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.
How can we blaze a trail through the wilderness of ill-will, greed, and delusion in this world? How can we be fearless and at peace even when facing grievous loss, illness, or death? Spiritual friendship and these treasured teachings guide us to trust, persevere, and live wisely. Transcending all the imperfections of this realm, we prepare to know the fullness of our humanity.
A reflection on the Upaddha Sutta (Half of the Holy Life) about the importance of good friends, companions, and comrades on the Eightfold Noble Path. Good friends encourage and share in developing seclusion of mind, dispassion towards the sense pleasures of the world, and, ultimately, the cessation of suffering that leads to a lasting freedom and peace.
The Buddha has provided us with a map called the Eightfold Noble Path that can lead us to the gate of the Deathless. With diligence, we can discover an unshakeable peace and directly experience the beauty that lies within us.
How can we care for ourselves and each other, using our formal meditation practice as a template for daily living? As we sit for meditation, mark an intuitive pathway through painful, burdensome mind states, teaching the mind to purify itself with every breath. Gradually, we overcome our sufferings. We glimpse the peace, happiness, clarity and freedom of heart that are within our reach.
Ayya Medhanandi offers a historical perspective on the bhikkhuni tradition as well as insights on how to live with compassion in the world. She describes how the monastic communal experience provides abundant opportunities for the exploration of personal and collective aspirations to fulfill the goals of the Eightfold Noble Path and end suffering.
Listen deeply to the resonance within where virtue sows fields of goodness, wisdom and compassion, and Death teaches us to let go. At first, we tremble with fear. But out of that fear, we draw strength. Out of anger – a stillness and forgiveness. Out of greed, we draw generosity and gratitude. And from true vulnerability, we awaken to the Deathless.
The Buddha gives us lessons in emptiness. We are compelled to trust so completely to be able to truly receive these teachings, surrendering to the Dhamma, offering everything. We bless each step, harvesting wisdom with a brave heart. And in this remarkable learning, we shall know the unexcelled fragrance of the Dhamma, the island beyond which we cannot go.
As we grow in wisdom, our fear of death dissolves. The more we purify from within, the more we abide with a clarity of mind that bestows the ultimate seeing, our cosmic ordination, our unburdening from the sufferings of this realm. The veil of delusion collapses in the sacred footprint of the Dhamma. This will be our noble warming.