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I Give You My Life


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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 Allg u, 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.


"A Buddhist autobiography seems an anomaly, but this story of the first Western woman to become an ordained Theravadin Buddhist nun sweeps the reader away from all preconceptions and proves an engaging read. Ilse Kussel was born to an affluent Jewish family in Berlin that lost everything in the Holocaust. After rootless wandering, she ended up in Los Angeles, a suburban housewife with two children, but the suburban life seemed hollow. She divorced her husband, remarried, and began a rugged world journey that lasted the rest of her life.

"Halfway through the autobiography, Kussel's tale turns from the outer to the inner journey. Through her travels she sees that people everywhere suffer loss and fail to find enduring happiness. And having along the way attempted to understand the various religions she encounters, Kussel came to realize that she had been journeying along a Buddhist path and began a committed practice of Theravadin Buddhism, becoming the ordained nun Ayya Khema. The remainder of her tale as a teacher and founder of abbeys for nuns is every bit as engaging. Finally, at the end, her life comes full circle as she returns to Germany to found the Buddha-Haus in Munich. "The first chapter is a fine piece of Buddhist writing, merging the beginning and the end, the outer and the inner world, and divesting an extremely interesting story of all ego. Ayya Khema acknowledges the unusual act of writing an autobiography. After a life of change, farewell, and letting go, it might seem an attempt to hold on, to perpetuate. But the reader understands that Ayya Khema has just as lightly let go of all those details that had been her life. This very literally titled work, itself a final act of detachment--finished just before her death in 1997--is a model for the reader of the essential Buddhist act of letting go."--Richard Yutso, MultiCultural Review "Ayya Khema lived a life that was both extraordinary and yet completely emblematic of a seeker in our times. This is the story of a true spiritual warrior."--Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness

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