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.
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.
The Buddha taught about ten perfections or beautiful qualities of mind that are needed to help us cross the flood of samsara, the cycles of existence. The first five of these are generosity, virtue, energy, wisdom and renunciation. When embodied, these qualities help to lead us out of the prison of impermanence. Overcoming ignorance and responding to life with greater joy, we live compassionate and harmless.
The Buddha answers a deva who wants 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.