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 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 apply intuitive understanding rather than concepts to our experience. So contemplate contemplation. Know the mind directly, not through thought. Similarly, mindfulness is not to be forced or refined by willpower but with humility - offering our full attention and devotion to intuitive seeing and understanding what is before us in terms of the 3 characteristics.
Respect means to stop enough to see truly – not to be ruled any longer by objects and experiences, not to be locked in by our greed, ill will, deluded ideas or ignorance. Turn the field of kilesas into pure earth – an untarnished unblemished field of wisdom, a paññā bhumi instead of a kilesa bhumi – with proactive frequent contemplation. Learn what it means to abide in the purity of the mind, undisturbed, able to receive all signals from the sense world with equanimity.
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.
We are braver than we know and can endure more than we realize if there is a readiness to renounce and be creative. Learn to refine, adapt, repeat teachings until they are embodied, and deeply listen to all that life offers. Reaching out to others according to our skills and strength, connect and offer guidance if it is welcome. Compassion born of growing wisdom will be our trustworthy compass.
Two overarching supports for gaining the fruits of the Path are mental purity and spiritual friendship. Consummate virtue and prize virtuous friends, the highest being the Blessed One himself. Emulate his conduct and mental practices in everyday life. Gradually transform mundane right view into transcendent right view and do the same for all eight limbs of the Path. And as they ripen, you will enter into the stream of transcendence.
Let us hone our expertise to witness the charade of gain and loss arising each moment. Seeing the eight worldly winds, impermanent, not giving in when the mind perches in 'self', purify wrong view, empty the basket, and begin here where we are, balanced, the Middle Way.
The contemplative path of purifying the mind is the most important journey of all - inward. Just as the little quail that tricked a hawk, we no longer fall prey to the 'maras' of the world, safe in our proper ancestral domain of virtue. Therein, the heart of generosity is further refined into qualities of joy, selflessness, compassion and wisdom, thus benefiting ourselves and all beings.
Wherever we go the mind does not remain happy - unless we fully awaken. How can we end the restless tides and remain inwardly stable, content within ourselves like the well-hewn wheel that stood still when it stopped rolling and did not fall down? Purifying our bodily acts, speech, and mind in the Buddha's gradual training, we go beyond the eight worldly winds, coming to cessation, to the Deathless.