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The Therigatha as translated by Charles Hallisey is part of the new Murty Classical Library of India and as such is a wonderful new version.


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The Therigatha is a well-known Buddhist text composed of poems uttered by the first awakened Buddhist nuns 2, years ago. There have been different translations and studies over the last years of this seminal text, but this is the first edition that offers a translation accompanied on each page by the corresponding Pali text in romanized script. It was a great pleasure to be asked to review this version of the Therigatha , because for the first time I was able to read it as poetry in one go.

Previously, I only dipped into other translations now and then, either because the language felt archaic or because I had difficulty engaging with the commentary on each nun or each poem though I often returned to the poems of Ambapali, the courtesan, as her sense of irony and humor came through brilliantly.

It is a beautifully produced book. It can stand on its own as a volume of poetries of women speaking to us across the ages.

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It is hard to date each poem precisely; scholars have surmised that they were produced over a period of three hundred years from the sixth century BCE to the third century BCE. The text is an anthology and as such has evolved over time.

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The first poems were transmitted orally until they were written down around 80 BCE. Nun Rohini eloquently identifies the authors of these utterances:. Those who have gone forth are from various families and from various regions and still they are friendly with each other— that is the reason why ascetics are so dear to me. Charles Hallisey translated the text as is. First there are the earliest poems of a single verse, then two verses, and so on and so forth. Toward the end we find longer and later poems with twenty verses, thirty verses, even forty verses. Individual voices and dramas emerge with great force through these verses.

A few tropes that are relatively repetitive give a flavor of the Buddhism of that time. For instance, many poems in the book echo the nun Sama when she proclaims:. The end of craving has been achieved by me and what the Buddha taught is done because of delight in diligence prompted by the many things that are nothing but suffering.

Apart from such continuities, each voice is quite distinct and personal, as they describe the different circumstances that led them to become nuns. At times, I felt I was reading the script of a modern soap opera. In one poem, a nun named Chapa remembers an episode with her husband:. And, good-looking, what about this child, born because of you? Who are you leaving when you leave me, the one who has this child? We were mother and daughter, but we shared one husband, I was afraid of what had to come from that, it was perverse and made my hair stand on end.

All the poems have to be seen in the context of the traditional Buddhist belief in rebirth as the bane of existence and enlightenment as the way to escape rebirth. As the nun Mutta says:.

The name I am called by means freed and I am quite free, well free from three crooked things, mortar, pestle, and husband with his own crooked thing. I am freed from birth and death, what leads to rebirth has been rooted out. My only difficulty with the translation is that sometimes the English version is somewhat intense and strong. But it is true that the translation is very modern and readable.

Nowadays, where sex is alluring and supposed to sell everything, it can be quite refreshing or shocking, depending on your point of view to see the ancient vision of these nuns. So sleep well, covered with cloth you have made, your passion for sex shriveled away like a herb dried up in a pot. As Hallisey points out in the introduction, there is some correspondence between these Buddhist verses and nonreligious Indian lyrical poetry of the period, where you will find certain tropes about nature and the beloved. In the Buddhist context of the Therigatha , these tropes are transformed to serve a spiritual purpose.

So you start with beautiful, romantic description and then you will have the catch, the Buddhist turning point. The best one comes toward the end of the book, with a series of poems of thirty verses telling the story of a rake lusting after a beautiful young nun. He tries to entice her with flowery language, praising all aspects of her body. He even tells her that he cannot live without her beautiful eyes, which he compares to blue lotus buds or the eyes of a fawn.

Eyes are just little balls in various shapes. With its tears, an eye is a bubble of water between the eyelids like a little ball of lac in the hollow of a tree, and milky mucus comes out of it. Most of the poems are by the nuns, but sometimes a few lines are added, often at the beginning or the end, by the compilers of the scriptures to add context to the occasion. My favorite poem, by the former courtesan Ambapali, features a similar twist. There is economy and humorous irony in her poetry:. When I was young, my nose was beautiful, it was delicate, high, and was perfect for my face, now because of old age it is like a strip of wet leather.

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Once my feet were beautiful, so soft they seemed filled with cotton, now because of old age they are wrinkled, with calluses cracked. In these poems we get a glimpse of these women, their former lives, their suffering, their happiness, what they left behind, and the peace they have found in their new lives as nuns.

They come from different backgrounds, rich and poor, widowed or married. There are young girls on the threshold of an expected role that they reject, as they are looking for something more. Some find themselves questioning their established beliefs. During this period the Buddha was trying to teach new meditative practices and a different orientation to life, which led these women to reflect pragmatically on what they were doing. These reflections and practices made them leave behind the rituals and traditions that had defined their lives. This subject is broached several times in the poems.

For example, in one poem a nun named Punna questions the ritualistic washing of a brahman:. See details for description of any imperfections.

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Used book in good condition. Shows typical wear. Quick shipping. Satisfaction guaranteed! See details. Buy It Now. Add to cart. Be the first to write a review About this product. About this product Product Information First Buddhist Women traces the journey of the wives, mothers, teachers, courtesans, prostitutes, and wanderers who became the first female disciples of the Buddha. Susan Murcott's lively translation and commentary of the Therigatha, the earliest known collection of women's religious poetry, is surprisingly timeless, addressing issues of spiritual enlightenment and societal expectations that are still relevant today.