Venerable Sister Khema* is an American woman who decided one day to find out
what the Buddha actually did about suffering by surrendering to a total
immersion program of training through Buddhist teachings under the guidance
of a trained Buddhist monk. Training with a very respected teacher, she
began performing the same personal investigation that the Buddha did. She
also followed the advice of one Bangladeshi elder whom she consulted before
Having previously spent three years in Asia and having followed the
discipline of a Karate dojo when she was younger, the request of staying
with one teacher to learn a skill was not something odd. “The elder took the
time to tell me keep going in the same way as practicing karate, to not to
stop until I got the skill own right.”
Having previously owned an employment agency business for 14 years, she knew
what it meant to be determined. To succeed you cannot jump around here and
there tasting this or that. You must remain in one spot doing one thing to
master it. Also, there had been three children to test her persistence over
The year 2011 marks 11 years of study with the same teacher to investigate
and discover what the Buddha actually did, how he did it, what his teachings
actually were, and whether his instructions could still be deciphered and
practiced in the same way today. Is this practice still relevant and can it
make any difference in this fast paced technological world of today? That
is the question.
Having given all her worldly good away, September 7, 2006 marked the date of
her totally leaving society for her first level novice ordination and a
commitment to 10 precepts. It is her fondest hope to find, along the way,
other women who would also dare to take on this search and experiment in a
supported deep forest environment under the tutelage of an American monk to
help bring into being an American Buddhist Forest Nuns Tradition at Dhamma
Sukha Meditation Center in Missouri- USA.
Her September 7, 2006 ordination was a a kind of hallmark for American
Buddhism because it was the first such ordination in America where an
American woman took Samaneri vows through a ceremony officiated over by an
American Maha Thera Buddhist Monk who was willing to teach women equally as
any man their monastic training. Up until that time, if an American woman
wanted to do this they would have to go to a foreign monastery on American
soil, you would have had to appeal to a foreign monk for help.
This meant that now there is an American Monastery where women and men can
be trained equally within an ordination program for a new Buddhist American
This is especially good news for American monastics abroad too. It means
they can come homd now if they want to into the US to live in an Buddhist
center that speaks English, follows vinaya and offers them support on a
study campus with a library to continue their own sutta research study. This
is one of the goals of DSMC.
The verification of sutta information through personal investigation using
the practice described in the suttas [ now called Tranquil Wisdom Insight
Meditation or TWIM] continues today under the guidance of Most Venerable
Bhante Vimalaramsi Maha Thera. Bhante Vimalaramsi has been installed into
the position of the first US representation at the largest World Buddhist
Summit Conference in Asia which gradually adds to his credibility too. He
was the first monk ever to be dually nominated for that position.
Working fulltime both physically and mentally building a meditation and
study center where others can do this meditation experiment in in a
supported forest location is not an easy task. Life on the now 103 acres of
forestland while living on a steady set of precepts declared daily along
with other administrative duties for the center keeps Sister very busy.
Winters are either spent travelling the country doing various Dhamma talks
and retreats at Universities and various locations and raising money for
building the center or on site surviving in the winter cold, meditating, and
continuing to edit and write for Bhante Vimalaramsi. This whole adventure
is a rather interesting way to spend one’s fifties and now sixties and has
been like a concentrated Masters program in Buddhism with the primary
guiding professor on site and available for questions 24/7!
In her own words, the beginning was like this:
“It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I
didn't know I was ready but the universe did.”
“Along the way, many students and other people have asked me how I came to
be a Kappiya/assistant for Bhante Vimalaramsi ? What led me to make this
decision? How did it happen? A small part of the story is here below.
"I found Bhante Vimalaramsi as a teacher over 11 years ago in Washington, DC
quite by accident, or, maybe not. It was then that the journey began that is
still going strong today and it is suspected that it will continue until the
end of this existence. That year 2000 my Uncle in Virginia and another
friend advised me to try meditation. One friend noted to me that
astrologically 7 or more planets were aligned in a way that indicated a most
powerful time in my life was at hand. Astrology, by the way, was a subject I
never gave much credit to.
At the time, I had made a decision to attempt to go back to work after a
rather serious disability had occurred in my life. In general, life with
its twists and turns, seemed difficult and, though my humor was still
intact, I was not a smiling person as often as I had once been. There had
been a lot of pain in life for me then. Because of family circumstances,
even though disabled, the challenge arose to move from the mountains in
central Virginia to the City of Washington, DC (or the belly of the beast,
as some called it) .
“I had no desire to leave those beautiful mountains but a family need was at
hand. I felt an obligation to try to go back to work and so I left.
