Ayya Khema

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Not to be confused with Ayu Khandro.
Ayya Khema
Ayya Khema2.jpg
Religion Theravada
Personal
Nationality German & American
Born (1923-08-25)August 25, 1923
Berlin, Germany
Died November 21, 1997(1997-11-21) (aged 74)
Senior posting
Title bikshuni
dasa sil mata
Religious career
Teacher Ven. Narada Maha Thera
(first ordination)
Ven. Hsing Yun
(second ordination)

Ayya Khema (August 25, 1923 - November 2, 1997) was a Buddhist teacher, born as Ilse Kussel in Berlin, Germany, to Jewish parents. Khema escaped Nazis persecution during World War II. She eventually moved to the United States. After travelling in Asia she decided to become a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka in 1979. She was very active in providing opportunities for women to practice Buddhism, founding several centers around the world. In 1987 she co-ordinated the first ever International Conference of Buddhist Nuns. Over two dozen books of her transcribed dhammatalks 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.

Biography[edit]

Ayya Khema was born in Berlin in 1923 to Jewish parents. In 1938, she escaped from Germany with two hundred other children and was taken to Glasgow, Scotland. Her parents went to China and, two years later Ayya Khema joined them in Shanghai. With the outbreak of the war, however, the family was put into a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp where her father died. She later married, had a son and a daughter, and now has four grandchildren.

Four years after the American liberation of the camp, Ayya Khema was able to emigrate to the United States. Between 1960 and 1964 she travelled with her husband and son throughout Asia, including the Himalayan countries, during which she learned meditation. Ten years later, she began to teach meditation throughout Europe and Australia. Her experiences led her to become a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka in 1979, when she was given the name of "Khema" (Ayya means Venerable) meaning safety and security. In Sri Lanka, she met her teacher, Ven. Matara Sri Ñānarāma of Nissarana Vanaya, who inspired her to teach jhana meditation. 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.

Metta Vihara

She helped to establish Wat Buddha Dhamma, a forest monastery in the Theravada tradition, near Sydney, Australia, in 1978. In Colombo she set up the International Buddhist Women's Centre as a training centre for Sri Lankan nuns, and the Parappuduwa Nun's Island at Dodanduwa. (now occupied by monks, after it had been empty for some time). She was the spiritual director of Buddha-Haus in Germany, established in 1989 under her auspices.

In June 1997 "Metta Vihara", the first Buddhist forest monastery in Germany, was inaugurated by her, and the first ordinations in the German language took place there.

In 1987 she co-ordinated the first International Conference of Buddhist Nuns in the history of Buddhism, which resulted in the setting-up of Sakyadhita, a worldwide Buddhist women's organisation. H.H. the Dalai Lama was the keynote speaker at the conference. In May 1987, as an invited lecturer, she was the first ever Buddhist nun to address the United Nations in New York on the topic of Buddhism and World Peace.

Twenty-five books on meditation and the Buddha's teachings in English and German have been assembled from transcriptions of her dhammatalks and these books have been translated into seven languages. In 1988, her book "Being Nobody, Going Nowhere" received the Christmas Humphreys Memorial Award.

Ayya Khema ordained Ven. Sister Sangamitta from Switzerland (now practising in Thailand), Ven. Sister Dhammadina (a graduate of Peradeniya University), Ven. Sister Vayama from Australia, and Ven. Sister Uttpalvanna of Galle, and her pupils in Sri Lanka.

According to Ayya Khema's own admission since 1983 she had had breast cancer. 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.[1]

There were two days in the hospital, when I had that feeling, that the energy was leaving, through the feet actually. There was a collapse of the whole system... Losing one's life energy is actually a very pleasant state, because there's less self-assertion, I mean you haven't got the energy to assert yourself. So things are more acceptable, everything is acceptable, it's fine the way it is... One could say that action of dying, if there's no resistance, is extremely pleasant... That seemed to be less and less life energy within the body, and I just was relaxing into that. I was perfectly willing to let it happen, but then these doctors came round... My blood pressure just went way down, waaay down, I mean like almost not happening, and that's when you lose all your energy... It was a very interesting experience and now I can see it's extremely pleasant. It's just letting go and disappearing, and it's very nice.

Her last breath Ayya Khema drew on November 2, 1997 at Buddha Haus, Uttenbühl (part of the village Oy-Mittelberg) in Germany after a brief illness.

Publications[edit]

  • Being Nobody, Going Nowhere, Meditations on the Buddhist Path, 1987
  • When the Iron Eagle Flies, Buddhism for the West, 1991
  • Who is myself?, A guide to Buddhist meditation, 1997
  • I Give You My Life, her autobiography, 1997
  • Come and See for Yourself, The Buddhist Path to Happiness, 1998
  • Be an Island, The Buddhist practice of Inner Peace, 1999
  • Visible here and now,
  • Know Where You're Going: A Complete Buddhist Guide to Meditation, Faith, and Everyday Transcendence, December 2014

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]