The Buddha's Wife Book

The Buddha’s Wife

The Path of Awakening Together

Her Story and Reader’s Companion
Janet Surrey, PhD and Samuel Shem, MD

Release Date: June 30th, 2015


“In this creative, groundbreaking rendering, the relational ‘Yin’ of Buddhism, so often absent, is brought beautifully to life. The teachings are clear, vibrant, and relevant.”
—Tara Brach, PhD, author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge

“A beautiful imagining of the feminine and relational side of the Buddha’s tale.”
—Jack Kornfield, author of The Wise Heart


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About The Buddha’s Wife

It is said that The Buddha, on the morning of his only child’s birth, left his wife and son to “go forth” to seek enlightenment, without saying goodbye. What do we know of his wife Yasodhara and his son Rahula?

The Buddha’s Wife brings this rarely told story of Yasodhara—”She who stays”—and her community, to the forefront, offering a spiritual parable and portrait of these compelling and compassionate characters. The Readers Companion offers practical applications of their discoveries and teachings for our modern lives.

Princess Yasodhara’s journey is one of loss, grief, suffering. and the growth of wisdom and compassion. Through it, she experiences her own awakening within the deep bonds of community and “ordinary” relationships. While traditional Buddhism emphasizes solitary, silent meditation, even in the presence of others, Yasodhara’s experiences point to the Path of Right Relation, of opening and cultivating insight and compassion in community. Awakening not alone, but together with others.

The Buddha’s Wife is written in two parts: the first is an imagined historical narrative of Yasodhara’s fascinating story, as she might have told it. The second is a reader’s companion filled with life lessons, practices, and reflections for the modern reader. Her story offers readers a spiritual-relational path, one which speaks directly to our everyday lives. It offers a doorway to profound spiritual maturation, wisdom, and awakening beyond the solitary heroic journey of the awakened “One,” to the possibility of the awakened “We.” Our violent, divided world is crying out for the cultivation of this Relational Path.

Published by Beyond Words/Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

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Advance Praise for The Buddha’s Wife

The Buddha’s Wife carries us beyond any one religious tradition to launch us gently into streams of a universal wisdom. Therein is its spiritual power. This is a beautifully written book for all who know, at least intuitively, that our liberation—as people and as a planet—is rooted in our shared commitments to more radically relational and mutual ways of being than any of the major world religions (including Buddhism) either teach or practice.” (The Rev) Carter Heyward, Ph.D.

Professor Emerita of Theology, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge MA

“What must it have been like for the Buddha’s wife to be abandoned the night after her first child was born? Surrey and Shem have a brilliant story to tell, one of a heart shattered by loss, a community that doesn’t shy away from suffering, and a path to freedom that is radical yet ordinary, humble yet profound. The authors offer a healing vision, nurtured throughout their life together, that is just what our world needs.” Christopher Germer, PhD

Author, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion

“Janet Surrey and Samuel Shem have written a remarkable book, both as a work of literature and a work of spiritual teaching. Through their moving personal story and their beautiful imagining of the life of Yasodhara, the Buddha’s wife, they describe a ‘relational path’ to awakening, one that contrasts with that of the heroic solitary seeker we see so often in religious texts and myths. Rather than sitting alone under a tree, Yasodhara awakens in the circle of love and compassion that surrounds her when the Buddha leaves her bereft and alone with their infant son. Yasohdhara is a stand-in for each of us who wants to live ‘in the world’ while committing to our spiritual growth. In the final section of the book, we are offered practical and profound practices to follow the relational path. The Buddha’s Wife comes at a time of distress and conflict in our culture and offers hope that we might learn to live together in a new way, founded in an understanding of our shared struggle for happiness and freedom.” Kevin Griffin

Author, One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps & Recovering Joy: A Mindful Life after Addiction

“Though I’m not a Buddhist, I sense that this account deepens and adds beautiful shadings to the story of the Buddha’s life. I know that in its focus on relationship, it’s a powerful antidote to the hyper-individualism that marks our world.”

Bill McKibben

Author, The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation

“An imaginative tour de force, this book lets the Buddha’s central teaching of dependent co-arising shine through with fresh relevance for our lives today. Acknowledging the meagerness of scriptural references to Yasodhara, Surrey and Shem are equally open about their motivation in creating a story for her that will meet the needs of contemporary men and women. Enlightenment or awakening has traditionally been viewed as a solitary achievement. That pervasive tendency does disservice to the reciprocity that lies at the heart of dependent co-arising. Surrey and Shem’s tale of Yasodhara offers a welcome and engaging counter-balance, where relationships are recognized as central to the Buddhist view of reality. Along with the engrossing story, you’ll find guidance on mindful practices that help us awaken to and through our relationships.”

Joanna Macy

Author, Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World

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The Buddha's Wife

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