Phra Khantipalo on almsround at Wat Buddha Dhamma about 1980

Ayya Khema's last retreat at the Wat, 1996


Dhamma Pioneers is a history of a pioneering Australian organisation, Wat Buddha Dhamma, founded in 1978 by Phra Khantipalo (Laurence Mills) and Ayya Khema (d.1997) as a place for westerners to learn and live Buddhist doctrine and practice.

Located in the Dharug wilderness north of Sydney, the Wat combined a forest monastery, an alternative spiritual community and a meditation centre in a unique cultural experiment adapting Buddhism to western culture. 

Told largely through the voices of those participating at the time, Dhamma Pioneers documents the changes undergone by the Wat over three decades as supporters tried to sustain the original ideal. A growing conflict of religious and secular values eventually led to the handover of the property to monks in the Thai forest monastery tradition.

Dhamma Pioneers was researched and written by John McIntyre and Constance Ellwood. The publication of the history coincided with the passing away of Laurence Khantipalo Mills in July 2021. Read the moving obituary by Lama Choedak Rinpoche remembering his lifelong friend.

The Wat history project has generated a series of essays exploring key aspects of the Wat history. Download these resources here.

An essay: What Khantipalo taught

Khantipalo's 'Confessions of a Reluctant Theravadin'

An essay: Khantipalo and the crisis of authority

Women at the Wat: Sakyadhita International article

The photographic archive: a selection

Chapter by chapter synopsis

        Email the author  jamc46 at


      Good Khamma Weekend about 1994