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.
Praising Truth for its own sake, we lean in the direction of Truth. We make our intention not to harm by body, speech, or thought. Harmlessness leads to selflessness. Selflessness leads to the Deathless. To boundless compassion. It will save us from the flames of greed, violence, and delusion raging around us. Like the baby quail. What saved it from the forest fire was the purity of its own truth developed over lifetimes. A talk given in a Toronto Theravada Buddhist Community (TBC) zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the inner sea, we know what is truly true. Knowing is the mother, breathing is the child. Going beyond past hurts, beyond thought, being old or young, desolate or delighted, go even beyond Covid, there in the timeless emptiness of present moment awareness of the breath itself, teach your mind its true home. Given at an online meditation during the Covid pandemic.
Just like the Buddha, we have the potential to touch the Truth with our own mind if we follow the precise instructions he has given us. No doubt, we will cross many intersections and, at each one, we must patiently examine the state of the heart, discerning what is harmful and what is wholesome in everything we face. In this way, we gain the benefits of wisdom, happiness, and inner peace. A talk given at Toronto Theravada Buddhist Community in 2015.
What are we doing on this planet? How do we cope with feelings of fear? Can we observe wisely and penetrate through the fictions of the mind? To abandon them, we must understand them. Ayyā Medhānandī coaches us to investigate emotions like fear and anger, viewing their characteristics as tiny fragments of physical sensation and learning how to refresh the mind in one instant. Then we touch the space of non-fear, serenity and joy within us. A talk given at Toronto Theravada Buddhist Community in 2015.
Can we not give vent to the wanting mind, not blame conditions nor allow discontentment to grow? Develop patience and persevere on the path. Know things as they are and accept them. Patience is the highest austerity. So change gears, and move away from old habits of mind by rubbing the dust out of your eyes. Weather difficult conditions. See the beginning of your suffering and end it in the ways of Dhamma. Plant good seeds.
We must not underestimate the significance of dedicating ourselves to the five precepts. Such a commitment to virtue provides a moral and ethical basis for life that will ultimately lessen our suffering. We find ourselves embodying qualities of truthfulness, kindness and care for ourselves and others that touch a new level of inner happiness, one of the factors of enlightenment.
How training the mind in following precepts, such as the rules regarding the use of four monastic requisites - food, robes, shelter, and medicines, can win us greater patience, faith, gratitude, calm, courage, and mindfulness. Such ways of renunciation test our commitment to the path and teach us how to forgive and let go even our fears so that we harvest the riches of joy, compassion and inner peace.
Step by step instructions on developing your practice by beginning with close attention to your breath. You can overcome the five obstacles to your practice by investigating the characteristics of wanting, aversion, sleepiness, restlessness, and doubt as they arise. With curiosity and determination return again and again to the breath. A deep purification occurs and the mind becomes concentrated leading in time to the deep spiritual maturity of a calm, still, spacious mind. A talk given during a Theravada Buddhist Community retreat in Toronto, 2007.