Dhammadharini, a female monastic community in Penngrove, California, will host an online program honoring the life and work of Ayya Khema on August 27, marking the 100th anniversary of her birth. The event, “Honoring the Legacy of Ayya Khema on Her 100th Birthday,” will bring together monks, meditation teachers and members of the International Association of Sakyadhita Buddhist Women.
The event will take place on Zoom from 19 p.m. to 22 p.m. PDT (2 a.m. to 5 a.m. UTC). Among the monks who will participate in the event are Ajahn Nissarano, from Newbury Monastery in Australia; Ayya Dhammananda, from Vietnam (formerly Ayya Khema International Meditation Center from Sri Lanka); Ayya Nirodha, from Santi Forest in Australia; Kosan Carla Callahan, and more.
According to the organizers, "the late most venerable Ayya Khema, ordained bhikkhuni in 1988, was an extraordinary inspiration to many practitioners, and especially to women with monastic aspirations. August 25 marks the 100th anniversary of his birth and Dhammadharini plans to host a show with Ven. Tathaloka Mahatheri, to remember and honor her. (Dhammadharini)
Meditation teachers from Ayya Khema's lineage who will be attending include Leigh Brasington, Susan Pembroke and Lucinda Green. Also present at the event will be Ven. Bhiksuni Jampa Tsedroen and Ranjani de Silva of the International Association of Sakyadhita Buddhist Women.
In 1987, Ayya Khema was one of the co-founders of the International Association of Sakyadhita Buddhist Women. She was joined by Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Dr Chatsumarn Kabilsingh (now Dhammananda Bhikkhuni) and Carola Roloff (now Bhiksuni Jampa Tsedroen). Ranjani de Silva was also present at the conference in Bodh Gaya, India, which led to the founding of Sakyadhita. She then organized the Third International Sakyadhita Conference in 1993, bringing together women from 27 countries and various Buddhist traditions.
Ayya Khema (August 25, 1923 – November 2, 1997) was born Ilse Ledermann in Berlin to Jewish parents. She fled Germany with other runaway children and lived in Glasgow, Scotland. When her parents were able to flee to China, she joined them and lived in Shanghai. After the war, she moved to the United States. After having two children, she became the first Western woman to be ordained a Theravada Buddhist nun. She endeavored to offer other women the possibility of encountering and practicing the teachings of the Buddha.
More than two dozen books have been written from transcriptions of his Dharma talks in English and German. Leigh Brasington writes: "His autobiography, I give you my life, is a wonderful story of adventure sprinkled with nuggets of spiritual wisdom. (Leigh Brasington)
Ayya Khema's first ordination was in 1979 by Ven. Narada Maha Thera, Sri Lankan monk. However, it was a novice ordination, the only one allowed in Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism at the time: since 1998, the Sri Lankan government has allowed nuns to receive ordination in the country. She would later fully order with Ven. Hsing Yun, founder of the Taiwanese Buddhist order Fo Guang Shan, at a ceremony in Los Angeles.
As David Snyder, PhD, writes about Khema in The Complete Book of Buddha Lists - Explained (Vipassana Foundation 2009, 110): “She mastered the jhanas and taught them well and wrote several bestselling Dhamma books. She was truly a Dhamma gem.