In this Issue:
- Be inspired! The poetry of the first nuns.
- A once in a lifetime experience -the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Dharamsala.
- Exciting guest speakers for our forthcoming Annual General Meeting.
- Remembering Ayya Khema – a renowned teacher who inspired so many students. We look at her fascinating life story.
President, Sakyadhita Australia
The autumn leaves in my part of Australia have turned red and gold, a wonderful sight. After so many years of drought the trees look healthy, and I suspect, happy! As the seasons roll by it’s a constant reminder of impermanence. We’ve come through a pandemic year but now, hopefully, things are approaching normality. I know many of our nuns did it tough during the Pandemic without their regular students and visitors bringing in income; we hope the situation eases.
Yet in India the Covid19 situation is just tragic. Our hearts go out to the people there – including so many Buddhists and friends of Sakyadhita - and hope the situation eases.
How wonderful it was to be joined by two of the most eminent female Buddhist teachers for our recent webinars – Sharon Salzberg and Joan Halifax, with their truly inspiring messages of loving kindness and compassion. You can still hear these important speakers on our YouTube channel.
We include a notice of Annual General Meeting next month when we will have important guest speakers – the new President of Sakyadhita International, Sharon Suh and Vice-President, Dr Hsiao-Lan Hu. Join us and hear their vision for the future.
As we approach the May full moon I wish you all peaceful and fulfilling Vesak celebrations – may the brilliance of the Buddha’s teachings illuminate many.
Sakyadhita Australia Annual General Meeting:
Sunday June 20th 11am AET.
Join us for our AGM which will take place on Sunday June 20th June. Our special guests are the newly elected President and Vice President of Sakyadhita International - Sharon Suh and Dr Hsiao-Lan Hu. Don’t miss their thoughts on the future of Sakyadhita.
You will also hear what’s been happening at Sakyadhita Australia and will be able to have you say about our future and to make nominations for the Committee.
Guest speakers - the President and Vice-President of Sakyadhita International:
Sharon Suh is a professor of Buddhism in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Seattle University. She has published three books on aspects of Buddhism and was the keynote speaker at the 9th Sakyadhita International Conference in Malaysia. Dr. Suh’s academic work explores the intersections of Buddhism, gender, race, and film.
Dr Hsiao-Lan Hu is an associate professor of Religious Studies and the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at the University of Detroit Mercy. She has been an active participant in Sakyadhita for many years, serving as translator, oral interpreter and organizer as well as giving many wonderful academic presentations.
This Annual General Meeting is for current financial members of Sakyadhita Australia and members of the Sangha. If you would like to become a member - or your membership has lapsed - you can rejoin here:
There will be reports from our President and Treasurer as well as opportunities to nominate and vote for Committee members and to put forward motions.
To attend reply to firstname.lastname@example.org with AGM in the title line, and you will be sent Zoom details, the Agenda, and details for Committee nominations, proxy votes and motions closer to the time.
Recent Sakyadhitaoz Webinars
Loving kindness and compassion. We were so lucky to be able to host two wonderful, world renowned speakers who joined us for Webinars in recent months. In December 2020 we heard from Joan Halifax and in March 2021 from Sharon Salzberg.
Joan, who is a Zen Buddhist teacher, anthropologist and a social activist, spoke on compassion and asked questions such as, is it the most important human quality? How can we develop the qualities of compassion and empathy? Joan spoke about her work in the end-of life field and with health-care workers. She said, 'The most important process and quality of mind when caring for dying people was in fact compassion - but it is something very difficult to train people in, it is more nuanced than any simple definition'. She has developed a map of compassion based in neuroscience with insights from Buddhism and came up with a definition of compassion as ‘the capacity to attend to the experience of others’. Her most recent book is called, Standing at the edge: finding freedom where fear and courage meet. Highly recommended and available in both print and audio versions.
Sharon Salzberg is an inspiring teacher and she is currently celebrating 50 years of teaching the Dharma. She is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and author of eleven books, including the classic Lovingkindness. In her more recent book, Real Change - Mindfulness to heal ourselves and the world, she explores how we should respond to more worldly problems. She says, 'I have a very big vision of what trying to make a better world can look like .. from art to things like efforts in in voting registration'. She said an inner practice immediately translates into how you relate to the people you encounter. Again, highly recommended and available in both print and audio versions.
You can catch up, on both of these Webinars on our YouTube channel
Our next Webinar will be with peace activist and Zen-Buddhist practitioner Jill Jameson who has worked for many years in humanitarian and development work in Africa and South East Asia. She will speak about her background of 25 years engagement as a trainer in peace-building and conflict transformation in Myanmar and the current situation in that country. This webinar is planned for mid-July, More details to follow.
In the meantime Jill asks for your support for the Pro-Democracy campain in Myanmar :
“Following the coup on February 1st, many Buddhist monks and nuns have taken the leadership in front line of the civil disobedience protests where hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters have taken to the streets to oppose the military take-over, in demand of their democratic rights and freedom for all. I am on the Advisory Committee of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) and have worked with member organisations of this Network offering peace-building training in Myanmar over the last 25 years. INEB is now working very closely now with the democracy movement inside Myanmar. I am putting out a request for funds to support this movement. I invite you to join me in supporting this urgent and greatly needed activity.
For simplicity, you can pay into my ‘Burma account’ details below, and I will transfer the donations to INEB in Thailand. Please include your name in the transfer, and email me at email@example.com to inform me of your transfer and so I can reply to you.
More details click here...
- Bank BSB: 633-000
- Account number: 115836124
- Name: J. Jameson
Thank you for your compassion and support, and please share with your friends and Sangha.”
From West to East:
growing the nun's community
News from Santi Nun's hermitage: "We will be welcoming Bhikkhunis from Dhammasara Monastery who are coming to live at Santi. As their nuns’ community has grown to full capacity in recent years, they need to make more room to allow new nuns to train there, so we’ve invited them to come to Santi, to expand and develop the Bhikkhuni community here too. This move will benefit both the East coast and the West coast, and support the growth of the Bhikkhuni community in Australia overall”
Introducing Ayya Sela.
(an occasional series profiling Australia's nuns)
Ayyā Selā is currently training at Newbury Buddhist Monastery and is one of the two NBM Sāmaṇerīs at who will take bhikkhunī ordination this year. The bhikkhuni ordination is scheduled at the Dhammasara Nuns Monastery - Western Australia in August 2021 and together with her sister nun, Ayyā Saṅkappā, both are scheduled to fly into Perth in early July 2021 to prepare for the dual-platform bhikkhuni ordination. Ayyā Selā was born in Sri Lanka but has lived in Australia for nineteen years. She has been living in NBM for four years.
Thanks to the support of the NBM nuns' community, Ayyā Selā recently completed a nine-day retreat with Ajahn Brahmali from Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery, which involved the study of the Buddha’s suttas. As it says in the poem, 'Nymph', which is printed below,
'to escape from the Forest of Delusion, one needs the vehicle of the Dhamma'.
We wish both nuns all the very best for their ordination and hope they will flourish in the Dhamma.
Resounding with a host of nymphs
Haunted by a host of demons!
This grove is to be called ‘Deluding’
How does one escape from it?
‘The straight way’ that path is called
And ‘fearless’ is its destination.
The chariot tis called ’unrattling’
Fitted with wheels of Dhamma.
Accharāsutta SN 1.46
The sense of shame is its safety rail,
Mindfulness its upholstery,
I call the Dhamma the charioteer,
With right view running out in front.
One who has such a vehicle,
Whether a woman or a man
Has, by means of this vehicle,
Drawn close to Nibbana.
The First Free Women
Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns
By Matty Weingast
Lost in Translation ? The Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns
For those who weren’t aware of the poems written by the first Buddhist nuns this book gives an insight into the nuns’ inspiration and their lives. It is easy to read, the language flows and we can relate to these women.
Here’s an example:
I asked Patachara,
What is the path?
Just see all thoughts, words, and actions
arising by themselves —
not from some imaginary point within.
I only partly understood.
But I took a seat.
That’s the sun was setting,
I saw the endless line of one thing leading to another
that had bought me to the cushion that night.
As the moon was coming up,
I saw the arising and passing away of all things In every direction.
As dawn was breaking, wisdom rose in the east —
And set fire to the long dark night.
But don’t take my word for it. Set fire to the darkness within.
I promise. It’s nothing you’ve ever seen.
|But many of those who have known and treasured these poems from earlier translations have problems with this new work. Suzanne Franzway, Sakyadhita Australia past-President, asks, 'Is it a translation or more a representation, an interpretation of the nuns’ lives? This translation was done by a man, Matty Weingast – could that be a problem? Further, is there a true understanding of Buddhism underlying this translation?'
See Suzanne’s criticism in full below*.
Ven. Chi Kwang Sunim, Vice President of Sakyadhita Australia, expressed her concerns about some re-translations of text by non-scholars or those 'just trying to putting a new spin on old texts'. She writes that in the case of the poem’s translators – Matty Weingast in association with Ayya Anandabodhi Bhikkhuni - 'Though they are clearly wanting to bring a softer, modern and easily readable tone to these poems, in trying to assuage the dryness and direct bluntness of the early translations, clearly in some, they lack insight into of the historical context of the story'. Hopefully, after reading these poems some people will be inspired to read and compare other more traditional translations.
*Here’s Suzanne’s review:
When I first read Ronn Smith’s interview with Matty Weingast* I was charmed by the poem Matty cited as his original inspiration for his book; 'Dantika – the elephant' evoked for me the way so many of us talk to the animals in our lives. However, talking over the debate about the book with my colleague Nadine Levy, I think it is worth opening up the issues for more discussion in the newsletter.
