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.
In the face of horrific suffering, how can we abide in the ground of love, protected from every kind of pain? True path effort – inspired courage leaning on virtue – ardently works its way into the heart. Through the power of forgiveness, patient enough to love without blame, we touch the fount of compassion itself. We invite the miraculous.
The greatest exploration we can make is turning inward to the space of the heart. Our mission is to understand why we are here on this earth. We may think we know but we can only really know when we enter the sanctuary of this inner space and turn the world off. Then we will surely find the pearl of truth we long for - a universal truth not contrived nor concocted by our ignorant mind – and it gives us a peace and happiness that is unshakeable, incorruptible, and unconditional.
Compassion is our worthy compass. Radiating compassionate empathy towards our own suffering and the suffering of the world, the mind is tranquil, protected from danger, and at peace. We have courage enough to evict fear and take our proper seat in the pure presence of the heart.
One who practices true compassion inwardly as well as to others is praised as a superior person, a spiritual warrior on the path of harmlessness. How do we emulate that? Guided by right intention, we abandon the hindrances of the mind and patiently whittle away our ingrained habit of ego construction. We learn to see wisely and to forgive conditions as we journey to transcendence.
Compassion is a strength, a generosity, a joy, a guardian of the mind, a rescue from fear and all forms of suffering, and a fountain of peace. It brings untold benefit both for one who gives it and for one who receives it. Compassion enhances the sublime abidings and the factors of awakening, thus serving, in and of itself, as a dynamic vehicle for the heart’s liberation.
The Dhamma summons us to let virtue be purified so that we can hasten to higher ground. What will give us peace in our suffering moments? What will calm the mind in all of life’s struggles? No one is immune. But having known a glimpse of pure presence, the heart follows that true way home, to the ending of pain, to the unexcelled bliss of its freedom.
Are we able to dedicate our goodness and our practice for the welfare of others? COVID teaches us that if we are not healthy, others are affected, and if the world is not well, then we will also suffer – because we are all connected. We are wise to seek the inexhaustible well-spring of peace in our hearts – to be uplifted and to freely share that. Far beyond physical health, we can find that peace within our reach if we care for the mind. That will be our spiritual recovery
Develop health of the mind. Many who face dire illness and many at the cusp of death overcome their fear or face death fearlessly. How is that possible? Caring for the mind can bring it to peace whereas the health of the body will never free the heart from the pain of losing what is most precious to us.
Patience, humility, and compassion serve as the mind’s compass to enlightened wisdom and unconditional love. Breath by breath, we triumph over hateful feelings until the pain of others becomes unbearable to us. It’s an exalted work of heroic proportions, accomplished through undaunted perseverance, forgiveness, and trust, revealing the jewel within our own heart.
Dhamma is like mother, father, guardian, the Truth that we can rest in. So rest in the purity of one moment. Offering to listen, what is the message we receive? In the silence of the mind, what do we hear? If there is no silence we listen more intently and dive more deeply. Where there is no past, no future, nothing to run away from, nothing to run towards, we stop to truly listen. And we see. This is pure presence - the gift of our attention. With the compass of the mind, open to the Dhamma. No where do we find any solid essence to call a self, a me, a mine. This is the most sacred knowing.