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 does it mean to be noble? As a daughter of the Buddha, I learn that no name can confer authority or self-respect, nor does opinion, tradition or entitlement bestow them, for as the Buddha wisely teaches, “One does not become a noble one by birth. It is by one's deeds that one attains to nobility.” Just so, the riches of our human journey are revealed in the fire of inner purification. Therein we find our true name. It is nothing less than the pure presence behind every name – the emptiness in which all personal identity dissolves. And where only unconditional love abides.
Contentment and generosity nurture a quality of metta that is kind through and through. We learn to respond to life like the good earth that is ever patient with and tolerant of our heedlessness. Whatever you throw on it – even if it’s harmful – the earth receives that. Generating such a depth of goodwill, we endure through hardships with contentment even if we’re struggling. And, with a generosity of harmlessness, we weave great compassion and benevolence to ourselves as well as to others. Such measureless kindness never dies. It is our true wealth and the bedrock of our path to liberation
Stay true to seeing with wisdom and be compassionate to yourself – then, gradually to all beings. Preserve, treasure, grow and rejoice in the moral fabric of your true nature and know its incomparable radiant light. But first, we must have complete trust in the Buddha as our guide. Then we set our compass to the heart's journey of transcendence on the Noble Eightfold Path. Reflecting on the benevolence of the Buddha's awakening, we walk in gratitude, courage, joy and empowerment.
Let us not serve the false, fierce tyranny of fear – withering, unworthy, not to be clung to, and not who we are. By emptying the mind of fearful thoughts, we stop clinging to anything of the world – one moment at a time. Tasting the joy of true freedom, we enter that dimension of transcendence, beyond the prison of grasping a self and all its adornments. For there is no 'one' to be afraid, no ‘one’ who dies, and no ‘one’ to awaken. But there is waking up as we let go into the peace of selfless awareness.
Across millenia, the Buddha speaks of his awakening – teaching us how to take refuge, how to be fearless, how to walk the Middle Way, how to understand suffering, and how to know what to trust. Fear is the opposite of trust. So be willing to relinquish concepts and questions and let yourself live into the answers day by day where fear can end – there in the pure sanctuary of the heart. For this, we learn to have compassion even for those who kill us. But we must give up what is not trustworthy. With courage, compassion, and clear awareness of what we face now, stay quietly present and listen carefully. The truth will speak, and we shall understand.
The core teachings of the Buddha offer us a ready escape from the hells of hatred and hostility. Though the heart is perturbed, we reach deeply into our core to connect to that aquifer of Dhamma within us, calming the mind again and again. This fiber of peace is more than an intention. It's energy sets in motion the wheel of Truth that stirs us to forgiveness, restores us to kindness, and compels in us a breadth of compassion for all beings and all conditions. At last, even in the face of vitriolic treatment, wisdom and peace shall prevail. We are in the shelter of the Sacred.
With selfless awareness, we practise good-will, radiating loving-kindness inwardly and to all beings, even to those who are indifferent or hostile, or to those who cause harm. This is the Buddha's instruction to us in the Metta Sutta. Can we unequivocally wish all beings freedom from harm? Can we forgive enough to convert thoughts of fear, anger or enmity into benevolence? It takes courage to enter a dark space without a light. So we try as much as we can because unconditional compassion and kindness in this world give peace, healing and reconciliation a chance.
The Buddha said it simply. The awakened mind is the best solution. The mind-heart needs happiness to be well and to extend that well-being to others. So we tune inward, listen, meditate and resolve the dis-ease. We teach ourselves to be resilient, joyful and discerning rather than feeding on delusion and misery. When the loss is too great or madness reigns everywhere, we pour benevolent ingredients into awareness itself, patiently practising this way. Then we radiate true compassion, true forgiveness and true peace in all directions.
Can we quieten the mind enough to hear that divine frequency of the heart’s innermost chamber? Into that stillness, we come, softly, humbly – to try – and we persevere, secluded from the noise of the world. As the fevers of wanting are purified, we devote our attention to the serene sound of silence, sublime and joyous. We are bathed as if by a holy baptism, eager to receive the gifts of the true Dhamma. So we practise, patient with our own work and patient with all the world.
We wish for perfect conditions in life. But true perfection only arises within the awakened mind. So we are like mendicants of the present moment – not able to control or know what lies ahead. Let us not lose heart. In truth, this Middle Way of awareness has great fruit and great benefit, and we can walk it – even in this digitally driven era. Being patient, brave, and staying true to the wisest course, we gain strength and skill at each step. It may feel like balancing on a tightrope of fire. But with unflagging resolve and care, we burn out delusion. And that will be the fire of our illumination.