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 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.
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.
The spiritual path may be exceedingly long and demands nothing less than the most supreme culminating effort. But our patience and faith are radical. In every moment of pure attention, insight into impermanence and awareness of Truth shatter our delusion. Though monstrous dangers and fears assail us, we sever the shackles of worldly views and attachments with the sword of wisdom – courageous to the last frontier of illumination, Nibbana itself.
Remember compassion like the Buddha’s. Remember courage like the Buddha’s – a mind strong, centered, wise and welcoming; spacious, supple and open. We look within and wake up to that seed of awakening. Standing for truth instead of delusion and weakness, even if what we have is not enough – we make it enough. Even from a tiny seed of awakening, plant it in the soil of contentment. Watch it grow into a tall, magnificent refuge in Truth that is not conceptual but is realized intuitively. You are here in the moment like never before.
Joy comes softly. First, we plow through the labyrinth of our emotional compost. We know anguish, selfishness, and all their truant cousins. Then we learn skillful ways to let go. Dying to the ‘self’, the heart is purified. Even despair and the darkest energies vanish in the presence of a happiness that is beyond ownership. There is no ‘one’ to hold on, die, or awaken, but the heart is compassionate, free, and at peace with all things.
Walk away from the tigers that have made us run all our lives. Grow, instead, that beautiful space of selfless love deep within. Growth means breaking out of the shell. It hurts. But this is our journey. Trust that it will ripen into greater and greater insight. And in that unfolding, discover when things fall apart, true wisdom arises from the ashes.
Can we resolutely walk the moral high road and discover Dhamma treasures in the fertile ground of the heart? Good-will or heroic metta, will serve as our anti-inflammatory, quelling the fires of greed, anger, fear, and blame along with every other uncharitable mind state. ‘Shaving’ the heart with kindness and compassion, we ascend the mountain until there is no more mountain and no ‘one’ to climb it.
Generosity and virtue are at the heart of waking up. We give nothing less than our full devotion to the practice, day by day, training in present moment awareness and purifying ourselves. Secluded from dangerous mental states, we endure patiently, courageously. As the wisdom of the ancients dawns within us, we are blessed by that sacred gift of the Path – a noble mind.