I Give You My Life: The Autobiography of a Western Buddhist Nun

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9781570624155: I Give You My Life: The Autobiography of a Western Buddhist Nun

Ayya Khema (1923-1997) was the first Western woman to become a Theravadan 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 in modern times. Though her renown as a teacher is widespread, few know the truly amazing details of her life before her monastic ordination at the age of fifty-eight. 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 Nazi terror in 1938. The story of her escape alone to Scotland, and her journey to rejoin her family in China, would be enough for a thrilling adventure novel in itself—but it is only the beginning of the story. Her later adventures included—but were not limited to—surviving the Japanese invasion of China; living the life of a suburban housewife in Los Angeles, California; journeying up the Amazon; studying in a Bolivian university; building a power plant in Pakistan; and establishing the first organic farm in Australia. Her Buddhist practice was a result of a pursuit of the spiritual life that began in her forties when she encountered spiritual teachers in India. She eventually founded a monastery in Sri Lanka, from where, through her books, and her teaching travels, she became one of the most widely respected of contemporary teachers, particularly skilled in interpreting the Buddhist teachings for her fellow Westerners.

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Review:

You can imagine how their eyes grow round when Ayya Khema's students are treated to tidbits of her life. "There was that time with the anaconda in Brazil.... We crashed on a cliffside Himalayan road on our way to meet the mir of Hunza.... Torched by rebels, and I had to decide what to do with my nuns on our island..." Of course, her students badger her to write a book. The Jewish/German refugee, California housewife, Australian farmer, global nomad, and Buddhist nun comes through with a quiet, methodical story, that, if written in any other way, would seem more hyperbole than biography.

At the age of 55, when most people are mulling how many tulip bulbs to plant for next spring, Ayya Khema took Buddhist vows. She then established three monasteries, arranged Buddhist women's conferences, and gave teachings on a lost meditation technique at venues around the world. And that's only the second half of the book. With 25 titles to her credit and an established reputation, Ayya Khema hardly needed more publicity. Fortunately, she gave in to her students' goading, offering not only a fast-paced story but a model of freedom, energy, and accomplishment. --Brian Bruya

About the Author:

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.

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Ayya Khema; Translated By Sherab Chodzin Kohn
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