There are three main issues receiving the most commentary:
1) That the book is represented as a translation, by the publisher and by most reviewers and commentators although Weingast himself describes his work as a reconstruction, a rendering or as a result of channelling the nuns’ voices. The introduction to the interview describes the work as ‘a ‘looser’ or more creative interpretation.’ But then refers to them as ‘translations’. Some commentators have contacted the publisher requesting that the book be rebadged and catalogued.
2) That the book is written by a man who in his own words is ‘trying to interpret these poems by our female ancestors’. To counter this concern, Weingast spent a great deal of time working on his poems with Bhikkhuni Anandabodhi (and an unnamed nun) at the Aloka Vihara Forest Monastery in California. Although these two nuns contributed to the work, Weingast is cited as the author, while Bhikkhuni Anandabodhi wrote an admiring Foreward where she says, ‘These poems you hold in your hands are like jewels to me’. This ‘new rendition’ makes the ‘dry and dusty’ academic texts of previous translators ‘come alive’. Having now read some of these translations myself, this seems rather dismissive, especially when we contrast them with the extremely wordy texts of so many of the suttas.
I am not very concerned with the gender of the author, but nevertheless I am struck by the kind of feminine voice he claims to be speaking. For example, compare Weingast’s rendering of the poem, Samgala’s Mother with the versions by Charles Hallisey and Bhante Sujato.
As Meill explains, the mother is an older poor woman who was married to a rush-plaiter, probably when very young , and had a son who became a monk (Meill, 2020 59). The pestle signals the tough labour of food preparation and she likely barely eked out a living making sunshades and baskets out of bamboo sticks. But Weingast transforms the verse into being entirely about heterosexual sex. His rendering leaves no room for the monk’s mother to speak of how she has achieved dharmic happiness.
|I too am well-freed from the pestle; my shameless husband, even the sunshade he worked under, and my pot that stinks like a water snake all disgust me.
As I destroyed anger and the passion for sex, I was reminded of the sound of bamboo being split, I go to the foot of a tree and think, “Ah, happiness,” And from within that happiness, I begin to meditate. (Hallisey, 2015 21)
I’m well freed, well freed,
so very well freed!
My pestle’s shameless wind was wafting;
my little pot wafted like an eel.
Now, as for greed and hate:
I sear them and sizzle them up.
Having gone to the root of a tree,
I meditate happily, thinking, “Oh, what bliss!” (Bhante Sujato, https://suttacentral.net/thig2.3/en/sujato)
from having to stroke
my husband’s little umbrella
until it stands up straight.
His releases came quickly –
and with lots of grunting.
Mine has taken
A little longer-
And came with
Of straight bamboo
Being cleanly sliced
Into two even pieces.
I now know for myself
Where true release
Comes from, and where it leads.
A seat at the foot of any tree. (Weingast, 2020 26)
3) This brings me to a third issue that is arising in response to this book, which is that the poems at most speak to a very thin or shallow Buddhism. For some commentators, the absence of Buddhist understandings in the poem is evident by the very limited references to a world that includes rebirth. My concern is much broader since the Buddhism on display here is severely diluted by discourses of universal norms which obscure historical, gendered and racial specificities. Consider for example, the poem with which we began:
Dantika - The Elephant
|Coming out from my day’s abiding
on Vulture Peak Mountain,
I saw on the bank of the river
emerged from its plunge.
A man holding a hook requested:
“Give me your foot.”
extended its foot.
got up on the elephant.
Seeing what was untrained now tamed
brought under human control,
with that I centered my mind—
why I’d gone to the woods
in the first place. (Thanissaro https://suttacentral.net/thig3.4/en/thanissaro)
Leaving my day’s meditation
on Vulture’s Peak Mountain,
I saw an elephant on the riverbank
having just come up from his bath.
A man, taking a pole with a hook,
asked the elephant, “Give me your foot.”
The elephant presented his foot,
and the man mounted him.
Seeing a wild beast so tamed,
submitting to human control,
my mind became serene:
*that* is why I’ve gone to the forest! (Sujato https://suttacentral.net/thig3.4/en/sujato)
|While walking along the river
after a long day meditation on Vulture Peak,
I watched an elephant splashing its way
out of the water and up the bank.
Hello, friend, a man waiting there said,
Scratching the elephant behind its ear.
Did you have a good bath?
The elephant stretched out its leg,
the man climbed up,
and the two rode off like that –
Seeing what had once been so wild
now a friend and companion to this good man,
I took a seat under the nearest tree
and reached out a gentle hand
to my own mind.
Truly, I thought, this is why
I came to the woods. (Weingast, 2020 40)
As I noted, Weingast’s version certainly creates a very pleasant scene, but it leaves out completely the key move of the poem, namely that when asked by the man, the elephant extends its foot. The man has trained the elephant to do this, and it is for the man’s convenience so that he can climb up and ride the animal. The essential point is to learn that if it’s possible to train such a large animal, it’s also possible to train one’s own mind and become serene. Of course, Dharma teachers encourage us to befriend our minds, and to treat our minds with gentleness, but training requires some strength, even a hook or pole, as well as instruction. This central advice is overtaken by Weingast’s stress on the woman’s gentle hand.
The publication of this book and its very warm reception by so many teachers, meditators, lay and monastic practitioners as well as scholars raises critical questions about Buddhism in our time. If we are to benefit from Weingast’s efforts, then we certainly need to pay close attention to the words, but also to tough questions about cultural and political assumptions and discourses. For example, why dilute the Dharma of the Therigatha, an acclaimed anthology of some of the earliest Buddhist women? Why ignore that they were Asian women, living during a specific historic period? What discourses of femininity and feminism are in play? Given that the book has been endorsed by some of the most well-known Buddhist teachers, what does this say about their knowledge of significant texts? Does the fact the book is connected to one of the very few classics by women affect the way it is read?
Emeritus Professor, Sociology and Gender Studies
University of South Australia.
* Suzanne wrote her review in response to an interview with Matty Weingast in Creative Dharma, November 2020: (https://creativedharma.substack.com/p/cd06-translating-the-first-free-women
PS. Note that the publisher, Shambhala, has now publicly agreed to withdraw its description of the text as ‘translations’.
- Hallisey, C. (2015). Therigatha: Poems of the first Buddhist women: Harvard University Press.
- Meill, K. P. (2020). Diversity in the Women of the Therīgāthā" (2020). Mindfulness Studies Theses. 29. https://digitalcommons.lesley.edu/mindfulness_theses/29. (Mindfulness Studies), Lesley University. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.lesley.edu/mindfulness_theses/29
- Weingast, M. (2020). The first free women. Poems of the early Buddhist nuns. Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala.
Want to know more about the poems or the early Nuns?
Check out the Therigatha Festival:
The Therīgāthā Festival is an international celebration of the Poems of the Elder Nuns, the world’s oldest collection of literature composed by women. These poems are a testament to women’s empowerment and a celebration of their spiritual awakening. During May there were events from Buddhist organisations around the world to discover the richness of these ancient women’s verses and support the living legacy of inspiring female practitioners.
Resources, video and further information :
- Youtube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnnkCIqNgSWxgW3yiUSDSsQ
from the marsh at dusk
on this last walk i
discover brolgas so close
they silence my breath
the boab wraps me
in its subtle scent
I sense it won’t last
i leave my trace in
derby’s mud – like me, it will
be gone tomorrow
By Maureen Gibbons.
New Kutis for the Newbury Nuns ?
(pictured : monks kutis can be just seen at the top of this hill in Newbury)
The nuns community at Newbury Monastery is flourishing and we hope that one day their accommodation will match the splendid kutis built for the monks. So it’s good news that an account has been opened which is accepting donations for the building of nun’s kutis. This is a long term project, scheduled to be undertaken after the completion of a retreat centre. But it’s never too soon to begin fund raising; if you would like to help please send any donations to the BSV as follows :
Account Name: The Buddhist Society of Victoria Inc
Bank Name: Commonwealth Bank of Australia
BSB No: 063 595
Account Number: 1081 0100
NB: Use the words 'Nun’s Kuti Donation' with your deposit to avoid confusion with other campaigns.
A Once in a Lifetime experience: the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Dharamsala
“The words cut deep into one’s heart and soul”
Author Sharon Thrupp, Treasurer of Sakyadhdita Australia, lived and worked in Dharamsala for 15 years. Here she captures the colour, vibrancy and the power of a very special event.
In a pre-COVID 19 world, large groups and individuals travelled from around the world to see the Dalai Lama teach at Namgyal monastery which is perched on a ridge in the Himalayan foothills in northern India.
This monastery seems a small venue for such a renowned world figure, but the Dalai Lama lives in an enclosed enclave adjoining and it is only a short walk through the (usually) locked gates to the small throne of the temple from where he gives his teachings.
Anticipation builds on the first day of the teachings as the Dalai Lama enters an open area of the monastery with all the pomp and ceremony of an ancient culture. He is surrounded by monks wearing maroon robes and yellow spiky hats blowing ceremonial trumpets or dungchen. Against a backdrop of the snow-clad mountains, the dark robes of the monks are stark and the sound is electrifying.
As he walks to his teaching throne, the Dalai Lama scans the crowd, his eyes continually moving ready to make eye contact. If you are pushy and able to manoeuvre to the front line behind a lower barrier then this is a prime position and you will be in close proximity as he walks by, surrounded by one of his many bodyguards holding guns. During one of these many occasions, I was lucky enough to make fleeting eye contact and was moved to tears.
