Ayyā Medhānandī Bhikkhunī, is the founder and guiding teacher of Sati Sārāņīya Hermitage, a Canadian forest monastery for women in the Theravāda tradition.
The daughter of Eastern European refugees who emigrated to Montreal after World War II, she began a spiritual quest in childhood that led her to India, Burma, England, New Zealand, Malaysia, Taiwan, and finally, back to Canada.
In 1988, at the Yangon Mahasi retreat centre in Burma, Ayyā requested ordination as a bhikkhunī from her teacher, the Venerable Sayādaw U Pandita Mahāthera. This was not yet possible for Theravāda Buddhist women. Instead, Sayādaw granted her ordination as a 10 precept nun on condition that she take her vows for life. Thus began her monastic training in the Burmese tradition.
When the borders were closed to foreigners by a military coup, in 1990 Sayādaw blessed her to join the Ajahn Chah Thai Forest Saņgha at Amaravati, UK. After ten years in their siladhāra community, Ayyā felt called to more seclusion and solitude in New Zealand and SE Asia.
In 2007, having waited nearly 20 years, she received bhikkhunī ordination at Ling Quan Chan Monastery in Keelung, Taiwan and returned to her native Canada in 2008, on invitation from the Ottawa Buddhist Society and Toronto Theravāda Buddhist Community, to establish Sati Sārāņīya Hermitage.
We are braver than we know and can endure more than we realize if there is a readiness to renounce and be creative. Learn to refine, adapt, repeat teachings until they are embodied, and deeply listen to all that life offers. Reaching out to others according to our skills and strength, connect and offer guidance if it is welcome. Compassion born of growing wisdom will be our trustworthy compass.
Two overarching supports for gaining the fruits of the Path are mental purity and spiritual friendship. Consummate virtue and prize virtuous friends, the highest being the Blessed One himself. Emulate his conduct and mental practices in everyday life. Gradually transform mundane right view into transcendent right view and do the same for all eight limbs of the Path. And as they ripen, you will enter into the stream of transcendence.
Let us hone our expertise to witness the charade of gain and loss arising each moment. Seeing the eight worldly winds, impermanent, not giving in when the mind perches in 'self', purify wrong view, empty the basket, and begin here where we are, balanced, the Middle Way.
The contemplative path of purifying the mind is the most important journey of all - inward. Just as the little quail that tricked a hawk, we no longer fall prey to the 'maras' of the world, safe in our proper ancestral domain of virtue. Therein, the heart of generosity is further refined into qualities of joy, selflessness, compassion and wisdom, thus benefiting ourselves and all beings.
Wherever we go the mind does not remain happy - unless we fully awaken. How can we end the restless tides and remain inwardly stable, content within ourselves like the well-hewn wheel that stood still when it stopped rolling and did not fall down? Purifying our bodily acts, speech, and mind in the Buddha's gradual training, we go beyond the eight worldly winds, coming to cessation, to the Deathless.
We go forth into the quiet of the heart, distant from the world, to glimpse the Unconditioned. We are alone but we are as if with all beings. There is no 'one' who wakes up, there is just awakening. It is freeing and it's free - but it will cost us absolutely everything. We give up everything but there is nothing to give up. And we gain the understanding of the ancients.
Too busy in the world, all entangled, we yearn to be free. So direct the mind to Nibbana - like a tree that leans to the East. And when it falls, it will fall in that direction. We too will arrive if we aim well. Aim for the far goal but keep attention in the present where we are. Chop wood for a thousand days, but in a single moment, we see into the emptiness of it all. We burn everything and light the mind with the fire of wisdom.
Removing our harness to the world, we really detach and make the intention in the mind to stop. Having moved inwardly into this now moment, we pause and secure our internal connection to truth. This work requires our faith, vigilance, sustained attention, care and perseverance. We long for freedom and it will arise, releasing us to roam free in the vast space of the mind – empty and awake. A guided meditation and Dhamma talk.
In a dialogue between King Milinda and Venerable Nagasena, we hear the Buddha’s instruction on mental training and how to apply our allies of mindfulness, restraint and wisdom. Devoted to the training, we can overcome ignorance, take hold of the mind and cut off the defilements just as the barley reaper cuts his barley. Our mission is to lean towards Nibbāna, not believing the self-making stories, and gradually, patiently, wrestle free from ignorance, waking up right in the middle of any storm we may face.
During times of global pandemic, it’s easier to see how deeply connected we are in our vulnerability to disease. Meditating and touching the silent space of the heart, we see how deeply connected we are at all times – connected in dis-ease – in fear, in sorrow, in suffering; and also in our potential for joy. And we discover the well-spring of goodness within us from which that joy arises. A guided meditation and Dhamma reflections.