Buddha’s Wife, by Gabriel Constans
Category: Fiction
Soft cover, 192 pages, $14.94
Publication Date: August 24, 2009
World Rights Available

A Novel by Gabriel Constans

Reviews of Buddha’s Wife

When the Buddha left his wife to be enlightened, did he know he was leaving a woman who would become enlightened through meeting such a great loss and learning to live a life that incorporated the domestic and the spiritual - in other words, living non-dualism? Did he imagine that she would be the one to demonstrate how to LIVE the teachings? Constan's novel raises the questions that thoughtful students of Buddhism have been wrestling with since the beginning and provides a perspective that becomes a deep teaching in it own right.

Deena Metzger,
Renowned poet, essayist, teacher & storyteller. Most recent novel is Feral.

One of the most thought provoking books and authors I came across this year (2010) was Dr. Gabriel Constans, who wrote the book, Buddha's Wife.

Kala Ambrose,

Gabriel Constans Tells Story of Buddha’s Wife. Louis Peitzman.
San Francisco Chronicle. Nov. 19, 2009

It's commonly said - if not accepted - that when it comes to religion, women get the short end of the stick. In many cases, these slights are obvious; in others, they're harder to pinpoint.

Author Gabriel Constans studied Buddhism under roshi Houn Jiyu-Kennett, the first woman sanctioned to teach in the West. Still, there was one aspect of Buddhist history that was never fully covered.

“Even (Jiyu-Kennett) didn't speak much about Yasodhara, the wife of Buddha, or that she had become a nun,” Constans says. “I didn't know anything about that for almost 40 years.”

That's because, until recently, there hasn't been much research done on the subject of the wife and son Siddhartha left behind. In the West especially, information and discussion of Yasodhara is slim. When Constans began his research, he discovered just how little there was.

“All I could find were two sentences written about her," he says. “She came from such-and-such a family, and she later married Siddhartha, who became known as the Buddha, and that was about it.”

Naturally, there was more to the story than that. A firsthand account is out of the question, but Constans decided to do the next best thing: In Buddha’s Wife he offers his novelized version of what happened to Yasodhara and her son, Rahula, after Siddhartha left. To start, he put himself in the mind-set of his title character.

“Siddhartha left her and their only child in the middle of the night, two days after the child was born, after they'd been married for 10 years,” he says. “And I thought, my gosh, I wonder how that affected her.”

Angry, hurt and confused is probably an understatement, but Buddha’s Wife is not an unflinching tirade against Siddhartha. Instead, this is a novel about forgiveness and reconciliation, not to mention the importance of seeing things from all angles.

“I tried to get more of (Yasodhara's) perspective in terms of how it affected her family and her individually," Constans says. “It just felt natural, like I was speaking in her voice.”

So far, the response from Constans’ fellow Buddhists has been predominantly positive. After all, his attempt is not to condemn the Buddha nor to dissuade potential followers from the religion. While Constans doesn't excuse Siddhartha's abandonment of his wife and son, he explains that “it didn't really distract me from the truth that (Siddhartha) found and shared, as far as being compassionate and forgiving and finding out what's real for you.”

Some critics are less open to Constans’ interpretation. Buddha’s Wife reinforces the humanity of a figure many have deified - and the idea of a fallible religious leader can be problematic. For Constans, it's not so cut and dried.

“People tend to want things black and white,” he says. “(Deifying) simplifies things in a lot of ways. You don't have to question much. You don't have to find your own understanding.”

So while a few naysayers are up in arms, Buddha’s Wife does offer a new take on an all-too-forgotten woman - provided you're willing to embrace those shades of gray.

3 p.m. Sun. Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. (415) 927-0960. www.bookpassage.com.

Louis Peitzman,

When Buddha set off on his journey of enlightenment, he taught us many lessons about his life. One thing he didn't teach us about was the people that he left behind. This especially included his wife Yasodhara and his two-day-old son Rahula. When Buddha gave up his personal possessions, he also gave up his family.

Buddha’s Wife tells an incredible tale about what it would have been like for Yasodhara. In spite of her loss, she still tried to follow his teachings and chose to live a simple life. She had to deal with the pain of losing him, and the pain of watching her son grow up without his father. Her son carried a great deal of anger at being left behind. The wife also had to contend with her feelings regarding other people who were close to her husband. This included another woman. Yasodhara was really incredible in that she kept her compassion towards others and held on to beliefs that Buddha himself would have appreciated.

