cover image The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns

The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns

Matty Weingast. Shambhala, $16.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-61180-776-9

Weingast (Awake at the Bedside) invites readers to find liberation in the affecting verse of the Therigatha, a collection of brief poems by Buddhist nuns written in the fourth and fifth centuries BCE within the Indian subcontinent. The nuns’ stories— of beleaguered wives, pawned off princesses, and discarded courtesans—offer glimpses of tales that transcend time periods. Many of the stories relate pain, poverty, and prostitution, with the narrator discovering the wisdom of Buddha as a salve to earthly woes. For instance, “Abhirupananda—Delighting in Beauty” wonderfully reconceives feminine beauty by considering the body through a “nonjudgmental heart.” Others concern women who walked “the Path” of enlightenment during the Buddha’s life, as in “Jenta—Conqueror,” which uses a quote of the Buddha’s championing “mindfulness, curiosity, courage, joy, calm, stillness, and perspective” as its jumping off point. Weingast also includes an appeal for readers to eschew materialism in favor of matters of the heart in order to “shake up the world” and “set yourself free.” With many ecstatic entries that capture the fundamentals of the Buddhist Four Noble Truths (“There I dug out the root of all craving—and swam back to the surface”), Weingast’s fresh rendering of these ancient words will be of interest to anyone looking for feminine Buddhist voices. (Feb.)