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 first step towards Truth is taking responsibility for our own actions, intentions, and their consequences. Distractions are not a support but only numb us to what is difficult to face or remember. Truth will always emerge, despite all attempts to bury it. Bring into the light unskillful acts, our own or those of others towards us, and make forgiveness and reconciliation possible. Penetrate into the marrow of life to reveal both the garbage we must purify and the treasure to be discovered in the process. What are we really running away from?
Ayya Medhanandi talks about developing virtue and moral disarmament for true peace in this world. If we want to protect each other and promote harmlessness and nonviolence, we must do the work of inner disarmament ourselves. A talk given at the 10th Global Conference on Buddhism, Neuroscience, and Mental Health, Toronto 2017.
Standing up in pure presence is one of the four great postures. In this simple act of being present, know one mind-moment at a time, repeatedly. Grateful for one breath, one posture, one point, we gain balance and poise. We allow our suffering to dissolve in the suffering of all the world. This is how we stand for the Dhamma in a practical way – with the body; and in a practice way – with compassion and understanding of the Dhamma.
When delusion, impatience and lack of trust prevail in our spiritual work, we rape our own goodness and execute ourselves over and over again. This suffering, clearly known, helps us to see how we cling and how we let go. When clinging again, let go again – stop the subterfuge of clinging and undermining ourselves. Actually, we are our own liberators. We are powerful beyond our understanding.
Reviewing our effort to practise, recalibrate and make adjustments as needed. Make peace with what arises – neither controlling nor being passive; like a parent – compassionate, mindful, discerning. Whatever hindrance is most predominant, make it skilful, waking up if we’re asleep, or settling down if we’re restless, calming when agitated or patiently balancing. This is nothing short of the way to Nibbana, the supreme goal. Step by step, through all manner of sufferings and joys, we radiate blessings in the ten directions.
We come on retreat from our busy lives where we can easily relapse into old unworthy mental habits, hoping that here, at last, we can put them to sleep. They too are impermanent. Reflect on their impermanence using these chants for the funeral of our ego and the death of our ignorance. Once their corpse is seen and placed in a coffin, it’s possible to sustain open compassionate awareness wherever we are.
Venerable Punna was one of the great bhikkhus of the Buddha’s time, known especially for his fierce faith, practice skill, and his fearlessness. When the Buddha hears that Punna plans to wander on foot in a remote and dangerous frontier region, he questions Punna how he would respond to the inevitable perils and violent ways of the native people of that place. Their dialogue reveals Venerable Punna’s remarkable courage, wisdom, and selflessness.
Standing as still as we can like the earth, aware, embodying qualities of heart that we treasure, share the goodness with all who are dear to us, and with all beings. Live wisely from that kind of pure inner space. As we chant these essential five recollections, reflect: we are all subject to aging, sickness, and death; we shall all be separated from what is ours, it will fade and be lost; and we are the heirs of our karmic deeds – for good or for ill.
How do we deal with life when it bites us? Without trusting the Path, there is no way we can fulfill it. Practise seeing what works and what doesn’t, what binds us and what frees us. Seeing pain as our teacher, we can face whatever we are feeling and not lament. Not owning our suffering is letting go the second arrow of mental pain. This will be for our safety, and when wise insight into suffering reveals the truth in us, there arises incalculable joy and peace.