After the Dalai Lama has moved through the crowd settles. There are no chairs. You have to bring your own or sit on a cushion on the concrete. The teachings, in the Dalai Lama’s native Tibetan, are on Buddhist philosophy and are broadcast in many languages, with interpreters sitting amongst the crowd translating over FM radio.
The Dalai Lama is a highly skilled teacher having spent a lifetime absorbed in this ancient and complex philosophy. He brings to life this theory as a guiding principle for behaviour. His interpretation brings it to a level which can be understood, giving it a practical meaning on how to use it in everyday life. With his deep, powerful voice the words cut deep into one’s heart and soul having the uncanny ability to make you feel as though he is talking to you directly.
The teachings, lasting over several days, are a colourful affair. The Tibetan community come out in full force with the Amalas, who are the mothers and grandmothers and who are beautifully dressed in their long, silk brocade tunics with matching blouses and who are accompanied by their children. The young men, decorated with silver amulets, coral and turquoise beads also wear traditional, long armed coats or chubas covering their trendy jeans and American sports shoes. It is an interesting mixture of the traditional and the modern.
During the teachings, which last for around ninety minutes on any given day, there is a tea break within the first thirty minutes where the monks and nuns serve Tibetan tea, both butter tea and sweet tea. The tea looks more like coloured milk and is poured from large aluminium teapots combined with a piece of phale or Tibetan bread. The tea and bread are an acquired taste for a non-Tibetan palate.
Due to the lack of cover and the unpredictability of mountain weather, it can be either freezing cold or blistering hot with intermittent rain. Weather aside, it is also a huge, cultural experience for Westerners. Tibetans treat it as a special occasion to sit, listen and socialize in the breaks.
The last teachings I attended in Dharamsala were in October 2019 where I was sitting amongst local Tibetans and other people who travelled far and wide to attend. It was an eclectic mix but all had a common purpose - to get a glimpse to the Dalai Lama and to hear his wise words.
In our current Covid world, the Dalai Lama is still teaching via Zoom from his residence in Dharamsala. The monks from Namgyal, his aides, help him to sit comfortably in front of a computer as he talks to his audience who appear on two big screens before him. He engages with natural ease and his warmth and compassion still shines through.
I returned home soon after these teachings, little knowing that international travel would not be possible a few short months later and these were maybe his last public appearances for many years to come.
- For more information on the Dalaia Lama’s teachings go to www.dalailama.com
- While based in Dharmasala Sharon ran pilgrimages to many Buddhist sites in India and Japan – we hope to hear more about those in future newsletters. Sharon hopes that one day the pilgrimages will recommence!
"Just washing Dishes"
Ayya Khema: A famous teacher remembered – quote by quote!
Ayya Khema was one of the first Buddhist nuns to undertake a widespread teaching program – both here and overseas. She was a terrific communicator and a born story teller.
She also played a foundation role in the establishment of Sakyadhita International in 1988.
Her life story is incredible – you can read more below, but in summary, she was born in Germany, escaped the Nazis, then lived in various places around the world, married and had children, eventually becoming a Buddhist nun. But not before she, her partner and children travelled the world, working and living in places such as Pakistan and Mexico. It was in India that she met Maharishi Ramana who became a major influence on her life. Finally settling in southern Queensland the family ran an organic farm and bred miniature horses. Meeting the Buddhist monk Venerable Phra Khantipalo was the impetus she needed to decide to follow a spiritual life. After selling the property and ordaining as a nun in Sri Lanka in the Theravadan tradition, she donated the proceedings of the sale to set up Wat Buddha Dhamma, near Wiseman’s Ferry, south of Sydney.
As well as her wide teaching program in Australia and internationally, Ayya established centres in Sri Lanka and Germany. During the last years of her life she continued teaching, even though suffering from breast cancer, something she often hid from her students. Ayya was a great correspondent, always replying instantly to letters from students, always encouraging us to keep meditating, often suggesting we seek the support of a group to meditate with. Hence the formation of the Metta Dhamma Circles meditation groups in the Melbourne subburbs of Healesville, Forest Hill and Clifton Hill.
For more on her life see both the following story and her autobiography, I Give You My Life.
Ayya taught in the Theravadin tradition. She gave many retreats in Australia and the quotations she used stayed in students’ minds such as, ‘When washing the dishes, just washing the dishes' (for mindfulness), 'One moment of concentration is one moment of purification', and 'Recognition, no blame, change!', (both for when distracted in meditation).
Ven Nissarano, resident teacher at the Newbury Monastery, is one who uses her quotes often in his teachings.
Some of his favourites :
- 'Recognition, no blame, change!' could also apply to life. It reminds me of Ajahn Brahm's 'AFL - Acknowledge, Forgive and Let Go/ Learn'.
- 'A method is just a method, by any name, but the right method is the one that works!' One of my favourites!
- 'Don't blame the trigger'. Ayya used this frequently, in the context of the ways we try to escape from Dukkha, unsatisfactoriness or suffering. She would also mention the other favourite escape route was distraction. In my mind, I connect 'Recognition - no blame - change' with this.
- 'Blame game', Ayya used this phrase to describe how we try to escape from Dukkha, unsatisfactoriness or suffering.
- 'Jack-in-the-box' - I really liked this simile. When the spring is removed from the box, no matter how hard you hit it, the doll won't jump out, in the same way no matter what abuse or harm an Arahant may experience, no anger, hatred, or delusion will spring out, because they have been removed, like the spring.
- 'All that I teach is suffering, and its end to reach.' Ayya often mentioned this as a summary of the Buddha's Teaching
- 'A little calm brings a little wisdom, and a little wisdom brings a little calm.'
Ven Nissarano writes further on Ayya as a teacher. 'Ayya was always such a pragmatist, so down-to-earth, she had that German directness. I always liked the way Ayya spoke English with such a mish-mash of accents and influences - German, upperclass English accent, with Aussie influences as well. It was quite a rich combination, spoken with such directness, energy and liveliness.'
I think Ayya's clarity and ability to convey Dhamma in a very experiental way was one of her outstanding qualities. I also appreciated that she didn't water-down the Dhamma for lay practitioners. For instance, she taught Asubha/Body Meditation, and asked retreatants to reflect on the food before eating (which is more of a monastic reflection). She never shied away from confronting subjects like death and the nature of the body, and would talk about them in a direct and compelling way.
At the same time she was innovative, for example when teaching Asubha/Body Meditation she used the image of a zipper up the front of the body, and removing the organs and placing them on a table before one, and at the end of the meditation putting them back into one's body. What a relief!
I think Ayya's emphasis on using Metta, before or as the whole meditation, was such a helpful practice. It removes or reduces the hindrances to meditation, especially ill will and self hate. I often refer to her as the "Queen of Metta", and am especially grateful for her guided Metta meditations, which were so imaginative, evocative and effective. I think she became a "Metta Expert" because she needed it in her practice to overcome ill will. I feel Metta provided a springboard that made it possible for many meditators to experience deep meditation, even Jhanas. Ayya's teaching about the deep stages of meditation, or ‘Jhanas’ was also something that was very special, all the more as it wasn't available at that time. Not only that, she taught it from her own experience, which was such an inspiration and helpful for her students.
Above Ayya Khema with Phra Khantipalo and below with Ayya Santa at Wat Buddha Dhamma.
Ayya with students – Judith Macdonald (left) and Helen Richardson (current Sakyadhita Australia President)
Ayya with a group of students attending a retreat in Geelong, Victoria – 1989
Buddhist Nun Ayya Khema and Her Views on Self and No Self
Pamela Ayo Yetunde, Th.D.
Pamela Ayo Yetunde, J.D., Th.D., is Assistant Professor, Pastoral Care and Counseling and Director, Interreligious Chaplaincy, at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in St. Paul, MN. (full bio at end of article)
Ed : This is a shortened version of the original article published in Sakyadhita USA e-magazine. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Khema (August 25, 1923-November 21, 1997) was born Ilse Kussel in Berlin, Germany, the only child of a wealthy “assimilated” Jewish couple. Khema did not report any strife between her and her parents, and described her relationship with her grandfather as loving and meaningful. “He was a jolly, contended man. When he died [when Khema was ten], my world got its first jolt.”
Khema was somewhat aware that her life as a Jew was being threatened:
During the Olympics, in 1936, I saw Adolf Hitler for the first time, from very close up. My father had a ticket for all events that took place at the Olympic Stadium. When he didn’t have time to go, I could go in his place. It was a very good seat, not far from the Fuhrer’s box. . . . Adolph Hitler saluted the crowd standing up and then said a few words over the loudspeaker. His manner of speaking, his chopped-off way of enunciating his words, and his incredibly powerful and rousing voice magnified my feeling of fear. I felt the menace that emanated from him deep within me.
But in the context of her family and other elites, they believed that the German culture of intellectualism and art would prevent Nazism from taking hold. Khema held to that belief until she visited the ministry of finance office with her father and saw him cry when the government imposed a “Jewish poll tax.” “At that very moment my sense of security was shattered once and for all. From then on I knew that the world was not safe and sure. . . I felt so helpless.”
After this incident, Khema’s family moved out of their apartment and in with Khema’s father’s sister who was married to a Christian man who eventually abandoned the family after a variety of anti-Jewish laws lead to anti-Jewish vigilantism:
On the day after Kristallnacht , when everywhere in the country the synagogues were set on fire and the Jewish businesses were looted, I happened to pass by the burning synagogue in the Fasanenstrasse. . . . There was the mob, throwing the scrolls of the Torah into the flames, the Holy Scriptures. . . . A few pious Jews who were compelled to watch this were weeping. It was a shattering experience for me, an unbelievable shock.
