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.
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.
We may speak of or feel that we know about death but until we truly contemplate, approach and move into death, what do we know? This is a tale about looking into the eye of a tortoise shell butterfly while it lay dying on the shrine. Straining as it reached up towards us waving its frail antennae when it heard our chanting, we felt at one even with this tiniest of creatures - who also wanted only to be loved.
Practice deepens when we are present here and now, able to intuitively understand and contemplate our experience rather than knowing it through concepts. We refine mindfulness with wisdom, receive the moment humbly and offer our full attention and devotion to know what is before us. When Truth rushes in, we forgive more and we grieve less.
A mind weeded of impurities is a field of stillness and wisdom where our suffering melts away. How does this happen? We study the mind and apply four facets of an extraordinary proactive mindfulness: exerted effort, penetrating focus on the object of awareness, heroic diligence, and contemplative devotion. In the silence of the undistracted mind, wisdom and a true and sustainable happiness arise.
Intuitive knowing is the lens that connects us to the heart through our meditation. Leave the world behind and tap into that energy to enter the realm of pure receptivity, not known through the senses but fully known in complete Awareness that is a safe and liberating refuge. It leads us inward, beyond all wanting, to the ending of suffering, to an emptiness that surpasses all experience, all knowledge.
Human beings have that special ability to deeply see and fathom things as they truly are. But we are so impatient. We resist letting go. Clinging, we harm unknowingly and stray from truth, gaining no peace. How can we recover and free ourselves from fear, anger, and mental distress? Purify the mind and directly know the larger truth of impermanence. See blessings where there was darkness. And in the heart’s core, touch the Unconditioned.
Sidelined by COVID, we are compelled to look at ourselves, at each other, at the world caught in pandemic restrictions we never imagined were possible. Besieged by fear and vulnerability, beings lack insight into the truth of things find no safe refuge. The time is ripe for waking up to gain freedom from the eight worldly winds and abide in higher states of mind. With peace of heart, wisdom and compassion run deep such that no season will be too much.