As women’s spirituality continues to gain popularity, The Buddha’s Wife offers to a broad audience for the first time the intimate and profound story of Princess Yasodhara, the wife Buddha left behind, and her alternative journey to spiritual enlightenment.
What do we know of the wife and child the Buddha abandoned when he went off to seek his enlightenment? The Buddha’s Wife brings this rarely told story to the forefront, offering a nuanced portrait of this compelling and compassionate figure while also examining the practical applications her teachings have on our modern lives.
Princess Yasodhara’s journey is one full of loss, grief, and suffering. But through it, she discovered her own enlightenment within the deep bonds of community and “ordinary” relationships. While traditional Buddhism emphasizes solitary meditation, Yasodhara’s experience speaks of “The Path of Right Relation,” of achieving awareness not alone but together with others.
The Buddha’s Wife is comprised of two parts: the first part is a historical narrative of Yasodhara’s fascinating story, and the second part is a “how-to” reader’s companion filled with life lessons, practices, and reflections for the modern seeker. Her story provides a relational path, one which speaks directly to our everyday lives and offers a doorway to profound spiritual maturation, awakening, and wisdom beyond the solitary, heroic journey.
Connection with others as a spiritual path is explored by Surrey a clinical psychologist, Buddhist dharma leader, and writer and Shem, a physician and writer (The House of God). Troubled by an aspect of the Buddha's famous origin story, in which the prince Siddhartha leaves his wife, Yasodhara, and newborn son without saying goodbye, the authors use an "imagined re-creation" of the abandoned woman's search for healing within relationships to illuminate the "Path of She Who Stays" in contemporary life. After narrating the tale of Yasodhara's survival and spiritual growth in the company of others, Surrey and Shem draw on Jean Baker Miller's relational-cultural theory dealing with the importance of relationships, Zen peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh's concept of interbeing, and other sources to investigate the power of connection to heal individuals and, perhaps, a suffering world. Focusing on circles groups of connected people or things they address spiritual friendships, parenting, couple communication, 12-step groups, care of the dying, peacemaking, and other topics, calling on all to become "relational and spiritual activists." Extensive practices are included. Yasodhara's story, in the authors' capable hands, proves to be a somewhat didactic but effective strategy to pull together many strands of the relational path and inspire readers to further exploration.