Due to the Nazi threat against Jews, her family fled Germany in 1938 when Khema was fifteen years old. Khema and her parents first went to Scotland to let Khema stay with an uncle because they believed a fifteen-year-old girl would be safer in Scotland than in China, their ultimate destination. After leaving Khema in Scotland, they left for China to rebuild their lives. Khema left her uncle’s home to live with a Russian-Jewish Yiddish-speaking family with a mother, father, and seven children. Khema did not speak Yiddish, but was expected to take care of the children. While in Scotland, Khema faced discrimination because she was a refugee:
What was different about me can be expressed in one single word: I was unhappy. I didn’t belong in this place I’d been cast up in. Everything was alien and cold, not only the human side of things but also the weather, which was cold and wet. But I always had a great deal of willpower, and thus had formed an ironclad resolve—you’ll hold out for a year, then we’ll see; until that time, no whining.
Khema eventually rejoined her parents in 1940, when she was seventeen. They remained non-religious, culturally-German Jewish refugees living in relative peace in Shanghai until February 1943 when Shanghai, under Japanese occupation, issued a law confining European refugees to an encampment. Khema got a job in an export company because her family lost their business and possession once again. What kept Khema hopeful in Shanghai were the radio reports that American troops were advancing, but her hopefulness could not delude her to the reality of war when a bomb fell on her encampment:
There was a loud boom and I went out a few steps in front of our building. Next to me was somebody I knew, and all at once it was as though he was swallowed by the earth. An explosion, a gigantic crater, and the man had disappeared. At that point I became hysterical, the one time in my life. I was screaming and couldn’t stop until my father gave me a slap…A lot of bombs fell that day; a lot of people were killed. In the street in front of our house, blood flowed like rainwater…Perhaps it was in connection with this experience that I completely lost my fear of death.
Khema’s father, who she said was her “mainstay,” died in 1945, five days before the war ended. About her mother she wrote
My mother was as though paralyzed, capable of nothing. I had to take care of everything, the funeral and the continuation of our lives . . . a few months later, my mother married again, a friend from her youth in Berlin who also lived in the ghetto [encampment]. From that point on, I was completely alone, without a father and without a mother—for of course she gave all her attention to her new marriage. I was unable to understand this. I thought she should have given herself more time to get over my father.
When the war ended, Khema attempted to find the relatives she left in Germany, but without success.
Khema married when she was twenty-two. The man she married was thirty-nine. She gave birth to her daughter two years later in 1947, left Shanghai for Los Angeles in 1949, then on to San Diego where her mother and step father lived. Khema’s son was born in 1958. As Khema’s life in the United States was settling in at the age of thirty-four, she and her husband had secured a middle-class lifestyle for themselves and their children:
I had everything I could wish for. All the same, something was missing. What it was, I myself did not know. What I had was a vague feeling of incompleteness, an inner malaise, a longing that kept getting stronger. . . . I began to read a lot—philosophical and spiritual books . . . the nonmaterial side of life is what I was occupied with; that is what I wanted to get a meaningful understanding of, to make a connection with.
Khema’s husband was annoyed and angered by Khema’s insistence that she wanted something that she could not articulate. Eventually Khema asked for a divorce. Her daughter was thirteen and her son was three. She left her daughter with her husband and took her son with her to a farm in Mexico run by Edmund Szekeley, a professor and the author of numerous books on alternative lifestyles. The community formulated rules based on the Essenes, which meant no private property or marriage, and a vegetarian diet.
Khema began reading about the Self-Realization Fellowship of Yogananda, and remarried a year later. In 1961, Khema, her second husband, and her son, traveled throughout Central and South America. They went to Australia and New Zealand, and lived in Pakistan because Khema’s husband was offered a job there. While in Pakistan, they lived as members of the upper-class. Khema, whose family was affluent in Germany and lost everything due to the Nazi oppression, gained affluence again in China and lost everything again, found herself the boss of several house servants:
I often thought back to the difficult times at the camp in Shanghai, where I had been so poor. Now we suddenly had enough money; I was practically affluent again. I had a flock of servants and could really buy myself whatever I wanted. But I had no idea what I should buy. Once again, the feeling arose in me that there must be something else besides having not enough or a great deal of money, besides being poor or rich. There must [be] something else that made life meaningful.
Despite her confusion about class and consumption, Khema noticed something was wrong in Pakistan. She writes, “The thing that moved me most deeply in Pakistan were my encounters with the women. In relation to the men, they had not even the most minimal rights, at least not at the time we were there . . . the Pakistani women all wore the burka. . . . Only in Karachi did we occasionally see young women without veils.” After they left Pakistan, they traveled in Europe, the Himalayan regions on Kashmir, Tibet, and India. They all survived the rugged terrains, different cultures, and different social mores, but Khema was also looking for and longing for spiritual survival:
In South India we went to Tiruvannamalai . . . where one of India’s greatest enlightened sages lived, a rishi named Ramana Maharshi. He died in 1950, so we didn’t meet him personally, but we went to his ashram and learned something about him and his teaching from an Englishman, Arthur Osborne. . . . Maharshi repeatedly stressed that the condition of attaining enlightenment was getting rid of the illusion of ego. One should investigate by asking oneself, “Who am I?” . . . I didn’t know how I could apply this wisdom to myself. I longed for concrete instructions, for a clear plan of action. Then all of a sudden I had the feeling that I was near the object of my longing, at the beginning of my spiritual path.
Though Khema could not apply Osborne’s teaching, it appealed to her, through a Hindu tradition, that she should release the ego illusion. Later, Khema studied in another Hindu tradition created by Sri Aurobindo. She stayed at the Aurobindo ashram for three months and learned meditation from Mother, the heir to Aurobindo. “For me, this was the gateway to the path of spiritual growth.” Khema learned how to meditate, and was inspired to see through the ego illusion, through Hinduism. While in India she and her husband met an Australian swami named Narikutti who accompanied them as they traveled in South India and Sri Lanka. He also taught Khema about Hinduism.
Khema first encountered Buddhism in Sri Lanka which, according to Khema, was a gloriously peaceful place at that time. The peacefulness convinced her that Buddhism was worth learning about. After traveling in Sri Lanka, Khema and her husband traveled to Thailand where she was in awe of the many manifestations of Buddha sculptures. After their visit to Thailand, they traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam, Indonesia and Timor, then back to Australia where they bought a farm. They named the farm Shalom and set up a pan-religious altar in the milkhouse where Khema meditated daily:
I was frequently in fear for our lives, our survival . . . forest fire . . . typhoons . . . poisonous snakes. . . . But I always believed that is it only possible to overcome fear by doing, in spite of the fear, the very thing that triggers it. And if one fails to do this one never gets to know one’s own strengths, which on the spiritual level are unlimited.
While visiting Shalom, a Buddhist monk named Phra Khantipalo taught them about Buddhism:
Something became clear to me: I could understand and practice this. Take for example the doctrine of the five virtues. One may not kill any living being; take what is not given; lie or use coarse language; engage in any sexual misconduct; take drugs or drink alcohol. One should practice the opposites of these: loving-kindness, generosity, reliability and loyalty, right speech, and mindfulness. This was the first time I had heard something of which I could say: I understand this completely, I don’t have to think about it at all. I know that it’s right, I know what I have to try to achieve. Here was a spiritual path that really showed how you can change in order to attain inner purity. I organized courses on our farm, which the monk gave for interested people. I also invited other teachers.
With zeal for Buddhism, Khema left her husband and son in Australia while she visited the Zen Center in San Francisco (where she stayed three months) and studied Zen (Japanese) and Ch’an (Chinese) Buddhism. When she returned to Shalom, her husband expressed dissatisfaction with her absence, but was unsuccessful in convincing her to stay on with him at Shalom.
Khema left again to go to Burma for a meditation retreat taught by meditation teacher U Bha Khinut. But by the time she returned home, her husband had already departed. Khema allowed a farming association to take Shalom, and she moved into a Buddhist monastery in Sydney where the Buddhist monk who had first taught her about Buddhism, Phra Khantipalo, was living. Khema invested the inheritance from her mother and the proceeds from the farm sale in a new monastery led by Phra Khantipalo. She notes, “From this point onward, the teaching of the Buddha determined my entire life.”
Though Khema was dedicated to practicing Buddhism, her internal spiritual orientation was arguably interfaith:
Whether a person is a Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, or Hindu is a matter of indifference to me. I don’t divide people into such affiliations, which separate them from each other even more than they are already. . . . I have read many of the writings of the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages, particularly Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, Heinrich Seuse, Teresa of Avila, Francisco de Osuna. Especially Teresa’s instructions to her nuns in her book The Interior Castle made a particular impression on me, for there she describes the meditative absorptions that I teach also—only in her own personal way and connected with visions shaped by Christianity.
Having invested all her wealth into a forest monastery, she went on in 1978 to help start Wat Buddha Dhamma, a Buddhist monastery in Sydney, Australia. Khema became a nun in 1979 when she was fifty-five years old and changed her name from Ilse Kussel to Ayya Khema. Teaching more and more became her life.
A few years after becoming a nun, Khema was diagnosed with breast cancer:
Since 1983 I have known that I have cancer. I felt a lump in my breast and went to see a doctor in Australia. She sent me for a mammogram. Diagnosis: a malignant tumor. . . . I was then feeling completely healthy and strong. I told the doctor that I did not want an operation, because I didn’t want to be drawn into the cycle of hospital treatment, which, once one is in it, is hard to get out of. I can still clearly remember that the doctor looked at me for a long time and then told me that her mother had also been ill with breast cancer and had made exactly the same decision. She did not permit herself to be operated on, and she lived fifteen years with the disease. She was only sick for the last two months, and then she died. That suits me fine, I told her. I’d like to do it the same way. What the illness did for me during the next years was to create the consciousness of urgency—samvega in Pali—which the Buddha always recommended.
