AYYA KHEMA (I923-I997) was the first Western woman to be ordained a Theravadin Buddhist nun. As such, 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. Her lucid and practical books have made her a teacher of international renown, but until now few have known the intriguing details of her life before she became Ayya Khema.
And what a life it was. Born Ilse Kussel in Berlin, Germany, she grew up in a prosperous Jewish family that was broken up by the Nazis in I938. Fleeing first to Scotland, she then journeyed to rejoin her family in China, where she spent several years, surviving the Japanese invasion. But this was only the beginning. Her later adventures included-but were not limited to-living the life of a suburban housewife in Los Angeles, California; traveling up the Amazon; building a power plant in Pakistan; and establishing the first organic farm in Australia. Hers was a lifetime marked by indelible impressions of attachment and suffering-and by the equally inescapable conviction that awakening is possible. Her encounter with meditation masters in India led to her formal pursuit of the spiritual life in her forties, culminating in her monastic ordination at the age of fifty-eight. Ayya Khema founded a monastery, the "Nun's Island " in Sri Lanka, and eventually returned to her homeland to found the Buddha-Haus im Allgau center near Munich, Germany, where she died in 1997.
I Give You My Life, Ayya Khema, Shambhala Publications, 220 pages, Hardcover, $23.00
Ven. Ayya Khema was born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1923. After leading an active life in the world--including marriage and children in America and adventure in South America, Asia and Australia--she turned seriously to spiritual practice in her forties. In 1979, she was ordained a Theravadin Buddhist nun, receiving the name khema, meaning "safety and security" (ayya means "sister"). Ayya Khema established a forest monastery near Sidney, Australia; a training center for nuns in Colombo, Sri Lanka; and Buddha-Haus, a meditation center in the Allgäu, Germany. Among her books are When the Iron Eagle Flies; Being Nobody, Going Nowhere; and Who is My Self?; and an autobiography, I Give You My Life. She passed away in 1997.