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.
We all experience the five hindrances in our practice - greed, ill will, anxiety, dullness, and doubt. Applying continuous and vigilant attention to identify these obstacles as they arise, remove them in their tracks. Follow up with astute mindfulness to prevent them from assaulting the mind again and again. Such incremental steps have a cumulative effect of greater peace and mental purity as we learn to trust the practice and give ourselves to it fully.
This unique journey takes us through a spiritual MRI of mindful, radical investigation. Scanning the mind, we see our entrenched mental habits and the root causes of our suffering; and we develop the courage to forgive, to be patient, discerning, and compassionate. Resilient at heart, both inwardly and in the world, we persevere sure-footed on the path to freedom.
If we can deal with the craziness of the mind, we can help to decrease the craziness and violence of the world. But we have to be so patient and keep faith with the process of of cleaning up our own violence. Even when the mind is hot, there will be some good will that we can touch - if we lean towards that which is kind and gentle - harmless - this can lead us towards fearlessness and acceptance.
A short reflection on forgiveness - what we can do when we just can't forgive. How do we deal with difficult past relationships when forgiveness seems impossible? Examining our expectations in relationship and our capacity to forgive when others have let us down - without judgment of anyone including ourselves - we start to open into compassion. Let's give ourselves and others a second chance.
First talk given inside the new Sati Saraniya Temple building. Within us we have a sacred space that we need to reclaim - the very space inside the heart. Here the Four Noble Truths come to life. Know our suffering, not blaming anyone or any conditions for it, see its origin within us, and right here, resolve it, uproot it. Here then, we realize suffering's end, time and again. And so in clearing the heart, we clear the Path.
We can bear witness to each others’ suffering by recognizing genuine spiritual friends or kalyānamitta who share our values and our desire for awakening. Spiritual friends can help us identify our individual pitfalls and support our letting go of these obstacles. It is a joy to share the Dhamma together.
The Sārāņīya dhammas are conciliatory qualities of harmony, friendship, and good will in community. Sārāņīya can also mean remembering our true refuge, shelter, and protection. We gain peace and happiness in life especially when we face difficulties in relationships with ‘sārāņīya’ qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.
How can we avoid the pitfalls that Mara sets for us on the path? Develop Sati (mindfulness) to act as a gatekeeper that can recognize the earliest signs of delusion, ill will, and greed. At the same time, cultivate paññā, wisdom and sharp discernment to protect against unskillful speech, conduct, and intention or thought. These foundational practices will be both refuge and rescue from the snares of Mara!
When we remember to empty out all the distraction, all the movement, all the roughness of life, nameless, formless, without identity - we touch the shore of truth as waves touch the shores of the ocean, reaching our true home in the fullness of this moment exactly as it is.