The consciousness of urgency manifested in Khema throwing her entire being into the cultivation of the Buddhist nunnery, advocating for their fair treatment, creating forest monasteries, writing, and teaching. Zoketsu Norman Fisher, in the foreword to Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path, said Khema “was never shy about acknowledging her spiritual accomplishments.”
Five years after the cancer diagnosis, in 1989, Khema helped found Buddha-Haus and in 1997, a forest monastery called Metta Vihara, both in Germany. Sandy Boucher writes in the foreword to Khema’s Be an Island: The Buddhist Practice of Inner Peace
She [Khema] will be remembered most vividly for her championing of the cause of Buddhist nuns. That her own Theravada tradition denied her full ordination, that nuns in Southeast Asian countries were neglected and ill-served by their tradition – these injustices turned Ayya Khema into an activist. . . . As a sincere practitioner and a powerful spokesperson, she became one of the Western Buddhist teachers who has truly made a difference in this century.
Though Khema was an activist for nuns, she hardly wrote in the books referenced in this paper, about what this activism meant to her, nor about the psycho-spiritual work with expectations, frustration, anger, persistence, perseverance, and the tiredness that often come with being an activist. She did mention that she experienced pleasure at having been recognized for her work:
An interesting year for me was 1987. The first thing was that I was invited by the delegate to the United Nations from Sri Lanka to give a talk at the United Nations in New York. Almost all of the representatives of the smaller countries came, but those of the large countries were absent. . . I was awarded a small medal for peace, which pleased me a great deal. The second event of that year was the International Conference for Buddhist Nuns in Bodh Gaya, in India. The Dalai Lama presided over the conference. This was the first time that anything of this nature had taken place, and I was one of the three women who organized the event.
To experience pleasure over being recognized for her work is anathema to her writings on self and no self. Khema, in this writer’s opinion, missed a valuable teaching opportunity by not addressing her experience of being a Buddhist nun who is also feminist and an advocate.
Nine years after having been diagnosed with breast cancer, Khema decided to receive treatment:
In 1993 I finally did have to undergo a serious cancer operation. The lump, whose growth I could constantly feel, broke open. This was not only very painful but it also bled almost continuously. . . After the operation, there were two days during which I had the feeling that my vitality was ebbing away, or more precisely, that it was flowing away through the soles of my feet. I was absolutely reconciled to this, ready to die, and I gave myself over entirely to the pleasant feeling of letting go. Then a great many cards and flowers from my students arrived that not only showed love but also told me that I should now just stay alive—I didn’t need to teach anymore. That made a deep impression on me and encouraged me a lot. In the visits the doctors made and in the care the nurses gave me, I clearly perceived what a great effort they were making to keep me alive. At that point I resolved to help them succeed in this.
With the understanding that her students would not demand anything from her, Khema generated the will to live in order to help others feel successful in keeping her alive. She allowed her self to be treated and cared for, but did not write about what treatment and care she received. She did not state whether she had a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, a double mastectomy, radiation, or chemotherapy. She did not write about her quality of life, or her spiritual practice during these years. She did not write about the experience of being in relationships, especially the relationships that led her to want to live. Those who are interested in how Buddhist practice help people live with cancer during Western cancer treatment, missed something valuable in Khema’s living and dying experience. Khema died on November 21, 1997.
Self and No self
Khema comments on the Buddha’s discourse with Pottahapada. Pottahapada states, “And another says: there is such a self as you say, I do not deny it. But that self is not wholly annihilated for there is another self, divine, material, belonging to the sense-sphere, fed on real food. You do not know it or see it, but I do. It is this self that at the breaking-up of the body perishes.” Pottahapada is voicing an understanding of that day that there is a divine Self.
Khema’s response to this discourse is
This is the identification with a soul. . . . We would like to think that the soul is our refined aspect, that that it will have the self in it. Even if we deny it intellectually, there is still this inner hope: “If I am not the body, at least I will be that.” Another part of this belief system contains the notion that wherever the self goes after death, it will be happy.
It is reported that The Buddha said, “Pottahapada, there are three kinds of ‘acquired self’—the gross acquired self, the mind-made acquired self, the formless acquired self.” Khema comments:
The word “acquired” can be misunderstood but the meaning becomes clearer if we think of it as an “assumed” self—the way we assume ourselves to be. The gross acquired self is the body. The mind-made self, “comes into being when we identify with the observer, with our thoughts, reactions, feelings, sense-contacts. The formless acquired self is the self we deduce from the experience of the higher jhanas [meditative states], where there is neither physical nor mental form. In the infinities of space and consciousness there is nothing that has any kind of boundary, but there is perception.
Regarding the mind-made and gross acquired/assumed selves, Khema says
You don’t really want to own all these thoughts, do you? They’re not really worth it, are they? There are hardly any that would be worthwhile, so why try to own them? Why try to think, “This is me?” Why not see that they are just a natural arising and vanishing; that’s all. Similarly, with this body—is it really me? It’s a natural arising through conception and vanishing through death, a law of nature, a fact of nature, which our ego-conceit does not allow us to grasp. . . . Ego-conceit does not necessarily mean that we are conceited people. Ego-conceit means that we are not enlightened. Conceit has been eliminated only in arahants. It means that we are seeing the world and ourselves from the standpoint of “me” and when we do, the world is often threatening and so are other people because “me” is fragile and can be easily hurt and toppled.
Khema believed there was a problem in the English interpretation of “acquired” self because one cannot acquire what does not exist. She preferred the word “assumed” self over “acquired” self because “assumed” better describes the deluded thought process people engage in to create specialness and uniqueness:
It is very much worth our while to contemplate these four views [of Self/self] and ask ourselves to which of them we adhere. Is it identification with the body? The soul? The higher self? Is it union with creation? . . . It is very hard for us to grasp that these are all just belief systems invented by the mind in order to support the ego. When we no longer need or want to support this ego assertion, it becomes much easier to see a different reality.
The reason or reasons why this teaching on self has gone underground in modern Buddhism, or Insight Meditation, is not the subject of this paper; however, it is a significant teaching on self in Theravada Buddhism because it is the context for the other teachings on self that appear in Insight Meditation. The Buddha asserted that the Brahmin caste had no self that others did not have and, therefore, did not have some essence of the divine which would give them rights over other people. The self meant having power over people. Therefore, in Buddhism, it is said that there is no self because no one has innate rights over others. Of course, this does not mean that people do not believe they have a soul. Khema asked her students to ask themselves
Where does our specialness lie? There are five khandhas—the body and the four parts of mind. There are the four elements and the thirty-two parts of the body. There is nothing and nobody special—everybody’s the same. We don’t have to find out what’s right for each of us. All we have to do is make a choice between pleasant sense contacts and the end of dukkha. That one choice determines our lives.
Having “established” that there is no soul because there is only material evidence of mind and body, Khema offers
body is not self,
feeling is not self,
perception is not self,
mental formations are not self,
consciousness is not self
There is no soul-self and nothing else that exists is self, therefore no one holds any special quality, substance, or essence. We are all the same with one choice before us—engage in suffering or end it. It is problematic to make the leap between not having a Self and not having differences between people. Khema, as a feminist advocate within the Buddhist monastic order, obviously saw that monks saw differences between men and women and treated women with less respect. Khema, as someone not publicly critical of the Buddha’s teachings, at least not in her books, is also responsible for perpetuating negative perceptions of women and men:
The Buddha gave an interesting simile about men and women. He said “Men are like crows struggling around, looking for their own advantage, and women are like creepers trying to find a tree for support. Both have to get rid of those qualities.” The crow is an example of boldness. . . . Boldness is an exhibition of assertiveness. Self-confidence isn’t the same as assertiveness. Self-confidence rests within one’s own contentment resulting in feeling secure. Then there’s no need for aggressiveness. Nobody likes a person who is bold, asserts himself to the detriment of others like the crow does.
How is it that all women are like creepers trying to find a tree for support and all men are like crows? She did not write that the Buddha’s words about women and men were possibly untrue and potentially offensive. The lack of critical analysis may have been the reason for Khema’s other dismal views on human beings, such as that which follows:
Please become aware of the fact that this body does not have suffering, but that it is suffering. Only then can we begin to fathom the reality of human suffering. . . . Know the impermanence. Know the unsatisfactoriness, which is inherent in the human body. Know the fact that the feeling has arisen without your invitation. So why call it “mine?”
A reasonable person can interpret this teaching to mean there is no happiness or joy in being human. To be human is a miserable enterprise:
The first thing we can learn about our mind is that it isn’t such a wonderful part of us as we might have imagined just because we have learned, can remember, and can understand certain facts and concepts. It is an unruly, unreliable mind, not doing what we want it to do. . . . They [thoughts] have come without our invitation, and they’ll go away again by themselves. They have little purpose, especially during meditation.
A reasonable person can interpret this teaching to mean there is no value in the ability to think and it is foolish to trust ourselves:
The mind with its thinking and the body with its many parts are both suffering. The Buddha said there is only one cause, one reason we experience suffering, and that’s craving. We have three cravings and all others are connected with them. These three are craving for existence, craving for self-annihilation, and craving for sensual gratification…. There’s no way we can win. We are engaged in a hopeless struggle, and that is real suffering.
