Thursday, 8 August 2013

Ayya Khema and the Coincidence

At our Sangha meeting this Tuesday evening members were trawling through our library and the subject of books by Ayya Khema came up.

In the World of strange coincidences (they're only strange if we notice them), I was checking the traffic to this site this morning and noticed that a visitor from Japan had Googled "ayya khema united nations address" and had got a hit to a post on this site from 2008. It was entitled "Talks by Ayya Khema" and detailed a website selling audio tapes of her talks. I corrected the post with the news that all of Ayya Khema's recorded talks have now been digitalised and can be downloaded for free from Dharma Seed.

As to her books, we are fortunate to have the following titles in our collection:-

Being Nobody, Going Nowhere, Meditations on the Buddhist Path,
When the Iron Eagle Flies, Buddhism for the West,
Who is myself?, A guide to Buddhist meditation,
Come and See for Yourself, The Buddhist Path to Happiness,
Be an Island, The Buddhist practice of Inner Peace,
Visible here and now,
I Give You My Life, her autobiography

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 then in Shanghai. With the outbreak of the war, however, the family was put into a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and it was here her father died. She later married, had a son and a daughter, and now has four grand-children.

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, and it was at this time 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.

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 unfortunately 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 York on the topic of Buddhism and World Peace. 

She died in November 1997.............................

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