An Ancient Collection Reimagined
Composed around the Buddha’s lifetime, the original Therigatha (“Verses of the Elder Nuns”) contains the poems of the first Buddhist women: princesses and courtesans, tired wives of arranged marriages and the desperately in love, those born into limitless wealth and those born with nothing at all. The authors of the Therigatha were women from every kind of background, but they all shared a deep-seated desire for awakening and liberation.
In The First Free Women, Matty Weingast has reimagined this ancient collection and created an original work that takes his experience of the essence of each poem and brings forth in his own words the struggles and doubts, as well as the strength, perseverance, and profound compassion, embodied by these courageous women.
About the Author
MATTY WEINGAST is co-editor of Awake at the Bedside and former editor of the Insight Journal at Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. With almost two decades of meditation experience, Matty completed much of the work on The First Free Women while staying at Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery in northern California.
“Like opening a window and letting a clean, fresh wind blow through my being.”—Joanna Macy
“In wholehearted and vibrant language, the teachings of these liberated women are transmitted across centuries, allowing us to sense fully the freedom and joy inherent in their ancient experiences.”—Sebene Selassie, author of You Belong: A Call for Connection
“These reflections have the power to touch the hearts of all who read them.”—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness
“Curl up with a cup of tea and let these poems speak to your heart. Then let your heart follow the path to freedom.”—Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron, author of Buddhism for Beginners and founder of Sravasti Abbey
“These evocative poems by Matty Weingast, in modern idiom and inspired by the enlightenment songs of the early Buddhist nuns, are a wonderful reminder that the liberated heart is possible for us all.”—Joseph Goldstein, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening
“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
“Here we meet an elegantly crafted version of contemporary poems inspired by the Therigatha verses of the Buddha’s first female enlightened disciples. Weingast’s gift of devotion lets us pause to contemplate his interpretation of the clear bell rung by our ancestor Bhikkhunis.”—Thanissara, author of Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth
“Warmhearted, authentic, uplifting, and moving. This gem of a book deeply affirms why and how we keep practicing through periods of darkness and light. Weingast was so inspired by these poems that he freely rendered them in English from the original Pali with wisdom, love, and poetic intelligence based on years of practice and insight.”—Nirbhay N. Singh, editor of the journal Mindfulness
“This collection of poems shifts our perspective and opens doors where before there were only walls. The metaphors are simple—a bowl, falling snow, a warm blanket, a knock at the door—and the unfoldings inside us profound. Though the voices are distinctly female, the revelations, inspirations, and encouragements are wholly human. This is a book to share. As one poem suggests, some rivers we must cross together.”—Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, author of Naked for Tea, Even Now, and The Miracle Already Happening
“An amazing rebirth of the Therigatha—deeply rooted in ancient times, yet also refreshing and meaningful to contemporary hearts. A new way of looking again.”—Bhikkhuni Santacitta, cofounder of Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery, California
“The voices of the first bhikkhunis in this contemporary rendering based on the Therigatha are vulnerable, tenacious, and ardent. Through the poems the women are felt and alive; they viscerally impact me. Because of the recent revival of full ordination for women, there are not yet many elders within modern burgeoning bhikkhuni communities. The intimacy, intensity, and insightfulness of these voices help to fill the gap.”—Bhikkhuni Ahimsa
“This inspiration from the Therigatha carries the sweetness of freedom, the angst of pain and suffering, the exhilaration of humor, the depth and pith of profound wisdom, and the delicate tender care of pure love. These women remain powerful archetypes for our path—past, present, and future.”—Larry Yang, cofounder of East Bay Meditation Center and author of Awakening Together: The Spiritual Practice of Inclusivity and Community
“Though thousands of years old, the voices of these awakened Buddhist women can be heard with freshness and clarity in this new improvisation of the Therigatha. These brief poems boldly proclaim the path to liberation, inspiring me to rededicate myself to my own path and practice.”—Mushim Patricia Ikeda, Buddhist teacher and author of “Daylighting the Feminine in American Buddhism” in Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming against the Stream
“A profound, earthy, at times playful, and always inspiring collection of poems. Hearing the awakened heart expressed in such distinctive strong, clear, feminine voices is a major contribution that all Buddhist practitioners will appreciate, especially in these times. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!”—James Baraz, Spirit Rock cofounding teacher and author of Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness
“These poems are deeply resonant and timeless and help me feel connected to the many women throughout time who have walked the path of practice. I love this collection.”—Susan O’Brien, Dharma teacher at Insight Meditation Society
“Weingast’s fresh rendering of these ancient words will be of interest to anyone looking for feminine Buddhist voices.”—Publishers Weekly
“These are women who sought out enlightenment long before it was safe to utter ‘women’ and ‘liberation’ in the same sentence, yet Weingast has given voice to them in a way that renders the distance of two and a half millennia inconsequential. They speak as though they are here and now, about matters that still concern us here and now. These poems of forgiveness, grief, kindness, yearning, and wisdom are timeless, but they are also the stories of those who came before us and blazed the way forward.”—Buddhadharma