Organisations: Buddha-Haus, Germany; Metta Vihara, Germany; Sakyadhita International; Wat Buddha-Dhamma Australia; International Buddhist Women’s Centre, Sri Lanka.
Lineage: Theravada, Ven. Narada Maha Thera of Vajirarama, Colombo, Sri Lanka, Ven. Matara Sri Nanarama Maha Thera of Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya monastery – Sri Lankan Forest Tradition.
Biography: 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 then in Shanghai. With the outbreak of the war, however, the family was put into a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and it was here her father died. She later married, had a son and a daughter, and now has four grand-children.
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, and it was at this time 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.
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 unfortunately closed). 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.
Ayya Khema has written twenty-five books on meditation and the Buddha’s teachings in English and German; her 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.
Ayya Khema drew her last breath on November 2, 1997 at Buddha Haus, Mittleberg Uttenbull in Germany after a brief illness.
Comment: Ayya Khema (1923-1997) was the first Western woman to become a Theravadin Buddhist nun. She has served as a model and inspiration for women from all the Buddhist traditions who have sought to revive the practice of women’s monasticism in modern times. Founded women’s Buddhist organisations. Renown as a teacher is widespread.
Particular Teachings: Samannaphala sutta especially; Potthapada sutta; Mahanidana sutta; Rathavinita sutta;: Dependent Arising; Metta Bhavana; Jhanas; Women in Buddhism.
Buddhist Women at the time of the Buddha, by Hellmuth Hecker & Ayya Khema
Meditating on No-Self
Self-Image or Self-Knowledge
Who is My Self?
Be and Island
When the Iron Eagle Flies
I Give You My Life
Visible Here and Now
Being Nobody, Going Nowhere
Come and See for Yourself
All of Us [Beset by Birth, Decay & Death]