Bride of the Buddha

Barbara McHugh. Monkfish, $17.95 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-1-948626-23-1
In this fine debut, poet McHugh imagines the life of the Buddha’s abandoned wife, Yasodhara, as she’s torn between the spiritual path and the impositions of patriarchal society. After the death of her sister Deepa, Yasodhara is driven to find her sister’s lost spirit so that her soul does not wander endlessly, as she believes it would. Political machinations push her into a marriage with Prince Siddhartha, the future Buddha, and after he abandons her, she deepens her spiritual practice as the palace demands she give up prayer to pursue a purely domestic life. In traditional accounts, the Buddha abandoned Yasodhara to undertake the quest for enlightenment, and Yasodhara is ordained only after the Buddha’s devoted attendant, Ananda, pushes the teacher to establish an order of nuns. In McHugh’s smart retelling, Yasodhara, after a period of intensive ascetic practice, hides her identity and joins the Buddha’s order as the male monk Ananda to practice the Dharma and to persuade the Buddha to let women ordain. Though sometimes the exposition on the Dharma can feel forced, McHugh combines scholarship with intriguing fictionalizations. This engrossing exploration of gender dynamics, identity, and the spiritual quest for meaning will appeal to Buddhists and general readers alike. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 10/26/2020
Release date: 01/01/2021
Genre: Inspirational Fiction
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