“It was while waiting to begin a new and challenging job, in a new city
atmosphere, with some stress, fear and trepidation, that my Uncle Joe
encouraged me to find a teacher and begin practicing meditation to help me
sleep and calm my nerves. Then a friend, who had once lived in the DC metro
area assured me that I could find a teacher there. So, while in temporary
quarters in Adam's Morgan, as I fell asleep one night just before my
birthday, I had a vivid dream. I watched myself take a bike ride and stop
and knock at the door of a Buddhist Temple to find a teacher of meditation!
“Now, Dreams do not occur often for me and this was particularly unexpected,
appearing vividly in color. Considering how clear this dream had been, the
next morning, after cancelling a morning appointment to see a small house
with a realtor, I went for a bike ride to find this teacher down 16th St.
This was known as the avenue of churches and people said it was similar to
what I described in the dream.
“As I looked at the structures along the way, I thought I was right in the
dream. I had to knock at more than one door, which was comical in its own
way, to find this teacher. The comedy in this is a subject for a full story
another time. I had to knock at several doors of various temples before
getting a good response.
“The important thing here is that I did find the teacher! Sometimes the
Universe provides exactly what we need when we need it if we just let it be,
and we are awake enough to see it. After several other tries, I was invited
into the Washington Buddhist Vihara by Venerable Dhammasiri who was the head
monk there. With a little smile on his face he informed me that this
teacher I sought was co-incidentally just arriving into the city that night!
“Returning to the temple the next night, I was expecting to see a little
tiny dark-haired monk from Asia walk in to talk with me. It was surely a
surprise when a tall, smiling, mild mannered monk of Scottish decent, who
obviously at one time in the past a redhead, began to share what he had
uncovered in the texts about Buddhist meditation. It was fascinating.
“Never had I expected to meet a teacher who would instruct me so directly
with such simple words from one of the oldest sources of Buddhism, the Pali
Suttas, which contain the closest thing to what the Buddha said. These texts
had preserved for us the original instructions the Buddha personally
followed and could still show us how he performed his own experiment which
led him to deep states of insight into the true nature of the workings of
mind and the way things actually are. The instructions were still there!
“ Bhante Vimalaramsi's gift is his ability to guide you with simple words to
find out for yourself what the Buddha did by repeating the experiment for
yourself. He persistently urges his students to confirm for ourselves
through direct observation what the Buddha taught. Upon completing a session
of meditation, one always comes away refreshed and wanting to learn more!
“The entire process invites further inspection and never ceases to hold the
attention of the meditator. It's always a question of what will I see next
and how can this be applied to daily life. This is eye-opening stuff! It’s
challenging! Its fun! It brings up a wholesome joy and happiness! You really
can’t help but smile.
“This practice has been such a wonderful gift in my life, changing my whole
perspective of the way things actually are. Oh yes! I did change my mind
about astrology! You see, the powerful thing which happened in my life was
not the new job but finding the Dhamma!”
Over the past 11 years the center keeps on developing:
After two years of meditation practice a huge light went off and loads of
reading and research soon followed. Other monks were introduced to me by
Bhante Vimalaramsi and many Dhamma discussions began to take place, even
with scholars. I began living in a 24 ft trailer fulltime on a remote
ridgetop in Missouri. After three years the Missouri project was
incorporated into a non-profit church organization and it got into full
swing when a 30 acre property. Today this has grown to 103 acres.
Known at that time as Khanit- Khema, I became the first Chair-person for
Corporation: United International Buddha Dhamma Society (UIBDS). As a
nonprofit church organization UIBDS performed strictly
religious/charitable/educational works for all people. It also worked on
international projects that would move toward a more peaceful society.
At Four years an internet website was begun. Land was cleared and better
roads were cut into the forest. Worldwide students began taking interest in
the Meditation practice. In the fifth year, at the center during Rains
Retreat that year, a program began for Dhamma English for foreign monks and
some other monastics came to the center for the Retreat. A test was given
about many of the aspects of the meditation practice and the teachings. The
teacher’s log cabin (kuti) was completed. A septic system was put in
(although there is no bath house yet to attach it to) and a new well was dug
with a pump and generator system so the water could be used. The old house
at the base camp was barely operating but provided all basic amenities until
other new buildings could one day be built.
Near the end of the rains retreat in that year the robes were taken on
fulltime as a kind of personal test. This was the second year keeping 8
precepts fully. Purple was determined to be the color for the forest nuns of
this order. Early in the sixth year, 2005, while still in California,
online retreats were created for the first time. They were successful and
many students then came to the center.
Dhamma talk transcript gathering began for a future book and online coaching
was offered to students who were far away. Transcriptionists began popping
up all over the country with offers of help for the online talks. At one
time there were 9 active people working on this. Bhante’s Anapanasati book
reached an estimated over 1,000,000 copies distributed worldwide with 6
language translations completed. There are now 12 language translations.
