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.
Ayya Medhanandi reflects on the meaning of the different mudras or hand gestures used by the Buddha himself when he gave teachings. Each represents an important quality for us to practise and develop such as fearlessness or compassion. You can see these mudras that she describes on the batik cloth that was gifted to the Ottawa Buddhist Society at https://ottawabuddhistsociety.com/about-the-obs/latvian-buddha-batik/
We can know freedom from suffering when the light of dhamma (or truth) arises. This illumination will melt the impurities formed by unwholesome mind states. Oh, what a freedom! A talk given during a 10 day Ottawa Buddhist Society retreat at the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent, Pembroke, Ontario, Canada in 2009.
When life presents fearsome obstacles, be your own spiritual ally and turn those obstacles into windows that open to the depths of the heart. There, cultivating loving-kindness, compassion, radiant joy and the wisdom of discernment, behold the fierce gifts of the Dhamma that defy delusion and rescue us from the mire of every perceived burden.
How can we sharpen awareness of thoughts that gush forth in the mind like Niagara Falls? Observe them gently, not clinging and with diligent focus. Our present moment awareness and unstoppable attention, when sustained inwardly, have the transformative power of a Niagara to cleanse the heart of all impurities. Therein is the path to freedom.
Developing awakened wisdom is an organic process, the unbinding of all problems that leads to indestructible peace and harmlessness. We undertake and persevere through training the mind so that we can renounce our attachments and stop the interior whirling of the world. No longer caught in its duality, we rest in knowing the liberating truth of this moment, cessation of suffering and a transcendent healing that takes us to the Deathless.
We hear in the Udana, Verses of Uplift, about the Venerable Meghiya’s wish to practise in the beautiful Mango Grove before his mind was mature enough. Even when we are on retreat and conditions for practice seem perfect, hindrances plague the mind and overcome it with impurities. So we hold fast to the Buddha’s instructions to know for ourselves the radiance of mind that is untainted by ego.
What happens when we sit in a sacred space and we try to empty and purify ourselves? We are able to taste only sacredness, to experience another level of being that is vast and without boundaries, to be in awe of the wondrous quality of the pure heart. A talk given during a 10 day retreat at the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent, Pembroke, Ontario, Canada in 2009.