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.
To vow for life: not to compromise our faith, our virtue, or our goodness - even in a moment of terror - is a powerful spiritual ally. Not cowering nor retaliating even in a hopeless-feeling-moment, we learn to stay present with compassion and kindness. As long as we remember to keep the practice alive within, we will have the stamina to grow in generosity, equanimity, and wisdom. So, at all times, make good-will the mantra of your heart.
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.
We sit at the edge of the heart peering in, tangled by clinging, inflated and inflamed by worldly ways. Yet we long to know the truth of what we are. For that we must explore the inner core. This is a letting go both magnificent and excruciating. So how can we bear it? Burn up all that you think you know to discover that which cannot be burned. It's a corelessness – the pure, unfathomable truth. Trust and see through to the emptiness of 'I' – there is no me and nothing to cling to. That knowledge and vision will set us free.
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.
Instead of holding onto what burns and pains us, uphold the truth of present moment awareness and know that freedom is in our hands. We free ourselves from unwholesome qualities. In the midst of fear, we bring up fearlessness; in the midst of resentment, we discover gratitude. We vanquish ignorance and we see wisely. Forgiveness arises in the face of what feels unbearable. This is the miracle of the practice.
How can we have compassion for others without falling apart? The Buddha's path of awakening teaches us how to disarm our internal armour, to be harmless. This will be for us a true basis for following precepts and thereby developing enough inner quiet to investigate ill-will. We begin to clearly see and understand our mind-states. This full presence enables compassion that is tireless and unconditional.
Sometimes we feel torn apart by life and unable to cope. Healing may be slow to come but our meditation practice can enhance that process. If we contemplate the fearsome winds of life in such a way that we deeply understand their impermanent nature, we will also understand that they are unsatisfactory and empty of any 'self'. That will be the dawning of the heart's true peace.