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.
We are here, on the mountain, with a tremendous view. Let the breath speak to us. Stay and watch, even the suffering, investigate patiently like a parent, even if their child objects and runs away - patiently keep trying, be receptive, be available. Gently soften, mellow, give the mind back to the moment, trust, receive it and discover its hidden truths.
To free us from our relentless conceptualising and the suffering that comes of it, the Buddha has thrown us a lifeline. We can grab hold of it by continually using the perspective that “this is impermanent”, and, thereby, we can pull ourselves to safety. A breakfast reflection given at Sati Saraniya Hermitage in 2018.
All of us are capable of opening to this core within the heart which is coreless, and seeing the treasures therein. But because we are conditioned by worldly ways to own and to cling, this opening can be excruciating. How can we bear it? Our practice unfolds when we can see through the illusion of things, bow to the law of kamma, and take refuge in awakened wisdom. A breakfast reflection given at Sati Saraniya Hermitage in the fall of 2018.
Forgiveness is the greatest generosity we can give ourselves. We come to it by wisely seeing that the harm in the world, whether it originates within ourselves or others, comes from ignorance. So there is nothing to fear and nothing to forgive. We can surrender to the challenges of life which seem to overwhelm us by staying in the present moment awake and aware. And in this way we polish our hearts until they can reflect the Truth.
Instead of holding onto what burns and pains us, uphold the truth of present moment awareness and know that freedom is in our hands. We free ourselves from unwholesome qualities. In the midst of fear, we bring up fearlessness; in the midst of resentment, we discover gratitude. We vanquish ignorance and we see wisely. Forgiveness arises in the face of what feels unbearable. This is the miracle of the practice.
How can we have compassion for others without falling apart? The Buddha's path of awakening teaches us how to disarm our internal armour, to be harmless. This will be for us a true basis for following precepts and thereby developing enough inner quiet to investigate ill-will. We begin to clearly see and understand our mind-states. This full presence enables compassion that is tireless and unconditional.
We can feel torn apart by life and unable to cope. Repair can be a long process but through meditation we learn how to hold things safely. If we can contemplate the ill winds of life in a way that allow us to understand their impermanent nature, we will also understand that they are unsatisfactory and empty of self. Therein is true peace of mind.
Satipanna Insight Meditation Toronto (SIMT) Retreat, Chapin Mill, Batavia, N.Y.
Entering the Gate: Four Spiritual Qualities
Though our spiritual paths are many and varied, we can all practice with enough present moment awareness, faith, energy and commitment to realize the boundless nature of the heart that seemed at first beyond our reach.
We all experience some pain, mental, physical or both. And we work with pain both in the body and in the mind until it is exhausted. This is how we care for the mind, healing its sickness and removing the sand that obstructs the spring of truth in our hearts. Then we can see clearly. We see what obstructs the Dhamma eye and we open our eyes to the truth of the Dhamma. A talk given given during Satipanna Insight Meditation Toronto (SIMT) Retreat, Chapin Mill, Batavia, N.Y in 2018.
In our meditation practice, we journey inwards to come to the edge and see ourselves as we really are. To do this, we have to cultivate special qualities, the paramis or perfections. And so we learn to grow a silent harmless space within ourselves which does not know how to be afraid.