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.
Develop health of the mind. Many who face dire illness and many at the cusp of death overcome their fear or face death fearlessly. How is that possible? Caring for the mind can bring it to peace whereas the health of the body will never free the heart from the pain of losing what is most precious to us.
Patience, humility, and compassion serve as the mind’s compass to enlightened wisdom and unconditional love. Breath by breath, we triumph over hateful feelings until the pain of others becomes unbearable to us. It’s an exalted work of heroic proportions, accomplished through undaunted perseverance, forgiveness, and trust, revealing the jewel within our own heart.
The sublime attitudes of loving kindness, compassion, joyous empathy and serene composure create for us a path, a moral training to guide us not to ransom our goodness or our intrinsic values for the fleeting joys of worldly gratification. As we purify the heart, we hasten our escape from the cyclic rounds of rebirth. So let us be heroic in the good. What we never thought was possible is truly within reach – purest gold, that higher knowledge, the jewel of the Dhamma within you.
Dhamma is like mother, father, guardian, the Truth that we can rest in. So rest in the purity of one moment. Offering to listen, what is the message we receive? In the silence of the mind, what do we hear? If there is no silence we listen more intently and dive more deeply. Where there is no past, no future, nothing to run away from, nothing to run towards, we stop to truly listen. And we see. This is pure presence - the gift of our attention. With the compass of the mind, open to the Dhamma. No where do we find any solid essence to call a self, a me, a mine. This is the most sacred knowing.
To celebrate the Buddha’s life is to be his disciple in enlightenment. Every day becomes a day of Vesak when we emulate the Buddha’s virtues and follow his gradual training in Dhamma-Vinaya and spiritual warriorship. We vow to purify the mind, realize the vision of Dhamma, and practice perfect compassion for all living beings. At last we find the teacher present within us.
This path takes us to our true home through cultivating sanctity, and understanding the value of death: the death of greed, hatred and delusion. When we see all things as impermanent, death gives definition to our life. It delimits our experience. That’s how we learn how to love – because if things were permanent, we wouldn’t know the meaning of love. We would not know how to love. And that would be a terrible loss – not to know, not to learn, how to love.
When we’re out of balance, it's due to the worldly winds. Even if you call them Dhamma winds, they end up being worldly - as soon as we grasp them, we’re back in samsara and we’re circling. The ending of circling always begins within us. It doesn’t end out there. Even if the balance of Dhamma out there is perfect, that moment of perfection is impermanent. Once we truly see what we could not see before, balance is restored.
Take refuge and commit to ethical precepts to deepen the purification of virtue within us. This is the basis for true happiness. We take refuge in enlightened wisdom, and in our ability to awaken. We have faith that we can realize that Truth by ourselves – in this life; and we trust in this timeless teaching, worthy of our effort, worthy of our attention, worthy of our faith, and worthy of our refuge.
On a wilderness trail, at times the path is clear, at times not. We get lost, confused, and disheartened. Tested again and again, we gain strength, skill, and clarity, and we learn to see what we could not see at first. The spiritual way is not a trail under our feet but a daunting passage of the heart. Once our view is purified, we know there is no going back. Persevering with humility and trust, we navigate across the depths of our pain and brokenness. We break free.