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.
What are the prerequisites and supports for walking such a path of awakening? Kindness and a loving forgiveness rank with those qualities that are foremost. They allow us to repair the seemingly unforgivable, to heal what we could not see or wish to see, to dwell in the real not in our concepts, and so to ascend with the strength gained from that groundwork. Try forgiveness first. Recovery opens the way home to healing, to Truth.
The Buddha told Mahanama not to be afraid of the muddled mind, just to keep developing the qualities which incline the mind to Nibbana. This Dhamma is for one who is content. A mind unburdened can pacify itself and be calmed. A mind fortified by faith, virtue – in particular, the virtues dear to the noble ones – learning, generosity and wisdom, will go to distinction. But for mental peace we have to consider how to seclude the mind and what we are giving our consent to in daily life.
The path is a gradual one. Don’t go to the depths immediately. First develop the strength. Going slowly but deeply. Forgiveness, supported by patience endurance, acknowledging and seeing the breakage and repairing it regularly, repairing what has been broken or harmed, and freeing ourselves from the prison of our anger. How can we creatively counter the current of our addictions instead of gratifying it. If we do, we tap into the joy of the heart.
We are ascending a mystical ladder which must be done so carefully and gradually. For a spiritual warrior, the path of practice is a gradual one. We are in a cloud of unknowing but patiently the cloud is emptied and we begin to see everything as impermanent. We know what is the path and what is not. This clarity will be for us a refuge. It is a natural unfolding through purification.
The insight into not-self requires a deeper seeing and understanding of reality. Virtue is our saving grace. It gives us the energy for enlightenment which we transform into right effort. Thus we are guided through the wilderness of the world to develop and sustain the heart like an ocean of peace. Patience works with Restraint, Renunciation and Resolve, and with a host of other wholesome qualities to take us beyond the cycle of harm; but we must also keep practising kindness and forgiveness.
When you know what is killing you then you will know what will save you. Right effort protects us and offers safety and seclusion. We find saving grace within if we can navigate through the wilderness of the mind assisted by a host of special qualities. It’s like being at sea. Through the thorns, barnacles and buoys on the Middle Way, learn and understand how to let go – be free. Nothing remains hidden to a true seeker.
The quality of energy manifest as courage, commitment and compassion is the way forward. We have to be brave – like a lion. Brave warriors face the powerful maras, monsters of the mind, to overcome them. They train the mind to gain its freedom by developing heroic energy and superpower wisdom. These qualities are further ennobled with forgiveness and association with true spiritual friends.
Call suffering by its true name and the face of the Dhamma will emerge from within us. We meet the truth of impermanence, of death, and the universality of pain as we carve out the understanding of who we are and why we are here. Nourish the mind with virtue and shine the light to our true home, to insights that repair what has been broken and free us from fear, anxiety, and the many sufferings we have endured.
Contemplating the 4 elements, the 32 parts of the living body, and the remains of the body in a charnel ground, we gain a deeper understanding of impermanence and the intrinsic impersonal and empty nature of the body. Seeing it for what it truly is can free us from fear of death. We study it and gradually unveil the true gift of death as a portal to our liberation.
Clearly see the danger of the hindrances in the mind and stop killing goodness. The story of Angulimala's life reveals the power of moral rehabilitation to end our harmful ways and urgently revert to the path of goodness, wholeness and purification. There’s no one to blame for our suffering. Instead, as spiritual warriors, we reset our moral compass, cross the floods of existence, and live blamelessly.