translations that bring our ancient wise women to life. Let their beautiful songs of freedom inspire your own heart.”||Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart|
|“A must-read for all women and those who love them. This inspiringly poetic translation of timeless wisdom reminds us of our freedom and how we can live free together.”||Ruth King, author of Healing Rage and Mindful of Race|
What is Shambhala Publications?
Shambhala Publications is a private corporation founded in 1969 to publish Buddhist and spiritual material. They are not affiliated with any other organization, including Shambhala Buddhism.
In their submission guidelines (shambhala.com/submissions) they state:
We do not accept proposals for fiction (children’s books excepted), poetry, exposés, end-time prophecies, channeled works, martial arts manuals, quotation books, or audio/video. Anything sent within these genres/formats will not receive a response.
They publish very few translations from the Pali language. Most of their translations are of Tibetan Sutras.