Attendance on the website tripled. Downloading of information quadrupled. A
third edition was on its way back to us from Taiwan compliments of the
Buddhist Association of the United States out of New York. A fourth edition
will go into stores by 2012 with for meditations included in it.
There are many other articles for printing that are available from Bhante
and Sister waiting for requests for publication. There is enough
information collected to make up 2 full calendar years of questions and
answers about meditation practice!
The study center continues a search for an trustworthy reliable
administrative/resident manager who can work with the Abbot to oversee the
running of the center.
We now seek other monastics and novices who want to be in the forest, and
also seek a support endowment while we continue on with this work.
A new an larger library is being dedicated by this fall 2011 for future
monastics to live, study and write here in the future. A full PTS English
Tipitika was donated and much of the Nikayas in Pali are here also along
with other valuable books for research.
A memorial pagoda for the late most Venerable U Silinanda is planned to be
built on the property in memory of Bhante’s Upachaya and teacher.
Local meditation classes began and sutta study continues on both at the
center and with a group in Cape Girardeau who share an interest in how the
human mind operates.
“ The Dhamma is the greatest gift anyone can find in this life. I cannot
imagine a better way to spend ones life than to help others to be able to
learn for themselves this amazing truth that the Buddha uncovered. This
wonderful understanding of Anatta through taking on an Impersonal
perspective in life, if circulated to enough people could change the shape
of the potential for real peace in the world today. In many ways it could be
a door to the transcendence of man into a more Peaceful co-existence if it
can reach enough people! But you have to walk through the door!”
“Not everyone would go for training quite like this, of course. Any degree
of understanding this teaching can change how you live your life and bring
more happiness into it. I know going into the woods like this may seem a
bit much sometimes. My daughter, Katie, once asked me about two years into
this, what I was doing. I told her I was learning about Buddhism. While
studying at the University, of course her reply was, “ Mom. You could have
gone to the Library!” I told her, “I did. But it wasn’t there.” <smiles> J
Email comments to Sister Khema email at
Donations for this ongoing Dhamma project can be sent directly to
Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center
8218 County Road 204
Annapolis, MO 63620
They can also be given to the center through PayPal at the main website
www.dhammasukha.org by connecting to Donations link.
this section was re-edited and affirmed on Feb 20, 2011
* Sister Khema is presently planning a teaching tour in Thailand, Insonesia,
and South Korea from June- August of 2011. She continues to reside and work
with the development of DSMC and all connected projects.
Her ordination occurred in a forest setting and can be seen at:
http://purple-pearls.org/2006_ordination.htm, part of
www.purple-pearls.org/index.html which is the nuns' site for Dhamma Sukha
Meditation Center. Her first Pali name given by her teacher was Khema which
meant Peace. The name “Khanti” meaning patience was later added. Many
learned of her writing first when she was Khanti-Khema. Upon her first
ordination she became ‘Sister Khema’, although she will still tell you that
she needs her patience [Khanti] in the forest !
Updated background history Vita for
Venerable Sister Khema at DSMC
Updated on February 20, 2011
Venerable Sister Khema
was American born in April of 1949, just outside of Philadelphia, PA
- USA in the small town of Erdenheim. Her parents were of German/Irish and
went to school in Plymouth Meeting, PA and was basically raised up around the
farming communities in Blue Bell, PA
Studied Music, Theatre Arts, Figure Skating, Sailing, Opera, and Music
Conducting in Philadelphia, PA; Boston, MA; and in Lynchburg, VA colleges. She
sang professionally for nearly 7 years.
In her twenties she spent 3 Yrs in Tainan, Taiwan
- taught English conversation,
studied Karate, and briefly visited Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. Later on
she also lived in USA in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virgina, Arizona, and spent
about 6 yrs in Washington, DC where her house turned out to be one block from a
Buddhist Temple. She was a natural seeker for the truth about life from an early
age and only accidentally avoided becoming a major in
After a debiliating car accident, for 14 years she owned and operated a
Personnel Placement Service company which placed over 5,000 people in positions
all across the USA.
Has 3 Grown children
Spent 4 ½ years in Mental Health legal advocacy work as a Citizen Consumer
Advocate defending others Human Rights.
3 years Public Speaking and served 3 years as president of the Amherst, VA
Chamber of Commerce
4 1/2 yrs. fulfilled the Music Director’s position for a large 600 family church
several deaths in the family over a short 10 months and some stress-based
illnesses, she sold her business and then upon the advice of her Uncle,
she began to search for a Meditation teacher while living in Washington, DC.
