Ayya Khema (August 25, 1923 - November 2, 1997), a Buddhist teacher, was 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. Khema wrote over two dozen books in English and German, including her autobiography: I Give You My Life.
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 the Ven. Matara Sri Ñāṇanārāma 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. 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 closed). She was the spiritual director of Buddha-Haus in Germany, established in 1989 under her auspices.
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.
- 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
- 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,
- I Give You My Life, her autobiography,