A thoughtful person might ask, if there is only mind and body, and both are suffering, and there’s no way to relieve the suffering absent relinquishing the body and mind, what is the point of living? Khema may have answered the question that the point of living is to become the ideal being, the arahant. An arahant is a Buddhist monk who has attained enlightenment. The only difference between an arahant and The Buddha is that the Buddha was the originator of the teachings now known as Buddhism. An arahant, due to their practice and spiritual attainments, possess the ideal Buddhist no self:
All of us, not being arahants, have sizeable egos. The “me” and “mine” syndrome and “if you please, I’ll keep it and you stay out” attitudes create all the world’s problems. We can only be sure that the ego is affirmed when we’re thinking, talking, reading, seeing a movie, or using the mind in the interest of ego. The great renunciation that arises in meditation is to drop all thoughts. When there’s nobody thinking, there’s no ego confirmation.
And the ideal Buddhist spiritual goal is to avoid rebirth. It is said, “When we die—which we all will—and are reborn —which we all will be unless we become arahants—then we have to start all over again. We have to learn to walk, to talk, to eat, to go to the toilet, to dress ourselves. We have to go through the whole school system again, get married, have kids, see them get married.
Khema believed that only arahants are completely lovable. The purpose in living, if we take the teachings on self alone, is to abandon the delusion of specialness, abandon all things that support one’s personality, and die without a desire to be alive. Khema was passionate about this. The path to arahantship, the ideal person not burdened by ego-conceit and, therefore, not due to return to this existence after death, is through meditation.
Khema, on the topic of meditation says, “There are many different meditation techniques. In the Path of Purification, forty of them are mentioned, but there are only two streams, two directions, and these are the two directions one has to take: calm and insight. They work hand in hand. . . . Calm is the means. Insight is the end.” The beginning of calm, through meditation, is mindfulness:
This practice is all about mindfulness. The Buddha said: “the one way for the purification of beings, for the destruction of unsatisfactoriness, for entering the noble path, for realizing freedom from all suffering, is mindfulness. If you are having a thousand thoughts, then give them a thousand labels. That is the way to real mindfulness. Knowing the thinking process as well as the contents of the thoughts. These are the foundations of mindfulness in action, the only way to liberation —when actually practiced.
The practice of mindfulness includes awareness of the breath without judgment, awareness of the body without judgment, awareness of sensations in the body without judgment, awareness of thoughts without judgment, and awareness of the mind without judgment. Withholding judgment is an attempt to identify and refrain from, in the Western psychological sense, ego-splitting and self-persecution. Khema says
Another unskillful act is blaming ourselves for our mistakes, which makes matters twice as bad. With that comes fear and very often aggression. If we want to deal with ourselves in a balanced way, it also doesn’t help to pretend that the unpleasant part does not exist—the part consisting of our aggressive, irritable, sensual, conceited tendencies. Pretending takes us away from reality, and we split ourselves into two personalities. We have all come across people who are too sweet to be true, but only through pretense and suppression.
To identify judgmental tendencies and judgment itself during mindfulness can be met with the noting technique. Noting is also a way of meeting the resistance to the reality of how our fragmented minds undermine our higher aspirations. The practice of mindful meditation is said to lead to the meditator dwelling in the first of seven jhanas, or graduated states of higher meditative consciousnesses. Khema contends that
having reached the first jhana, he remains in it. And whatever sensations of lust that he previously had disappear. At that time there is present a true but subtle perception of delight and happiness. . . . The first thing we learn here is that lust disappears. . . . The word “lust” usually means “sexual desire,” which is our strongest sensual desire, and which, therefore, plays havoc with many people’s lives.
Mindfulness is a concept and practice embraced by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, given the secularization of the practice through Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work at the University of Massachusetts where he developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Khema’s mention of mindfulness is not the secular form where reducing stress is the objective. Mindfulness, in Buddhism, is an initial step toward the spiritual attainment of insight into the impermanence of all phenomena and no self:
When one sees constant change in everything, so that one can never really say, “I am this,” then a first breakthrough into depth perception happens. Which one am I? Am I the one sitting here who had a good meditation yesterday, or the one who had a lot of distractions today, or the one who’s angry, or the on who’s resisting, or the one who’s accepting and devoted? Which one?
Insight into the impermanence of one’s mind and body, and, therefore, the impermanence of one’s personality and self-illusions, is enlightenment. Ultimately, the skilled meditator will have insight into the impermanence of mindfulness itself:
The pleasant abiding, the pleasant feeling, which is first physical then also emotional—first it’s pleasure in the body, then it’s pleasure and happiness in the emotions, then it can become very, very peaceful—that too, has to vanish again. We must see its impermanence, and only then are we using this pleasant abiding for a purpose. If we don’t see the impermanence, we are using it only for our own comfort. What we are using for our own comfort is self-directed and not directed to losing self, which is the essence of the Buddha’s teachings.
Understanding the practice of mindfulness is another way to explain that the absence of self is not the absence of mind or body. The practice is to be aware, without judgment, of the mind and the body, including feelings, for this non-judgmental awareness leads to higher states of meditative consciousness. Khema notes, “Use the arising of feeling as another way to insight. Feeling is our basis for living.”
This teaching is not to be interpreted as there is no feeling because there is no self, but that feeling itself is not self:
Abandoning the wrong view of self does not follow from the simple intellectual understanding that there is no real self. It requires an inner view of this whole conglomeration of mind and body as nothing but mere phenomena without ownership. The first step is taken at stream-entry, when the right view of self arises, though all clinging to self-concepts is abandoned only at the arahant level.
Stream-entry is the process whereby a meditator successfully and permanently releases the first three fetters or hindrances to nirvana. These fetters or hindrances include wrong view of self, a belief in and clinging to the magic of rites and rituals, and skepticism about the Buddha’s teachings. Nirvana, in the Theravada tradition, is the end of suffering.
From Khema’s perspective, practicing mindfulness meditation has psychological and spiritual benefits if practiced wholeheartedly:
There is a discourse in which the Buddha talks about royal elephants who go into battle for their king. . . . Only when he goes forward into war with his whole body, immersed in the service to his king, can he be called a royal elephant. This is very often the obstacle in meditation. We withhold parts of ourselves. . . . When the mind is unified and one-pointed, so that worldly desires cannot arise, it is also unified in the sense of entering completely into the meditation subject. It is no longer an observer but becomes the experiencer and, finally, becomes one with the experience. When that happens, we have full concentration.
The transition from observer to becoming one with experience by being faithful to the teachings, committed to not allowing our identities and desires to be fragmented, not being beset by skepticism, and the permission to release the whole being, is another way of understanding the concept of no self through meditation. Khema states that there are many meditation techniques that should involve calm and insight. Mindfulness being one technique, another being Lovingkindness Meditation.
In Insight Meditation communities, Lovingkindness Meditation, also known as Metta (the Pali word translated into lovingkindness), is one of, if not the foundational sutta, next to the Satipattana Sutta. The Tibetan and Zen Buddhists’ foundational sutta is the Heart Sutra. The Nicheren Buddhists’ foundational sutra is the Lotus Sutra, and Insight Meditation’s foundational teachings are in mindfulness and lovingkindness. The Metta Sutta states in part
[One should reflect:]
May all be happy and secure;
May all beings be happy at heart.
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
Tall, large, medium, or short,
Tiny or big,
Seen or unseen,
Near or distant,
Born or to be born,
May they all be happy.
Let no one deceive another
Or despise anyone anywhere;
Let no one through anger or aversion
Wish for others to suffer…
And having overcome all greed for sensual pleasure
Will not be reborn again.
In reference to the Discourse on Lovingkindness, Khema wrote
One should have abilities and not have to depend upon others, but rely on oneself. Self-reliance brings self-confidence, and self-confidence brings a feeling of security. Only when we feel secure can we love. As long as we are dependent upon others, upon their help, assistance, and goodwill in order to stay alive and perform the most necessary daily tasks, we are full of fear that those others may leave us.
It is difficult to understand how Khema interprets the Metta Sutta as requiring fierce independence. The sutta states that one should not be greedy for supporters, for that would lend itself to feeding self-illusion or a grandiose personality, but it does not suggest one should not have supporters or be a support to others, to the contrary, the sutta states one should be mindful of what wise ones would critique. Khema’s writings would suggest that to be concerned about what others think means we are dependent on other’s views. It is difficult to imagine humans becoming civilized without valuing feedback from those we need for our survival in and contribution to human social situations. The Metta Sutta also states
As a mother would risk her own life
To protect her child, her only child,
So toward all beings should one
Cultivate a boundless heart.
With loving-kindness for the whole world should one
Cultivate a boundless heart,
Above, below, and all around
Without obstruction, without hate and without ill-will.
Perhaps the independence Khema speaks of is that engaging in the Metta practice does not depend on what others think, do, or feel. She says, “If we’re looking for outer conditions to bring us contentment, we’re looking in vain. We have to find inner conditions conducive to contentment. One of them is independence—not financial independence, which may bring other hazards, but emotional independence from the approval of others.”
Through this practice we can learn to love in a way that is not conditioned on our dependence on others. Khema believed that dependence on others for a variety of needs from minor acts of assistance to survival needs, leads to fear of being abandoned which leads to insecurity which leads to a lack of success in cultivating a boundless heart or the capacity to mother ourselves. Was Khema’s fear of being dependent on others based on her history of having fled Nazi Germany? Her seeking a divorce from her first husband? Her second husband leaving her? Was there any internalized misogyny given Khema’s understanding of the Buddha’s teaching on women as creepers and Khema’s adherence to the teachings? Khema talks about babies needing tender-loving care”
Have you heard the expression “TLC”—tender loving care? Babies cannot thrive without it, nor can we. We know that if babies and small children are deprived of tenderness and love, all the best food and medicine will not make them grow properly. Relationships don’t thrive without TLC. How could meditation flourish without it?
