Phra Khantipalo and Ayya Khema, 1988

 =  Dhamma Pioneers  =
A History of Wat Buddha Dhamma

The rapid spread of Buddhism in western societies has been a remarkable global phenomenon, one that is now being understood through the stories of early and influential Buddhist organisations.

Dhamma Pioneers is a history of one such pioneering Australian organisation. Wat Buddha Dhamma was founded in 1978 by two outstanding teachers, Phra Khantipalo (Laurence Mills, 1932-2021) and Ayya Khema (1923-1997) who envisaged 'a place for westerners' to learn Buddhist doctrine and practice.

Located in the Dharug wilderness north of Sydney, 'The Wat' was a cultural experiment that combined monastic tradition, an alternative spiritual community and a course-giving meditation centre, all held together by the mutual support of its teachers and their lay followers. 

Told largely through the voices of those participating at the time, Dhamma Pioneers documents the changes undergone by the Wat over three decades including attempts to keep the original ideal afloat by restructure of the organisation. The book highlights the increasing polarisation of religious and secular values that eventually saw a handover of the property to monks in the Thai forest monastery tradition.

Five years in the making, Dhamma Pioneers was researched and written by John McIntyre and Constance Ellwood. The independent publication of the history followed soon after the announcement of the passing away of Laurence Khantipalo Mills in the first week of July 2021 and an outpouring of appreciation for his Dhamma life from across the Buddhist world. Lama Choedak Rinpoche has written a moving obituary for his lifelong friend. It is fitting that Dhamma Pioneers is dedicated to the memory of Laurence Khantipalo and Ayya Khema.

The Wat history project has generated a research archive and a series of essays that explore some key issues raised by the history. These may be downloaded here. The materials are copyright.

A detailed chapter by chapter synopsis

Khantipalo's 'Confessions of a Reluctant Theravadin'

An essay: What Khantipalo taught

An essay: Khantipalo and the crisis of authority

The photographic archive: a selection

Wat supporters holding original material may like to contribute to the research archive, which currently lacks records of meetings, memberships and correspondence. The photographic record  of the last ten years (1998 - 2008) is very scant. There are a few complete holdings of the 30 years of the Bodhi Leaf newsletter including one held in the National Library of Australia. Thanks to GW for his recent donation to the archive of issues from 1984 - 2008.

Please contact the researchers

John McIntyre: jamc46 at
Constance Ellwood: konstanza at

The grand sala and Zen garden, 2018

Ilse Ledermann course about 1979, old sala

Khantipalo, Ilse Ledermann and others 1979

Children of the Wat about 1981

Good Khamma Weekend, with Tan Santititho

The lay community about 1985

Ayya Khema's last retreat at the Wat, 1996

Raising the new sala about 1988

Kitchen view about 2005  
Photo: Rena Czaplinska