The First Buddhist Women: Translations and Commentary on the Therigatha
By Susan Murcott
Parallax Press: Berkeley, 1991.
219 pp. $15.00 (paperback).

The First Buddhist Women, Susan Murcott’s translations and commentary on the Therigatha, is a compelling and poignant record of the poems of the Therigatha. (Literally, Therigatha is “verses of old women,” but Murcott suggests that theri here translates not simply as “an old woman” but as a woman “distinguished for her character and wisdom.”) These energetic and vividly detailed poems of women on the road to enlightenment and independence are free of self-pity and blame. These women, even when grieving over a lost child or chronicling a failed marriage, do not see themselves as victims. Instead, they turn their tragedies into steps toward spiritual understanding and freedom. Vasetthi, for example, was so tormented over the loss of her son that she:

wandered the streets 
naked with wild hair 

lived on trash heaps, in a graveyard, 
and by the highways.

But by the end of the poem, she has “realized great joy” by “putting [the Buddha’s] teachings into practice.”

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