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 Fourth Insight known as udayabbaya ñāņa arises bestowing six qualities of upekkha as well as intimate knowledge of anicca through seeing the arising and disappearance of all conditioned things - most importantly, the emptiness of 'self'.
Most highly revered treasures and our true refuges - the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha - are extolled in this devotional chanting of a traditional Pali sutta. The style of the chant arose in the heart while walking in the forests of Sati Saraniya Hermitage.
There are many skills and restorative qualities needed for us to grow in our spiritual work. Let us not underestimate the essential ingredient of mettā. This universal quality of love will unfailingly nurture the unfolding of the Noble Eightfold Path. It enhances our energy to persevere with courage, agility and joy so that the journey is sustainable and our trust becomes unwavering. We reach out more to others and support them in the good, while rejoicing that as we accomplish the Way, we draw close to the Buddha.
What are the prerequisites and supports for walking such a path of awakening? Kindness and a loving forgiveness rank with those qualities that are foremost. They allow us to repair the seemingly unforgivable, to heal what we could not see or wish to see, to dwell in the real not in our concepts, and so to ascend with the strength gained from that groundwork. Try forgiveness first. Recovery opens the way home to healing, to Truth.
The Buddha told Mahanama not to be afraid of the muddled mind, just to keep developing the qualities which incline the mind to Nibbana. This Dhamma is for one who is content. A mind unburdened can pacify itself and be calmed. A mind fortified by faith, virtue – in particular, the virtues dear to the noble ones – learning, generosity and wisdom, will go to distinction. But for mental peace we have to consider how to seclude the mind and what we are giving our consent to in daily life.
The path is a gradual one. Don’t go to the depths immediately. First develop the strength. Going slowly but deeply. Forgiveness, supported by patience endurance, acknowledging and seeing the breakage and repairing it regularly, repairing what has been broken or harmed, and freeing ourselves from the prison of our anger. How can we creatively counter the current of our addictions instead of gratifying it. If we do, we tap into the joy of the heart.
We are ascending a mystical ladder which must be done so carefully and gradually. For a spiritual warrior, the path of practice is a gradual one. We are in a cloud of unknowing but patiently the cloud is emptied and we begin to see everything as impermanent. We know what is the path and what is not. This clarity will be for us a refuge. It is a natural unfolding through purification.
The insight into not-self requires a deeper seeing and understanding of reality. Virtue is our saving grace. It gives us the energy for enlightenment which we transform into right effort. Thus we are guided through the wilderness of the world to develop and sustain the heart like an ocean of peace. Patience works with Restraint, Renunciation and Resolve, and with a host of other wholesome qualities to take us beyond the cycle of harm; but we must also keep practising kindness and forgiveness.
When you know what is killing you then you will know what will save you. Right effort protects us and offers safety and seclusion. We find saving grace within if we can navigate through the wilderness of the mind assisted by a host of special qualities. It’s like being at sea. Through the thorns, barnacles and buoys on the Middle Way, learn and understand how to let go – be free. Nothing remains hidden to a true seeker.
The quality of energy manifest as courage, commitment and compassion is the way forward. We have to be brave – like a lion. Brave warriors face the powerful maras, monsters of the mind, to overcome them. They train the mind to gain its freedom by developing heroic energy and superpower wisdom. These qualities are further ennobled with forgiveness and association with true spiritual friends.