It seemed like a good idea to calm the mind at this time and to exercise and
strengthen the body.
at that time, under some interesting cicumstances, that she discovered that
Venerable “Bhante” Vimalaramsi was coincidentally arriving to the Washington
Buddhist Vihara. She made this discovery through the Most Ven. Dhammasiri who
was the Abbot at the Vihara at that time. While teaching some of the monks
English at the temple and during a Vesak Celebration, she met a Bengledshi Elder
in Rosslyn, VA on Vesak Day and upon talking with him about training, she agreed
about the benefits of submitting to the discipline and instruction of one
teacher for at least one year to see if what the Buddha had to offer was of
value or not.
followed over the course of the next 11 years has now led to a teaching tour in
2011 to Thailand, Indonesia, and South Korea. Isn’t life interesting.
- 11 ½ years of fulltime training with one guiding teacher in a near immersion
program studying Buddhism and Buddhist Meditation in an attempt to see what
precisely the Buddha did and whether it still worked.
That teacher was Most Venerable “ Bhante “ Vimalaramsi who came from Theravada
roots through the late most Venerable U Silihttp://purple-pearls.org/2006_ordination.htmnanda and who bécame the founding
father of the new Buddhist American Forest Tradition.
– Co-founded the United International Buddha Dhamma Society to support the work
of Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center.
Constructed the first Dhamma Sukha Website and began collecting Venerable
Vimalaramsi’s work in an organized manner.
Agreed to a commited Ordination training program and first spent two years in
White as 8 preceptor and given the Buddhist name of Khanti-Khema.
As the Chairman and acting Administrator for DSMC, broke ground of the current
Forest site in Missouri on 30 acres of forest land. Cleared land and built roads
and started cabins.
– Introduced first Online Retreats on the Internet, wrote the introduction for
the 3rd edition of the Anapanasati Book and editied more work for Venerable
Novice ordination to become Samaneri Sept 7, 2006 at DSMC officiated by
Most Venerable “Bhante” Vimalaramsi to become “Sister Khema’.
To reaffirm clearly US women’s involvement within Buddhist monastic programs in
the US, she accompanied Bhante Vimalaramsi as his secretary and attendant on his
Nominational Tour to Japan in Nov. 2006. This was for his requested position to
become the first lifetime US Representative to the World Buddhist Council (WBC)
meeting every two years in Kobe, Japan and then, in 2008 she accompanied
him as the Seretary for the US Representative to the 5th World Buddhist Summit,
for his inauguration and the opening Ceremonies for the World’s Grand Hall of
- Began teaching and support coaching online which was overseen and edited by
Bhante Vimalaramsi. After 2009, she did this on her own and maintains the
support list of over 500 students worldwide.
Began organizing the first attempt at a written manual for Tranquil
Wisdom Insight Meditation ( TWIM) online and on the
website. This was continued in 2010, rewritten and is being continued on now
Began more teaching of students at the center, and offered special
classes for a clearer understanding of the impersonal Process of Dependent
Origination so that it can be remembered and better help to alleviate
suffering in daily life.
– Reconstituted and began again to write the Foundation Series Meditation
Program online to help others lead groups or eventually teach the practice in
the future. The course is often followed by interested monastics around the
world who ask further questions and encourage continuation to fullfill the
– Gave outside talks teaching from the suttas in St. Louis,MO; Anaheim, CA;
Cape Girardeau, MO; and Ironton, MO.
Continuing with outside teaching, raising funds to build more buildings for
the study center; expanding writing work, sharing TWIM and teaching others how
to find relief from suffering and use this practice in everyday life.
endeavors will include the development of a Women’s area in the forest center
and expansión of the general campus for lay people. We will continue
teaching English to other monastics to help them present TWIM more easily in
English. FOreign monastics are coming to train during Rains Retreat and we will
also contiue to reach out to anyone who wants to understand why this Meditation
practice is working so well.
Research into the benefits of TWIM for the heart, stress management, and to
improve grades and work productivity as a result of being calmer and having
clear understanding of how things actually are is already happening. Two papers
have been presented in Norway at Scientific Forums by a student who is aYoung
medical students and more research in continuing to designate the effects on the
heart and brain.
essentially it for the first 10 years. So far, so good!
out about TWIM, learning the practice and using it has completely changed my
life. The most rewarding part of this has been seeing others reclaim their
smiles as they realize how this practice can relieve suffering, That the Buddha
Dhamma is real and still works well.
love to see people realice they can feel happy and reclaim the childlike
wonderment of their youth once they really understand how everything works.
the big OH WOW we see happening at the center again and again!
Metta and smiles in the Dhamma to you all who have supported this journey so
Venerable Sister [Khanti]-Khema—Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center,