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.
Compassion is our worthy compass. Radiating compassionate empathy towards our own suffering and the suffering of the world, the mind is tranquil, protected from danger, and at peace. We have courage enough to evict fear and take our proper seat in the pure presence of the heart.
One who practices true compassion inwardly as well as to others is praised as a superior person, a spiritual warrior on the path of harmlessness. How do we emulate that? Guided by right intention, we abandon the hindrances of the mind and patiently whittle away our ingrained habit of ego construction. We learn to see wisely and to forgive conditions as we journey to transcendence.
Compassion is a strength, a generosity, a joy, a guardian of the mind, a rescue from fear and all forms of suffering, and a fountain of peace. It brings untold benefit both for one who gives it and for one who receives it. Compassion enhances the sublime abidings and the factors of awakening, thus serving, in and of itself, as a dynamic vehicle for the heart’s liberation.
The Dhamma summons us to let virtue be purified so that we can hasten to higher ground. What will give us peace in our suffering moments? What will calm the mind in all of life’s struggles? No one is immune. But having known a glimpse of pure presence, the heart follows that true way home, to the ending of pain, to the unexcelled bliss of its freedom.
Are we able to dedicate our goodness and our practice for the welfare of others? COVID teaches us that if we are not healthy, others are affected, and if the world is not well, then we will also suffer – because we are all connected. We are wise to seek the inexhaustible well-spring of peace in our hearts – to be uplifted and to freely share that. Far beyond physical health, we can find that peace within our reach if we care for the mind. That will be our spiritual recovery
Develop health of the mind. Many who face dire illness and many at the cusp of death overcome their fear or face death fearlessly. How is that possible? Caring for the mind can bring it to peace whereas the health of the body will never free the heart from the pain of losing what is most precious to us.
Dhamma is like mother, father, guardian, the Truth that we can rest in. So rest in the purity of one moment. Offering to listen, what is the message we receive? In the silence of the mind, what do we hear? If there is no silence we listen more intently and dive more deeply. Where there is no past, no future, nothing to run away from, nothing to run towards, we stop to truly listen. And we see. This is pure presence - the gift of our attention. With the compass of the mind, open to the Dhamma. No where do we find any solid essence to call a self, a me, a mine. This is the most sacred knowing.
To celebrate the Buddha’s life is to be his disciple in enlightenment. Every day becomes a day of Vesak when we emulate the Buddha’s virtues and follow his gradual training in Dhamma-Vinaya and spiritual warriorship. We vow to purify the mind, realize the vision of Dhamma, and practice perfect compassion for all living beings. At last we find the teacher present within us.
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.