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Ayya Khema (August 25, 1923 - November 2, 1997), a Buddhist teacher, was born as Ilse Kussel in Berlinmarker, Germanymarker, to Jewish parents.

Khema dodged the Nazis during World War II, but was interned by the Japanesemarker. She eventually moved to the United Statesmarker. After travelling in Asia she decided to become a Buddhist nun in Sri Lankamarker 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.

Khema wrote over two dozen books in English and German. Her autobiography, I Give You My Life, is an adventure story sprinkled with nuggets of spiritual wisdom.


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, Scotlandmarker. Her parents went to Chinamarker 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 Statesmarker. Between 1960 and 1964 she travelled with her husband and son throughout Asia, including the Himalayanmarker 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 Lankamarker in 1979, when she was given the name of "Khema" (Ayya means Venerable) meaning safety and security. In Sri Lanka she met her teacher the Ven. Matara Sri Ñāṇanārāma of Nissarana Vanaya who inspired her to teach jhana meditation.

Metta Vihara
She helped to establish Wat Buddha Dhamma, a forest monastery in the Theravada tradition, near Sydney, Australiamarker, in 1978. In Colombomarker 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 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 Yorkmarker 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 Switzerlandmarker (now practising in Thailandmarker), Ven. Sister Dhammadina (a graduate of Peradeniya Universitymarker), Ven. Sister Vayama from Australia, and Ven. Sister Uttpalvanna of Gallemarker, and her pupils in Sri Lanka.

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

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