As Yasodhara's life is winding down, her son sets out on a journey to see her for one last time. While he is on his way to her, she reflects upon her life experiences and how she chose to deal with the issues that were not easy. As her son finds his way to her, he is handed experiences that teach him some very important lessons. Towards the end, he has also learned a great deal about letting go and being able to heal.

I found Buddha’s Wife by Gabriel Constans to be very interesting and it made me very contemplative. As I read the story of Yasodhara, I realized how hard it would have been to be in her shoes, yet I also saw that she proved herself to be very enlightened being by the choices that she made about how to handle what experiences life gave to her. I highly recommend this novel, especially as a group reading selection. I think that it will stimulate very interesting conversations and provide a great deal of ideas for journaling.

Reviewed by Paige Lovitt
Reader Views 10/2009

Buddha’s Wife is a brilliant contribution to the genre of literary fiction. Gabriel Constans combines traditional stories of the heroism of Siddhartha (Buddha) with an imaginary fictional account of the story of Yasodhara and her son Rahula.

Yasodhara narrates her story. Hers is a story of birth into royal lineage and of then choosing poverty for love. She tells of the happiness of her early marriage and the birth of her son. This is followed by the experience of “drowning in sorrow” after her husband, Siddhartha, betrayed her and deserted them to pursue a life of “enlightenment.”

Constans beautifully recreates Yasodhara’s life to draw attention to the women around Buddha, to encourage the reader to rethink the spiritual implication and the injustice of inequality within the caste system. This inequality has yet to be resolved today, both in society and in religion. He exposes the inconsistency of religious men and expresses the emotions of Yasodhara's brother as he is “locked behind his daunting exterior of privilege.”

Constans’ writing reveals an amazing insight into the emotions of the heart. He puts into words the fear and pain of rejected love. He describes the price and sacrifice of following one's heart. He paints word pictures of the smoldering poison of hatred, of love turned to loathing, and of the gift of freedom found in forgiveness.

Each of the characters share an important role in calling attention to the nature of genuine religion, evidenced by Godlike attributes and character. Buddha’s Wife is inspiring, and fervent, written with sensitivity.

Reviewed by Richard R. Blake
Midwest Book Review

Those ready for an easy, quick read that leaves a feeling of forgiveness and inspiration should pick up Buddha’s Wife. Readers should be ready to revisit some basic spiritual beliefs and rethink some perceptions about the Buddha. Yes, Buddha’s Wife is fiction, but what if you could think about the woman that the Buddha left behind. What would become of a new mother, left in the field to fend for herself just days after birth while her husband and the father of her child moves on to pure enlightenment? What kind of enlightenment could she ever be able to attain, after this leaving? Engaging, simple, slow, Buddha’s Wife is a book for women who are ready to go beyond the main story, and find the real truth, and their own enlightenment.

Reviewed by Allena Tapia
Sacramento Book Review

Gabriel Constans steps into the feminine body and portrays the impact of the Buddha’s choices and the wisdom and bravery of his wife, son, and community. An easy and enjoyable read!

by Ruth King,
Authority on Emotional Wisdom, Charlotte, NC.

Book Wag E-Magazine. A interview with Ajay Jain. July 28, 2009

Oye!Times Photo and article. July 28, 2009

Mr. Constans novel is very easy to read and so smooth that I did not realize how far I had gotten until I looked at the page number. Buddha’s Wife is the tale of Yasodhara and her life as an abandoned wife of Buddha and all that she accomplished. I did not always understand everything that was going on within the book, but I think it had more to do with the language itself and the practices of the country more than the actual writing. This story is very intense and has a self-examining feeling to it that will have you questioning what you have done and how far you would go when it comes to your beliefs and spirituality.

Coffee Time Romance & More
August 2009
Rating: 4 Cups
Reviewed by Danielle for Coffee Time Romance

The story of what happened to Yasodhara, the wife of Siddhartha, and their son after he left them both in the middle of the night to seek enlightenment is one of the more compelling yet least talked about stories in spiritual literature. In Buddha’s Wife, author Gabriel Constans explores that story in a fictional tale that is both captivating and moving. Buddha’s Wife opens at the end of Yasodhara’s life. Long time friend Ananda is caring for the ailing Yasodhara as friends and family gather to say their goodbyes (the Buddha himself having passed away some years earlier). Rahula, who in this story has outlived his father and did not choose ordination, has become estranged from his family, but is on his way from Sri Lanka to say goodbye to his mother. Ultimately, this tale is about the role of women in the life of the Buddha and within Buddhism’s earliest days as much as it is a story of compassion and forgiveness.

