Enlightened Buddhist Women

Susan Murcott’s book First Buddhist Women: poems and stories of awakening is a fascinating study of the earliest female renunciants. Murcott carefully sets the social context for understanding how courageous and unusual these women were given the norms of their times. It’s an inspiring and moving collection of stories about wives, courtesans, mothers and others who succeeded in attaining Enlightenment and who shared their journey through exquisite poetry. The source of the poems ¬†is the Therigataa, a collection of 73 poems in the canon of the earliest Buddhist literature. Reading the poems I felt a deep sense of admiration and connection with these women who overcame all odds, their voices easily transcend the centuries.

When they plow their fields
and sow seeds in the earth,
when they care for their wives and children,
young brahmans find riches.

But I’ve done everything right
and followed the rule of my teacher;
I’m not lazy or proud.
Why haven’t I found peace?

Bathing my feet
I watched the bathwater
spill down the slope.
I concentrated my mind
the way you train a good horse.

Then I took a lamp
and went into my cell,
checked the bed,
and sat down on it.
I took a needle and pushed the wick down.

When the lamp went out
my mind was freed.

~ Patacara

Susan Murcott, First Buddhist Women. Parallax Press: 2006


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