A stunning modern translation of a Buddhist classic that is also one of the oldest literary texts in the world written by women.
The Therīgāthā is one of the oldest surviving literatures by women, composed more than two millennia ago and originally collected as part of the Pali canon of Buddhist scripture. These poems were written by some of the first Buddhist women—therīs—honored for their religious achievements. Through imaginative verses about truth and freedom, the women recount their lives before ordination and their joy at attaining liberation from samsara. Poems of the First Buddhist Women offers startling insights into the experiences of women in ancient times that continue to resonate with modern readers. With a spare and elegant style, this powerful translation introduces us to a classic of world literature.
The Therigatha has a lot of claims on our attention. It is among the first poetry of India; among the first poems by women in India; the first collection of women’s literature in the world. But these claims should not obscure its status as poetry. While the poems embody the world-view and morality of early Indian Buddhism, making them invaluable historical documents, they repay the reader’s attention generously.
An austere and revelatory compendium of poems composed over two thousand years ago by Buddhist nuns.
Therigatha is a collection of Pali poems attributed to the earliest Buddhist nuns. Though it is a part of the major Theravada Buddhist canon and has been well known to scholars for a long time, these beautiful verses haven’t reached the general public who might be interested in Buddhism…We see Buddhists meditating on women’s bodies as they grow old and lose their beauty, but this time the Buddhists in question are women, and their analysis, though rooted in the same assumptions, is markedly different…The poems of the Therigatha are not narratives; rather, they are dialogues, meditations, and songs, and they carry a more intimate tone that is beautifully expressed in Hallisey’s fluid translation. These poems present a cacophony of different voices of women struggling to find themselves in Buddhism against the prevailing assumptions of their day.
It is a welcome and significant development that these poems have been included and acknowledged as part of world literature…Hallisey’s book will ensure that this work receives a broader audience. His illuminating introduction gives an admirably distilled historical, literary and metrical history of the verses, placing them both within traditions of Buddhist practice and in the literary forms to which they are notably akin in subsequent Indian poetry.
Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women is marvelous not only in that it is an archive of poetry in a language no longer in use but also in that it is the world’s first known collection of literary work by women—documenting the aspirations and achievements of women from nearly two thousand years ago. These poems or utterances that introduce their readers to the practice and intricacies of Buddhism also serve as a testament to the multiplicity of faith and cultural experience in the Indian sub-continent.
We can only welcome an undertaking like the Murty Classical Library of India, which intends to inject fresh blood directly into the circulatory system of the English language. Any intelligent reader cannot fail to be favorably impressed in the presence of the variegated offerings of the series’ first titles…The Murty Classical Library offers a surprising array of texts that are in any case capable of broadening the all-too-restricted horizons of the average Western reader.
- 192 pages
- 5-1/4 x 8 inches
- Harvard University Press
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