Yasodhara’s life and that of those close to her are replayed through a series of flashbacks framed as conscious memories being relived by the various characters in the novel. In a similar vein to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, Buddha’s Wife retells an important story from the point of view of the women of that story. It explores many issues during Buddhism’s initial appearance and development from a different point of view, especially that of the Buddha’s view on women and enlightenment, including the famous conversation around that issue with Ananda. Through Buddha’s Wife, we see the Buddha not only as an enlightened being, but we especially see him as a man, and it is this humanizing of the Buddha that makes his achievements all the more attainable for all of us. One of the best books I’ve read this year, Buddha’s Wife is available in August from Robert D. Reed Publishers and available for pre-order from your local, independent bookstore. (Shop local, shop independent, and tell ‘em you saw it on Elephant Journal!)

Elephant Journal.
Book review: Buddha’s Wife (Gabriel Constans)
by Todd Mayville on Jul 15, 2009

Buddha’s Wife tells a fascinating story, little known in the west, about the woman whom Buddha left behind. Gabriel Constans focuses the reader’s attention on the strong and complicated women who surrounded Buddha and makes us re-think the nature of spiritual life.

Chitra Divakaruni,
international best-selling author and American Book Award winner, whose books include Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart and Palace of Illusions.

Every so often, a book comes into your hands that touches you – I mean really touches you – deep in your heart. Buddha’s Wife by Gabriel Constans does just that.

Most people know about the Buddha, his travels, teachings and so on. But the author offers us a rare glimpse of Yasodhara, the woman he left behind. When Yasodhara was a mere 16 years old, Buddha left her in the middle of the night to care for their two-day-old son, Rahula, while he went off to find himself. Selfish? Yes. Was Yasodhara bitter? Of course.

One day while seeing Buddha amidst his many rapt followers, she lost it: “He discarded us like a sack of rocks. For what …adoration for a coward – a man who talks about peace, but leaves his family in torment?”

Yasodhara was left to find her own peace and in her own way, she did. Though the wealthy wife of Siddhartha (Buddha), whose father was King Suddhodana, she chose to live a pious and underprivileged life- becoming a saint in her own right.

Gabriel Constans writes with great sensitivity about the pain and suffering of this woman both during her life and as she lays on her deathbed looking back over her earthly existence. But it’s not all misery, as the author lightens the reader’s load with a little female humor graciously sprinkled throughout.

This really is a book that captivates (I read it in two days because I couldn’t put it down!) and fascinates. You can pick up a copy at Robert Reed Publishers

Posted by Martha Jette, Editor/Author/WebMaster
Gather and MJs Reviews
Monday, June 1, 2009
Book Review: Buddha's Wife

Bravo, Gabriel Constans, for focusing on the women whose lives were changed forever by the Buddha’s quest for enlightenment! The fact that you are a man writing this way is even more special to me.... The last few chapters were particularly moving and rich...Yasodhara’s decision to die as a poor renunciate is inspiring, as were Kisa’s, Ananda’s and Ambapalli’s love for her and each other. Add loyal and misguided Devadatta and confused Rahula to the mix for an intriguing cast of characters and a moving reconstruction of an ancient tale.

Amazon Review,
Mira Prabhu Author of the reincarnation trilogy Whip of the Wild God; Krishna’s Counsel; and Copper Moon.

This book is an awesome read, insightful, woman loving - a challenge to all spiritual seekers to rethink, re-vise, and dream anew.

bell hooks,
professor, activist and author of national bestseller all about love.

I liked the main message of the book: that a 'love for mankind' and 'compassion for mankind' are not the same as and should not exclude love, commitment and compassion to an individual. There is the occasional do-gooder, celibate priest, socialist, and animal rights activist who needs to be reminded of this. The other 'feminist' message is also well conveyed, as is the message that hatred does more harm to the hater than to the hated.

Amazon Review, Ralph Blumenau
Author of Philosophy and Living and teaches history at The University of the Third Age in London.

A remarkable recreation of Yasodhara’s life. It is very readable and engages readers in the complexity of issues many women have raised about Gotama the Buddha’s life and practice.

Katherine Thanas,
Abbot, Santa Cruz Zen Center.