of course. we all want to be free.

Punnika the Slave

In the early morning,
well before dawn,
I would go down to the river.

It was my job to carry water
up the hill
to my master’s house.

Of course.
We all want to be free.

But what good is freedom
when your sisters remain slaves?

I used to imagine an old man down there by
the river.
I used to imagine what I would say to him.

What does it mean–
to own another human being?

What does it mean–
to feel your own skin,
to touch it,
and know you are not free?

We all have bodies.
My sisters, I don’t have to tell you.

But where did I get this body?
Who made me a slave?

The old man and me–
standing here,
watching the river.

But for what?

Over the years,
this round
has been
pounded flat.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel safe–
to feel anything at all.

Don’t give up my sisters.

Whatever you have to say,
now is the time to say it out loud.

All our dreams of the past.
All our dreams of what will be.

Reach out your hand.

Some rivers we must cross together.

the first free women:
poems of the early buddhist nuns

capitano donna

Last night, a dream
our spaceship crashes
They say everyone, everything was
But the woman ship captain
is there
me and others
and some precious things–broken, everyday items in
a flat open box
do remain…
I wish I could remember
The captain was calm, self-assured,
not afraid…of the truth
something was not quite right
I wish I could remember

a soulmate of the Buddha
What are the Buddhas’
dreams for me?
Do I have enough
confidence and courage
to act sufficiently?
To carry them out?
Just to go forward?
As best I can?
With actions that remember the heart?
What precious thing
am I carrying?
What is good enough?

relief from grief

The Therigatha are poems of the first Buddhist women, ordained women who were called “senior ones” due to their spiritual achievements and ability to help others with their suffering. Many of these women came to the Buddha grieving the loss of their husbands, parents or family members. And many of them came to the Buddha suffering from what some claim to be the most intimate and heart-wrenching grief of all, grief over the loss of their child or children. The Buddha, with kindness and compassion, pointed them in the direction of healing.

The following is such a poem. Ubbiri’s poem offers encouragement to all of us, that we can transform even the most intimate, intense suffering.

spoken by the Buddha to her

Mother, you cry in the forest, “O Jiva,”
get hold of yourself, Ubbiri.
Eighty-four thousand daughters, all with that same name,
the ones that said they were “Life,”
all have been burnt in this cremation ground,
so which one of them are you grieving for?

Spoken by Ubbiri

He pulled out the arrow that was hard for me to see,
the one that I nourished in my heart,
he expelled the grief for a daughter,
the grief that had overwhelmed me.

Today the arrow is pulled out,
I am without hunger, completely free.
I go to the Buddha his dhamma, and his sangha for refuge,
I go to the Sage for refuge.