Ayya Khema

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Template:Infobox religious biography Ayya Khema (August 25, 1923Template:Sfn – November 2, 1997) was a Buddhist teacher and was very active in providing opportunities for women to practice Buddhism,Template:Sfn founding several centers around the world. In 1987 she coordinated the first ever Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women. Over two dozen books of her transcribed dhamma talks in English and German have been published, and in the last year of her life she also wrote her autobiography: I Give You My Life.


Born as Ilse Kussel in Berlin, Germany in 1923 to Jewish parents.Template:Sfn In 1938, her parents escaped from Germany and traveled to China while plans were made for Khema to join two hundred other children emigrating to Glasgow, Scotland.Template:Sfn After two years in Scotland, Khema joined her parents in Shanghai.Template:Sfn With the outbreak of the war, Japan conquered Shanghai and the family was moved into the Shanghai Ghetto in Hongkew where her father died five days before the war ended.Template:Sfn

At age twenty-two, Khema married a man seventeen years her senior named Johannes and they moved to an apartment in the Hongkou District.Template:Sfn In 1947, her first child, a daughter named Irene, was born.Template:Sfn As the People's Liberation Army were on the cusp of taking Shanghai, Khema and her family fled for San Francisco, California, United States.Template:Sfn From San Francisco, Khema moved to Los Angeles and then San Diego where she gave birth to her second child, a son named Jeffrey.Template:Sfn

Soon, Khema began feeling incomplete and this led to investigating various spiritual paths,Template:Sfn an interest her husband didn't share.Template:Sfn This led to their divorce.Template:Sfn Khema moved with her infant son to Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico to study the philosophy of the Essenes with Professor Edmund Skekely.Template:Sfn There she married her second husband, Gerd.Template:Sfn The whole family soon became vegetarian, a practice Khema continued until her death.Template:Sfn

The three traveled for years, visiting South America, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan, then settling in Sydney, Australia where Khema began to study with Phra Khantipalo.Template:Sfn

To further her studies, Khema traveled to San Francisco to study Zen at the San Francisco Zen CenterTemplate:Sfn and worked at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center for three months.Template:Sfn She then spent three weeks in Burma where she studied meditation with students of U Ba Khin.Template:Sfn

In 1978, Khema founded the Wat Buddha Dhamma forest monastery in New South Wales and installed Phra Khantipalo as abbot.Template:Sfn

Khema's desire to become a Buddhist nun led her to Thailand where she studied with Tan Ajahn Singtong for three months.Template:Sfn Sri Lanka was her next destination where she met Nyanaponika Thera who introduced her to Narada Maha Thera.Template:Sfn Naranda Thera gave her the name "Ayya Khema".Template:Sfn

A 1983 return trip to Sri Lanka, led her to meet her teacher, Ven. Matara Sri Ñānarāma of Nissarana Vanaya, who inspired her to teach jhana meditation.Template:Sfn As it was not possible at the time to organize an ordination ceremony for bhikkhunis in the Theravada tradition, Ayya Khema then received complete monastic ordination at the newly built Hsi Lai Temple, a Chinese Mahayana temple under the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, in 1988.Template:SfnTemplate:Sfn

Khema was one of the organizers of the first International Conference on Buddhist Women in 1987Template:Sfn which led to the foundation of the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women.[1]

In 1989, Khema returned to Germany and began teaching at Buddha Haus in Munich.Template:Sfn

According to Ayya Khema's own admission, she had been suffering from breast cancer since 1983. In 1993 after it started giving her trouble she underwent a mastectomy operation in Germany. During a five-week recovery period in the hospital she almost died, but her condition was expeditiously stabilized by the medics. In an interview she expressed a positive opinion of that experience.[2]


Ayya Khema died on November 2, 1997 at Buddha Haus, Uttenbühl (part of the village Oy-Mittelberg) in Germany after fourteen years with breast cancer.Template:Sfn Her ashes are kept in a stupa at Buddha Haus.Template:Sfn


  • Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path, Wisdom Publications, 1987, Template:ISBN
  • When the Iron Eagle Flies: Buddhism for the West, Wisdom Publications, 1991 Template:ISBN
  • Who is myself? A guide to Buddhist meditation (commentary on the Poṭṭhapāda Sutta), Wisdom Publications, 1997, Template:ISBN
  • I Give You My Life (autobiography), Shambhala Publications, 1997, Template:ISBN
  • Come and See for Yourself: The Buddhist Path to Happiness, Windhorse Publications, 1998, Template:ISBN
  • Be an Island: The Buddhist practice of Inner Peace, Wisdom Publications, 1999, Template:ISBN
  • Visible Here and Now: The Buddhist Teachings on the Rewards of Spiritual Practice (commentary on the Samaññaphala Sutta), Shambhala Publications, 2001, Template:ISBN
  • Know Where You're Going: A Complete Buddhist Guide to Meditation, Faith, and Everyday Transcendence (retitled republication of When the Iron Eagle Flies), Wisdom Publications, 2014, Template:ISBN

See also





External links

Historical people list

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Page is sourced from

www.encyclopediaofbuddhism.org Ayya Khema