Khema believes we need to mother ourselves with tender-loving care, but that only arahants are completely lovable. Did she mean to suggest that babies are not worthy of Metta-mother love? She seems at times to devalue relationships, but says relationships do not thrive without “TLC.” She wrote uncritically that The Buddha named his little son “Rahula,” which means “the fetter,” an obstacle to spiritual attainment. She said that one of her greatest joys in life was raising her children. In her autobiography, I Give You My Life, she is pictured with her grandchildren. On the other hand, she had not spent one day alone with her daughter in twenty years.
Despite the difficulties Khema had with the concept of relationships and relationships themselves, she adheres to the Buddhist teachings even if there are conflicts. Khema said about the Metta Sutta, “If we want a realistic relationship with ourselves that is conducive to growth, then we then we need to become our own mother.” Becoming a mother to ourselves, according to the Metta Sutta, involves cultivating a boundless heart for every part of our being, all of the time, and in all situations.
From a Buddhist perspective, the way we cultivate a boundless heart that leads to the experience of selflessness is through Lovingkindness Meditation. The meditation can take a variety of forms, but typically in an Insight Meditation sangha or practice group, or Insight Meditation metta retreat, the leader will guide the meditators by asking them to silently repeat as they meditate: May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease. After dwelling silently with these desires, noticing what is happening in mind and body, practicing non-judgmental awareness or mindfulness, the leader will ask the meditators to identify someone they love and use that person’s name as they silently repeat these phrases and continue to meditate:
May __________ (name of loved one) be happy,
May __________ (name of loved one) be healthy,
May __________ (name of loved one) live with ease.
After dwelling silently with these desires, noticing what is happening in mind and body, practicing non-judgmental awareness or mindfulness, incrementally growing in the capacity to be loving, the leader will ask the meditators to identify someone they do not know well and use that person’s name as they silently repeat these phrases and continue to meditate:
May ____________ (name of person not known well) be happy,
May ____________ (name of person not known well) be healthy,
May ____________ (name of person not known well) live with ease.
After dwelling silently with these desires, noticing what is happening in mind and body, practicing non-judgmental awareness or mindfulness, incrementally growing in the capacity to be loving without that capacity being conditioned upon knowledge of others, the leader will ask the meditators to identify someone they do not like, someone they do not love, or someone they hate and use that person’s name as they silently repeat these phrases and continue to meditate:
May ___________ (name of person not liked/loved) be happy,
May ___________ (name of person not liked/loved) be healthy,
May ___________ (name of person not liked/loved) live with ease.
Lovingkindess Meditation might be practiced once a week during a sangha gathering, throughout the day at a multi-day Metta retreat, or whenever someone is practicing meditation or mindfulness of hatred. Ultimately, Khema believes in the power of lovingkindness:
When one gives service to others, it doesn’t matter whether one is helping them to wash their feet or helping them to meditate. There’s no difference. Love is service; service is love. Concentration is supported by the lovingness in one’s heart. One of the eleven benefits of lovingkindness is that the mind is quickly concentrated.
As relationships are complicated for Buddhists interested in the cessation of suffering and also in cultivating lovingkindness, self-preservation is complicated for Buddhists who do not believe in Self or self but want to live without clinging to life. If there is no Self or self, what is there to preserve? What can survive? Khema believes loving-kindness is a path to survival:
There are three grades, so to speak, of loving-kindness. The first one we might call goodwill. . . . We are dependent upon the goodwill of our neighbors. Because goodwill is an essential requirement for survival, all manage it most of the time. When it breaks down, we have chaos.
She also believes we cannot survive, stating, “Nobody can survive. To use one’s strength and direction just for survival is not a fruitful undertaking, and real energy will not arise. On the contrary, one feels bogged down and oppressed by it.” For our survival, Khema supports depending on others’ goodwill yet notes, “Love cannot be encased in a person. A person is nothing but a bag of bones with thirty-two parts in it surrounded by skin. . . . How can love be embedded in that?”
So where might Khema find love if it is not within a person?
Lovingkindness is a . . . skill. It’s not an inbred character fault or ability. It’s a skill to change oneself again and again until all impurities have been cleansed. It’s not because other people are so lovable. They’re not. If they were, they’d be roaming around in the god realms. They wouldn’t be down here. This is the fifth realm from the bottom in a cosmology of thirty-one realms.
It would be consistent with Khema’s cosmology that we are living in a hell realm and in need of support to survive it, at least spiritually. Her answer? Reduce the ego by loving without clinging, being emotionally independent, yet learning to live communally:
Speech, feelings, and body language shape how we relate to one another. One of the important aspects of communal living, is not to select someone special to relate to, but to relate to everyone. If we pick out one or two persons whom we interact with and feel we can handle, but forget about the rest of the community, that’s not sufficient for harmonious community living. A community includes everyone, and each member has the duty and privilege of learning to relate to all.
Yet, “trying to lean on others brings weakness, which is dangerous. Others are just as impermanent as we are.”
Khema’s solutions to survival are confusing. She does not believe we can survive, and also believes our survival is dependent on people’s goodwill which, if goodwill is akin to lovingkindness, cannot be found within a person, but can be cultivated as a skill by the person. According to Khema, “When we gain strength through sustained effort, we experience the inner joy of knowing that we have invested our wholehearted effort in the practice of becoming enlightened. Nothing compares to this in the world. Everything else we do is geared toward survival which is, of course, necessary but not fulfilling.” Did Khema engage in dualistic thinking by suggesting that one cannot be enlightened and engaged in surviving? In addition to being confusing, Khema, as an “assimilated” Jew who left Nazi Germany and the Japanese occupation of Shanghai due to her European-Jewish migrant status says, “If the mind remains centered, it cannot make up stories about the injustice of the world or one’s friends, or about one’s desires or sorrows.”
Was the injustice of Germany the result of one person’s uncentered mind? Was the occupation of Shanghai by the Japanese the result of an uncentered mind? Was the second-class treatment of nuns in the Theravada tradition the result of an uncentered mind and was her advocacy for nuns the result of her own uncentered mind? Can there be a response to injustice if there is no self and therefore no thing that can survive?
Why can we not have peace in the world? Because nobody wants to disarm. Not a single country is ready to sign a total disarmament pact. All of us bemoan this fact, but have we ever looked to see whether we have disarmed? When we have not done so, is it any wonder that nobody else has? Nobody wants to be the first one without weapons, out of fear that others might attack. Does it really matter? If there is nobody there, who can be conquered? How can there be a victory over nobody? Let those who fight win every war, all that matters is to have peace in one’s heart.
If someone were to consult Khema’s writings for advice on survival, it would behoove them to be clear what they are asking, and when. If they are asking about whether one should try to survive physically, they can expect Khema’s writings to support the acts of survival, understanding that survival is fruitless and unsatisfying. If they are asking about whether one should try to survive spiritually, Khema’s writings would suggest that spiritual survival is damaging spiritually because it requires attachment to one’s desires. If they asked Khema about survival as she was contemplating her body with cancer, or near death, she might have said, “When we realize that we’re nothing but energy particles coming together and falling apart, nothing but the five elements, then what is the “me” we are so zealously protecting?”
But what if someone looked to Khema on advice on how to survive mentally and emotionally? Khema was interested in people experiencing wholeness. For her, wholeness meant an expanded vision, peace and happiness, harmony and sacredness, completeness, truth, self-love, acceptance, and true identity:
When one grows one gets a more expanded vision. . . . With that kind of view, we see the whole instead of the particular. We can, if we’re up far enough in space, see the whole of this globe down below. . . . But when it grows, it can see suffering as universal and it no longer bothers with worries and fear because it knows future and past to be one existence. There’s only the moment.
Through meditation, our view expands. Through meditation, we become more harmonious. Harmony is togetherness with others but also togetherness within oneself.
Harmony, togetherness, wholeness, and holiness are synonymous for Khema. Khema had an understanding of the consequences of a fragmented ego in the Western sense of the word ego, as well as the tendencies in people toward self-hatred:
To get to the bottom of truth, we have to get to the bottom of ourselves, and this is not easy because we do not love ourselves. The reason we do not love ourselves and the reason we want to learn to love ourselves better is because we feel self-hatred, and we are caught in the world of duality.
Khema, aside from her adherence to the teachings in Theravada Buddhism, had some insight into what it is to possess a fractured ego. Where did this insight come from? From a Western Object Relations Theory point of view, one might presume that Khema’s earliest relationship with her mother was deeply unsatisfying. Khema talked about her father being her greatest supporter and how she felt all alone after he died. Her mother was still alive, remarried within months, and gave Khema no attention. She did not write about being reunited with her mother in Shanghai after having lived without her parents in Scotland. She said she left her daughter with her ex-husband, in part, because her mother was also there, but said nothing about what she thought about her mother as a mother or grandmother. Wholeness is something in which Khema was interested. She notes, “When we have warmth and security in the heart, our meditation benefits and our life takes on a different texture. It feels as if we were living a fractured life before, and now we are healed and whole. The holy life means becoming whole, of one piece.” Further, meditation is a path to wholeness, as is ego- and self-dissolution. “Once we start explaining and rationalizing, acceptance is impossible. We must not think that we need to add something to ourselves in order to become complete. We have to discard all our identifications. Then we become a whole person.”
