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Ayya Khema

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Ayya Khema
Ayya Khema2.jpg
Born Ilse Ledermann
Berlin, Germany
Died 1997 (74 years old)
Nationality German
Occupation bhikkhuni
Title bhikkhuni
Denomination Theravada
Children two

Ayya Khema (August 25, 1923 - November 2, 1997), a Buddhist teacher, was born as Ilse Ledermann in Berlin, Germany, to Jewish parents. She would be considered a "JuBu."

Khema dodged the Nazis during World War II, but was interned by the Japanese. She eventually moved to the United States. After traveling in Asia she decided to become a bhikkhuni 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.

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


Ayya Khema was born in Berlin in 1923 to Jewish parents. She was a loving, amazing person who gave meaning to many others.

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[1]. Between 1960 and 1964 she traveled 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 1988, Ayya Khema received the full ordaination at Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles, California[2]. She was allowed to choose Theravada or Mahayana for the full ordination from her preceptor and she chose the Theravada.

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 center 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 world-wide Buddhist women's organization. Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama (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, Uttenbühl (part of the village Oy-Mittelberg) in Germany after a brief illness.


Ayya Khema has left quite a mark on the Buddhist world today. She was the first Buddhist ever to have addressed the United Nations in New York. She established a large Buddhist forest monastery in Australia, and she has founded one of the largest Buddhist women organizations worldwide. Her works live on.

Books by Ayya Khema

  • Who Is My Self?: A Guide to Buddhist Meditation, Wisdom Publications, 1997, ISBN 0861711270, 9780861711277
  • Be An Island: The Buddhist Practice of Inner Peace, Wisdom Publications, 1999, ISBN 0861711475, 9780861711475
  • When the Iron Eagle Flies: Buddhism for the West, contributor Dalai Lama, Wisdom Publications, 2000, ISBN 0861711696, 9780861711697
  • I Give You My Life: The Autobiography of a Western Buddhist Nun, Shambhala, 1998, ISBN 1570625719, 9781570625718
  • Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path, Wisdom Publications, 1987, ISBN 0861710525, 9780861710522
  • Visible Here and Now: The Buddha's Teachings on the Rewards of Spiritual Practice, Ayya Khema with Peter Heinegg, Leigh Brasington, Translated by Peter Heinegg, Shambhala, 2001, ISBN 1570624925, 9781570624926
  • Come and See for Yourself: The Buddhist Path to Happiness, Windhorse, 2002, ISBN 1899579451, 9781899579457


  1. Leigh Brasington. "Ayya Khema". Retrieved September 28, 2008. 
  2. Sakyadhita, International Association of Buddhist Women. "Volume 16, Number 1". Retrieved September 28, 2008. 

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