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After the Buddha’s enlightenment, his aunt and adoptive mother, Mahapajapati Gotami, asks him to ordain women and welcome them into his new monastic community. The Buddha declines to fulfill her request. But Mahapajapati Gotami doesn’t give up—accompanied by a large gathering of women, she sets out to ask him again.

In her new novel, The Gathering: A Story of the First Buddhist Women, scholar Vanessa R. Sasson offers an imaginative retelling of the women’s request for ordination, following the women as they travel through the forest together seeking full access to the Buddha’s teachings. Building on decades of research and drawing from the poems of the Therigatha, the novel explores how the women navigate the paradox of seeking ultimate liberation while still bound by social inequality.

In this episode of Tricycle Talks, Tricycle’s editor-in-chief, James Shaheen, sits down with Sasson to discuss what we can learn from the first Buddhist women’s resilience, how contemporary women monastics understand this story, why she first started writing fiction, and the role of mythology and storytelling in the Buddhist world.

Read an excerpt from The Gathering here.

Tricycle Talks is a podcast series featuring leading voices in the contemporary Buddhist world. You can listen to more Tricycle Talks on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and iHeartRadio.

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