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.
With the Buddha as our guide, we walk in his footsteps. If we fall away from the path, we return to it as soon as we can. Just as you steer your car back on the road should it veer off. The mind may be on fire with wanting, fear, grief or anger. Then feel the heat. Know its origin and see its ending – not owning nor feeding it, let it subside. Here and now, awareness and wisdom deepen. We are waking up. And we discover – that true friend resides within our own heart.
Rather than running away from suffering, we use it as the way to deliverance. Out of suffering, we draw beneficial mind states, especially compassion – not blaming our dukkha on any external or internal conditions but letting them go. If we are content with simple blessings, our gratitude consecrates the breath that we are breathing right now. We rest in awareness and experience the truth of the present moment – fleeting, flawed, formless and empty. In the stillness of now, we taste the mountain.
Learning to play an instrument, at first nothing good comes of it. The body is like an instrument. At first, it howls, it screams or cries. Then one day, that cry becomes a chant. So it is freeing the mind. We teach ourselves to walk the path. We fall and we get up again. In the darkest moment, we grow that tiny speck in the heart of not being afraid, not panicking, not being angry, not giving up. Practise freeing yourself so you can free everyone. Patiently keep digging. Trust. One day we will find gold.
Every moment of right mindfulness is a gift of pure attention, clarity and discovering the true origin of our pain. Applying the alchemy of kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others, we break through the veils of delusion to experience a selfless happiness, peace, and wise benevolence. Measureless are these blessings of the Dhamma.
Simplicity is not about wearing one colour, shaving your head or fasting but rather a way of mental fasting. When we choose simplicity, we have time to stop, and to observe and study the mind. We see the extent of our suffering and the origin of it. This is of great value to us. Start simplifying on the outside, then slowly draw inward to see the complex world of our ideas, thoughts, fears, longings, and attachments. Stop defending our vulnerability and investigate it. Make time for what is precious. Simplicity reveals the silence and sameness of life that can help us discover the deepest truth of our conditionality and the way to free ourselves from it. That is our work. No one else can do it for us
The Buddha guides us on a way of benevolence, worthy of our praise, worthy of our attention, and worthy of our devotion. It extinguishes the fire of delusion in the mind to kindle the fire of awakening. No 'one' awakens but the heart heals naturally by touching Truth. Freed from the shackles of ignorance, it knows the emptiness that is full and the fullness that is empty – complete peace with all things exactly as they are.
How well are we spending our time? Do we endlessly cling to all that perpetuates suffering? Death will have no holiday. So what will free us from the tyranny of death? Be courageous enough to see what gives us true happiness and what brings misery; what is harmful and what is beneficial. Keep the company of those who support our virtues and our best qualities. Stay ‘far from the madding crowd’ and walk the way from blindness to bliss.
To directly know Truth, we enter the depths of the vast ocean of the mind. We refine our attention and focus it like a laser beam. In the knowing of knowing itself, impermanence is revealed together with the inherent suffering of the conditioned world and the intrinsic emptiness of everything everywhere. In the starkness of this Reality, unwavering awareness sees all that we cling to as nothing while ego capitulates to liberating insight.
Where is safety in this world? As the Buddha taught: “Not apart from awakening and austerity, not apart from sense restraint, not apart from relinquishing everything do I see any safety for any living being”. So with unshakeable faith, not faltering in the face of difficulty or pain, we nurture heroic patience and compassion. Wisely probing and seeing the Noble Truths of suffering, its cause, its ending, and the way beyond suffering, we hasten to follow the Noble Eightfold Path into the stream and across – to our freedom
In the face of horrific suffering, how can we abide in the ground of love, protected from every kind of pain? True path effort – inspired courage leaning on virtue – ardently works its way into the heart. Through the power of forgiveness, patient enough to love without blame, we touch the fount of compassion itself. We invite the miraculous.