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.
Right mindfulness developed with meticulous appreciative attention on the breath enables us to tame the wilderness of the mind. If we are careening off course – just when the canoe starts to tip – we notice and immediately rebalance, regaining awareness and sustaining it as best we can. We continue to polish the mirror of the mind each moment, discovering the joy of seeing its true nature: impermanent, imperfect and empty. With nothing to hold onto in the world, we are free to enter the shrine of Truth.
Use the practice to understand the boundaries, structures, and limits of our lives to locate that terrain within us which is beyond boundaries. We go to it by inclining the mind towards stopping, taking precepts and fully arriving in the present, in the sanctuary of now. We stop in the silence and with curiousity and wonder, investigate the true meaning of our life.
Can we not give vent to the wanting mind, not blame conditions nor allow discontentment to grow? Develop patience and persevere on the path. Know things as they are and accept them. Patience is the highest austerity. So change gears, and move away from old habits of mind by rubbing the dust out of your eyes. Weather difficult conditions. See the beginning of your suffering and end it in the ways of Dhamma. Plant good seeds.
Every Canadian knows Terry Fox, a teenage athlete who lost his leg to cancer, continued to train as a runner, and ran across Canada with one leg before he succumbed to his illness. His mission was to raise money for cancer research so others would not suffer. A legacy for our own journey - spiritual heroism, undaunted effort, magnanimous vision, valiant heart. The training begins now - for as along as it takes.
All of us can train our minds. When we are driven by lack of wisdom, ill-will, greed or confusion, we live in a wilderness of the mind. In spiritual community, we hold together to blaze a trail through that wilderness, establishing trust and confidence, and persevering. We are guided by wisdom and mindfulness to purify ourselves; and we are willing to make sacrifices – even to suffer – for the treasures of the Path.
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 Eightfold Noble Path is the Buddha's map to freedom. His directions how to proceed are precise, rigorous and breathtaking - the better for our faith and diligence. Though we may falter or feel unworthy, we discard delusion of a self - the better for purifying our hearts. Wise, surefooted and joyous, we open the gates to the Deathless.