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.
The meaning of the words “commitment” and “sacrifice” are spoken of in relationship to taking vows and training as an anagārikā as well as to practice as a householder. Regardless of the form we use, it is possible for each of us to find an island of refuge in ourselves. A talk given during an Ottawa Buddhist Society 10 day retreat at the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent, Pembroke, Ontario, Canada in 2008.
How can we beat a path to awakening? Meditate and develop deep, wise insight, training like a spiritual athlete in this new millenium. Like forging a trail in dense forest, walk it again and again, courageously enduring difficulties to navigate beyond mental afflictions. Study the mind incisively and trust - we will arrive.
We must not underestimate the significance of dedicating ourselves to the five precepts. Such a commitment to virtue provides a moral and ethical basis for life that will ultimately lessen our suffering. We find ourselves embodying qualities of truthfulness, kindness and care for ourselves and others that touch a new level of inner happiness, one of the factors of enlightenment.
How training the mind in following precepts, such as the rules regarding the use of four monastic requisites - food, robes, shelter, and medicines, can win us greater patience, faith, gratitude, calm, courage, and mindfulness. Such ways of renunciation test our commitment to the path and teach us how to forgive and let go even our fears so that we harvest the riches of joy, compassion and inner peace.
Step by step instructions on developing meditation practice by beginning with close attention to the breath. Gradually investigate the impermanent nature of wanting, aversion, sleepiness, restlessness, and doubt as they arise and overcome these five obstacles to practice. With curiosity and determination, return again and again to the breath. As the mind is stilled and purified, explore the clarity, calm and spaciousness of its vast inner depths.
By practising awareness of your breath you will begin to understand your mental and physical processes and develop mindfulness. You will know what is happening as it happens, and you will be able to recognize a hindrance and turn it off. Spiritual regret for past unwholesome actions can develop and you will be able to abandon
them and let go of a lifetime’s accumulation of baggage. A talk given at a 10 day Ottawa Buddhist Society retreat at the Galilee Centre, Arnprior, Ontario, Canada.