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.
To celebrate the Buddha’s life is to be his disciple in enlightenment. Every day becomes a day of Vesak when we emulate the Buddha’s virtues and follow his gradual training in Dhamma-Vinaya and spiritual warriorship. We vow to purify the mind, realize the vision of Dhamma, and practice perfect compassion for all living beings. At last we find the teacher present within us.
This path takes us to our true home through cultivating sanctity, and understanding the value of death: the death of greed, hatred and delusion. When we see all things as impermanent, death gives definition to our life. It delimits our experience. That’s how we learn how to love – because if things were permanent, we wouldn’t know the meaning of love. We would not know how to love. And that would be a terrible loss – not to know, not to learn, how to love.
When we’re out of balance, it's due to the worldly winds. Even if you call them Dhamma winds, they end up being worldly - as soon as we grasp them, we’re back in samsara and we’re circling. The ending of circling always begins within us. It doesn’t end out there. Even if the balance of Dhamma out there is perfect, that moment of perfection is impermanent. Once we truly see what we could not see before, balance is restored.
When we take refuge and commit to ethical precepts, we deepen the purification of virtue within us. This creates the basis for our happiness. We take refuge in enlightened wisdom, and in our ability to awaken. We have faith that we can realize that Truth by ourselves – in this life, and that this is a timeless teaching, worthy of our effort, worthy of our attention, worthy of our faith, and worthy of our refuge.
We may speak of or feel that we know about death but until we truly contemplate, approach and move into death, what do we know? This is a tale about looking into the eye of a tortoise shell butterfly while it lay dying on the shrine. Straining as it reached up towards us waving its frail antennae when it heard our chanting, we felt at one even with this tiniest of creatures - who also wanted only to be loved.
Practice deepens when we are present here and now, able to apply intuitive understanding rather than concepts to our experience. So contemplate contemplation. Know the mind directly, not through thought. Similarly, mindfulness is not to be forced or refined by willpower but with humility - offering our full attention and devotion to intuitive seeing and understanding what is before us in terms of the 3 characteristics.
Respect means to stop enough to see truly – not to be ruled any longer by objects and experiences, not to be locked in by our greed, ill will, deluded ideas or ignorance. Turn the field of kilesas into pure earth – an untarnished unblemished field of wisdom, a paññā bhumi instead of a kilesa bhumi – with proactive frequent contemplation. Learn what it means to abide in the purity of the mind, undisturbed, able to receive all signals from the sense world with equanimity.
Intuitive knowing is the lens that connects us to the heart through our meditation. Leave the world behind and tap into that energy to enter the realm of pure receptivity, not known through the senses but fully known in complete Awareness that is a safe and liberating refuge. It leads us inward, beyond all wanting, to the ending of suffering, to an emptiness that surpasses all experience, all knowledge.
Human beings have that special ability to deeply see and fathom things as they truly are. But we are so impatient. We resist letting go. Clinging, we harm unknowingly and stray from truth, gaining no peace. How can we recover and free ourselves from fear, anger, and mental distress? Purify the mind and directly know the larger truth of impermanence. See blessings where there was darkness. And in the heart’s core, touch the Unconditioned.
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.