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.
The Buddha answers a deva who wanted to know how to cross the flood of sensuality, the flood of existence, and all its dangers. Walk the Middle Way, he taught, not stopping and not over-struggling with obstacles. Use the seven enlightenment practices to train our minds so that we can make this dangerous and urgent crossing. No matter how long it takes, never give up.
Laying down weaponry, giving up hostility, we can abandon negativity and establish sanctuary within us. We hear the inspirational tale of how Ajahn Gunhah transformed his kidnappers in northern Thailand. Through his embodiment of mettā they became his disciples, just as the Buddha had done with his adversaries 2600 years ago. Such is the power of pure mettā - good will or loving kindness. It is our true protection from harm. We too can rescue ourselves by developing it with great inner vigilance, wisdom, compassion and courage.
To carry the teachings home means we are committed to treasuring virtuous conduct and speech as well as wholesome states of mind in daily life where conditions are not as perfect for practice. We empty ourselves of self-centerdness to embody more and more the realization of anatta, the Truth that there is no one, no solid being to prop us - what a freedom.
To vow for life not to compromise our faith, our virtue, our goodness even in a moment of terror. We need not retaliate, we can be generous even in a hopeless-feeling-moment and offer non-harm, safety, a good word. So we grow stamina, generosity and equanimity if we remember to keep the practice alive within us. Keep good-will in the heart at all times.
See present moment experience in its most simple expression so as to notice the breakdown of all fearsome qualities. This seeing is insight which delivers us from the conceptual prison of beliefs into the freedom of direct intuitive understanding.
We are here, on the mountain, with a tremendous view. Let the breath speak to us. Stay and watch, even the suffering, investigate patiently like a parent, even if their child objects and runs away - patiently keep trying, be receptive, be available. Gently soften, mellow, give the mind back to the moment, trust, receive it and discover its hidden truths.
To free us from our relentless conceptualising and the suffering that comes of it, the Buddha has thrown us a lifeline. We can grab hold of it by continually using the perspective that “this is impermanent”, and, thereby, we can pull ourselves to safety. A breakfast reflection given at Sati Saraniya Hermitage in 2018.
All of us are capable of opening to this core within the heart which is coreless, and seeing the treasures therein. But because we are conditioned by worldly ways to own and to cling, this opening can be excruciating. How can we bear it? Our practice unfolds when we can see through the illusion of things, bow to the law of kamma, and take refuge in awakened wisdom. A breakfast reflection given at Sati Saraniya Hermitage in the fall of 2018.
Forgiveness is the greatest generosity we can give ourselves. We come to it by wisely seeing that the harm in the world, whether it originates within ourselves or others, comes from ignorance. So there is nothing to fear and nothing to forgive. We can surrender to the challenges of life which seem to overwhelm us by staying in the present moment awake and aware. And in this way we polish our hearts until they can reflect the Truth.