Ven. Ayya Khema

Ayya Khema was born in Berlin in 1923 of Jewish parents. In 1938 she escaped from Germany with a transport of two hundred other children and was taken to Scotland. Her parents went to China and, two years later, Ayya Khema joined them in Shanghai. With the outbreak of war, however, the family was put into a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and it was here that her father died.

Four years after the American liberation of the camp, Ayya Khema was able to emigrate to America, where she married and had a son and daughter. Between 1960 and 1964 she traveled with her husband and son throughout Asia, including the Himalayan countries, and it was at this time that she learned meditation. Ten years later she began to teach meditation herself throughout Europe, America, and Australia. Her experiences led her to become ordained as a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka in 1979, when she was given the name of "Khema", meaning safety and security (‘Ayya’ means ‘Sister’).

She established 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 Center as a training center for Sri Lankan nuns, and Parappuduwa Nuns’ Island for women who want to practice intensively and/or ordain as nuns. 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 creation of Sakyadhita, a world-wide Buddhist women’s organization. H.H. the Dalai Lama was the keynote speaker at the conference. In May 1987, as an invited lecturer, she was the first Buddhist ever to have addressed the United Nations in New York.

She wrote over two dozen books on meditation and the Buddha’s teaching in English and German. In 1988, her book Being Nobody, Going Nowhere, received the Christmas Humphreys Memorial Award. Her other English language books include When the Iron Eagle Flies, Who is My-Self, Be an Island, Visible Here and Now and Come and See for Yourself: The Buddhist Path to Happiness. Some of her writings are available on-line at Access to Insight and her book All of Us, consisting of 12 dhamma talks, is available at Allspirit. Her autobiography, I Give You My Life, is a wonderful adventure story sprinkled with nuggets of spiritual wisdom.

Ayya Khema passed away on 2 November, 1997, at home at Buddha-Haus, in Germany.

English language Dhamma Talk audio tapes by Ven. Ayya Khema are available. Proceeds from tape sales benefit her meditation center Buddha-Haus in Germany. For a list of tapes from all U.S. retreats, please send $2 to:

Transcriptions of a number of her inspiring Loving-Kindness Meditations meditations are available on-line.

Once a year, Cloud Mountain Retreat Center offers a month long meditation course with the instructions and dhamma talks from video tapes of Ven. Ayya Khema recorded during two of her last English language meditation courses.

Buddha-Haus in Germany has German language Dhamma Talk audio tapes by Ven. Ayya Khema. They also hold month long self retreats from March to October of each year utilizing German language videos of Ayya. Interviews and answers to questions are provided by the monastics at her monastery where the retreats are held. You can e-mail Buddha Haus at

Pictures of Ven. Ayya Khema
Video tape meditation course with Ven. Ayya Khema
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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 10 Nov '02