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.
Meticulous appreciative attention to the breath helps us tame the wildness of the mind using mindfulness to brake when we are careening off course. Just this is a blessing as we naturally discover a joyous presence with every moment of seeing the nature of this mind-body formation, it's impermanence, suffering, and emptiness. By polishing the mirror of the mind, we enter the light of Truth.
Can we not give vent to the wanting mind, not blame conditions nor allow discontentment to grow? Develop patience and persevere on the path. Know things as they are and accept them. Patience is the highest austerity. So change gears, and move away from old habits of mind by rubbing the dust out of your eyes. Weather difficult conditions. See the beginning of your suffering and end it in the ways of Dhamma. Plant good seeds.
Every Canadian knows Terry Fox, a teenage athlete who lost his leg to cancer, continued to train as a runner, and ran across Canada with one leg before he succumbed to his illness. His mission was to raise money for cancer research so others would not suffer. A legacy for our own journey - spiritual heroism, undaunted effort, magnanimous vision, valiant heart. The training begins now - for as along as it takes.
The fearlessness and patience of Malini Weerasooriya is a worthy example to all of us how we can train our minds. When we live driven by ill-will, greed or confusion, we live in a wilderness of the mind. When we hold together in spiritual community, we blaze a trail through that wilderness, establishing trust and persevering. Mindfulness and wisdom lead faith to bear good fruit and guide us as we purify ourselves. We are willing to make sacrifices and even to suffer for the treasures of the Path.
A reflection on the Upaddha Sutta (Half of the Holy Life) about the importance of good friends, companions, and comrades on the Eightfold Noble Path. Good friends encourage and share in developing seclusion of mind, dispassion towards the sense pleasures of the world, and, ultimately, the cessation of suffering that leads to a lasting freedom and peace.
The Buddha has provided us with a map called the Eightfold Noble Path that can lead us to the gate of the Deathless. With diligence, we can discover an unshakeable peace and directly experience the beauty that lies within us.
How can we care for ourselves and each other, using our formal meditation practice as a template for daily living? As we sit for meditation, mark an intuitive pathway through painful, burdensome mind states, teaching the mind to purify itself with every breath. Gradually, we overcome our sufferings. We glimpse the peace, happiness, clarity and freedom of heart that are within our reach.
Ayya Medhanandi offers a historical perspective on the bhikkhuni tradition as well as insights on how to live with compassion in the world. She describes how the monastic communal experience provides abundant opportunities for the exploration of personal and collective aspirations to fulfill the goals of the Eightfold Noble Path and end suffering.