Khema, as a Nazi-era Jewish refugee twice oppressed as a refugee in Germany and China, having lost most of her family in Nazi camps, having seen a man blown apart by a bomb while she was living in a camp, knew about the necessity of self-preservation and survival. Though her situation was not that of African Americans, she knew about the precariousness of life from her cultural context. Yet, through her life as a Theravada Buddhist nun, she espoused a belief in releasing the need for self-preservation, even survival itself when she initially opted to forgo all treatment for breast cancer. Is the renunciation of self-preservation and survival itself what African American Buddhist lesbians are learning to do? Khema became an accidental feminist after she joined a spiritual order of nuns that were treated as second class citizens before she joined them.
If womanism is to feminism like purple is to lavender, according to Alice Walker’s 1983 definition, then Khema’s particular shade of feminism is not completely separate from womanism, and her observations not completely separate from Lorde’s observations about patriarchy. She had many students who loved her, but was seemingly distant from her mother and her daughter. She taught compassion for self and others, but also had a concept of self and others that bordered on misanthropy. The title of Khema’s autobiography is I Give You My Life, but she hardly reveals any feelings about the disappointments and challenges in her life.
Khema was critical of those who did not practice the path of liberation, but she did not criticize Buddhism. Most of all, she had seen the devastation of war and discrimination, but said it was the result of an uncentered mind, making the need to survive futile because there is no thing to survive. Are African American Buddhist lesbians in the Insight Meditation tradition taught to believe that discrimination on the basis of gender, race, sexuality, and other bases is the result of an uncentered mind? If so, what impact does that belief have on their relationships with other African American people who do not share that belief? Khema was devoted to teaching Buddhism from the Theravada point of view, and expressed an indifference or appreciation for other religious viewpoints without making an effort in her writings to reconcile different beliefs, even her own conflicting beliefs. Khema’s beliefs in wholeness come from a place other than Buddhism, but being an enigma, we may never know from her writings, the source of her deepest wisdom about being whole.
Khema, who grew up identifying as a cultural Jew in Nazi Germany, experienced discrimination and oppression and thus inherited a narrative of oppression. Though her oppression narrative was not the same narrative as AABLs, or as Lorde’s, her narrative was at least somewhat sensitive to ethnic oppression. Her search for a spirituality that resonated with her, also included various spiritual movements, including positive encounters with Hindu and Buddhist monks. Having landed in Theravada Buddhism, which espouses no self teachings as well as metta, or lovingkindness teachings that include self-love, AABLs have also been handed these conflicting teachings. The trope of spelling signifies, in this case, a process of self-actualization, but what if one is taught that what has been spelled cannot really be named? What psychological impact have these conflicting teachings had on AABLs? In order to understand the impact, this study utilizes Object Relations Theory from Fairbairn’s point of view, specifically as it relates to libidinal and anti-libidinal impulses.
Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa. The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga. Translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli. Nieuwerkerk aan denIJssel, NL: Theravada Tipitaka Press, 2010.
Fronsdal, Gil, trans. “The Metta Sutta.” In The Issue at Hand: Essays on Buddhist Mindfulness Practice. Redwood City, CA: Insight Meditation Center, 2001.
Khema, Ayya. Be an Island: The Buddhist Practice of Inner Peace. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1999.
———. Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1987.
———. I Give You My Life: The Autobiography of a Western Buddhist Nun. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1998.
———. Who is My Self: A Guide to Buddhist Meditation. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1997.
Nanamoli, Bhikkhu, and Bhikkhu Bodhi. “The Satipattana Sutta.” In The Majjhima Nikaya: The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, 145-155. Edited by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1995.
Phillips, Layli, ed. The Womanist Reader. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006.
Walshe, Maurice, trans. The Digha Nikaya, The Long Discourses of the Buddha. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1987, 1995.
Yetunde, Pamela Ayo. (May, 2016). “A New Spelling of Our Names: An Exploration of the Psycho-Spiritual Experiences of African-American Buddhist Lesbians” ThD diss., Columbia Theological Seminary, 2016.
Pamela Ayo Yetunde, Th.D. is a pastoral counsellor, co-founder of Center of the Heart (www.centeroftheheart.org) and co-editor of Black and Buddhist: What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation and Freedom. She is also the author of other books and articles on Buddhism and is an associate editor at Lion's Roar.
 Khema, I Give You My Life, 7. Khema referred to her parents as “assimilated” to describe the fact that they were not religious, were German in every other way, and blended into German society as Germans.
 Khema, I Give You My Life, 13.
 China was the only country at that time that did not require Jews to have visas.
 The details about this decision are unclear.
 Khema, Who Is My Self, 21.
 It was not until the late 1990s that she learned that her father’s sister died in Auschwitz.
 Khema, Who Is My Self, 43.
 When Khema wrote her autobiography, she had located herself squarely within the Theravada Buddhist tradition. With that in mind, it is difficult to know whether her mention of “ego illusion” is what Ramana Maharishi thought it was, was what Sri Aurobindo thought it was, or what Theravada Buddhists say it is. Nevertheless, one can reason that Khema was very intrigued by the notion that something about the mind, or ego, was not real.
 Khema, Who Is My Self, 114.
 It is not clear from Khema’s writings why she did not become a Hindu.
 Khema, Who Is My Self, 127.
 Ibid., 136. It is not clear from Khema’s autobiography what happened to her son as she became more invested in living a Buddhist lifestyle, nor how her relationship with her daughter developed, having given her entire inheritance to the monastery.
 Khema, Who Is My Self, 192.
 In the Pali language, “ayya” means venerable lady and “khema” means the nun with the greatest wisdom.
 Khema, Who Is My Self, 179.
 Zoketsu Norman Fisher, “Khema Ayya,” in Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1987), vii.
Khema, Be an Island, ix.
 Khema, Who Is My Self, 180.
 The Pottahapada Sutta can be found in the The Digha Nikaya, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, translated by Maurice Walshe, published by Wisdom Publications, 1987, 1995.
 Khema, Who is Myself, 87.
 The word Self with a capital “S” denotes the concept of divine essence, soul, or union with Atman.
 Khema, Who is Myself, 87. The use of the lower case “s” in this use of the word “self” is confusing. Khema is referring to the Self, spelled with a capital “S”, the divine/spiritual essence Brahmin caste members claimed they had.
 Khema, Who is Myself, 139. The body exists in Buddhism. It is the object and the source of mindfulness.
 Khema, Being Nobody, 21.
 To Khema’s credit, as a thinker she was correct in asking readers to begin the process of differentiating between the various concepts of selves/Selves. But by keeping to the word “self” she did her readers a disservice by continuing to use one word to describe different phenomena.
 Khema Being Nobody, 89.
 The Pali term “dukkha” is often translated as “suffering.”
 Khema, Be an Island, 29.
 Khema Being Nobody, 115.
 Khema, Be an Island, 50.
 Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa, The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga, trans. Bhikkhu Nanamoli (Nieuwerkerk aan denIJssel, NL: Theravada Tipitaka Press, 2010). The Visuddhimagga was written between 400 and 500 CE.
 Khema, Being Nobody, 17.
 In Insight Meditation instructions, Dharma teachers, lay leaders, and meditation instructors tend to use the word “noting” rather than “labeling” because to label a thought may mean judging the thought and in mindfulness, meditators are instructed to refrain from judging and notice when judging takes place.
 Khema Being Nobody, 8.
 “The Satipattana Sutta,” in The Majjhima Nikaya: The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, eds. Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodi (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1995), 145.
 Khema, Be an Island, 52.
 Khema, Who is Myself, 43.
 Khema, Being Nobody, 112.
 Khema, Be an Island, 85.
 Khema, Who is Myself, 30.
 Gil Fronsdal, trans., “The Metta Sutta,” in The Issue at Hand: Essays on Buddhist Mindfulness Practice (Redwood City, CA: Insight Meditation Center, 2001), 145.
 Khema, Being Nobody, 89.
 Khema, Be an Island, 41.
 Before reading Khema’s autobiography, I had never heard a dharma talk or read a sutta saying that women were like creepers. Having done some additional research at www.accesstoinsight.org, to date I have not found this reference.
 Khema, Be an Island, 98.
 Khema, Be an Island, 54.
 Khema, Being Nobody, 113.
 Khema, Being Nobody, 29.
 Khema, Be an Island, 47.
 Khema, Be an Island, 29.
 Khema, Be an Island, 67.
 Khema, Being Nobody, 15.
 Khema, Who is Myself, 66. In the first three jhanas the observer can, to some extent, be standing apart from the experience. In the fourth this is not possible. The observer becomes so diminished that afterward we have the impression that no personal identity has been present. That is why the best description of the experience, the only possible one, is being submerged in stillness.” In actual fact, the observer has not really disappeared, for that happens only at what is called a “path-moment…To say that the observer has merged with the observer means that our self-assertion and ego support system have, for the duration of the meditation, been discarded; Ibid., 90. “When in the fifth jhana, we experience the infinity of space, all we really have to do to get into the next jhana is turn our attention from the spaciousness to the consciousness that has experienced it. Only infinite consciousness can experience infinite space. On emerging from the sixth jhana, when we ask ourselves “What have I learned from this?” we realize that there is no such thing as personal identity, only unity; Ibid., 93. “The fifth, sixth, and seventh jhanas are often known as the vipassana or insight jhanas…the fifth and sixth jhanas bring the major insight that, during meditation, the person we think we are is not available. Space is there, consciousness is there, but although there is an observer, there is no person to be found. That observer has expanded to the infinity of space and consciousness, for otherwise neither could be known.
 Khema, Be an Island, 79.
 Khema, Be an Island, 97.
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