On an unusually warm winter afternoon, the last Sunday of November, many of us gathered together in the Temple to witness Anagārikā Kusalā (Lori Elling) enter the holy life as a postulant at Sati Sārāņīya Hermitage. Reflecting on the auspiciousness of this occasion, we recall the Buddha’s teaching:
“…A person of good family who has gone forth from the lay life to homelessness… Being diligent, they become accomplished in virtue. But they’re not happy with that, and haven’t got all they wished for. They don’t glorify themselves and put others down on account of that. Nor do they become indulgent and fall into negligence regarding their accomplishment in virtue.
Being diligent, they become accomplished in training the mind. They’re not happy with that, and haven’t got all they wished for. They don’t glorify themselves and put others down on account of that. Nor do they become indulgent and fall into negligence regarding their accomplishment in training the mind.
Being diligent, they become accomplished in deep wisdom and insight. They’re not happy with that, and haven’t got all they wished for. They don’t glorify themselves and put others down on account of that. Nor do they become indulgent and fall into negligence regarding that deep knowledge and vision.
Being diligent, they attain unshakeable liberation.
Suppose there was a person in need of heartwood. And while wandering in search of heartwood they’d come across a large tree standing with heartwood. They’d cut out just the heartwood and depart knowing it was heartwood.
If someone with good eyesight saw that person, they’d say: ‘This mendicant knows what heartwood, softwood, bark, shoots, and branches and leaves are. That’s why they cut out just the heartwood and departed knowing it was heartwood. Whatever they need to make from heartwood, they will succeed.’
It’s impossible for that mendicant to fall away from the final end of the spiritual life, that unshakeable freedom of heart. . .”
from the Mahāsāropama Sutta, No. 29, Majjhima Nikāya
Audio Version – Ayyā Medhānandī Breakfast Reflections
I’ve talked quite a bit about the tornado and the eye of the tornado. And I spoke more about the winds circling around the eye than the eye itself. We tend to measure the speed and direction of such an intense wind storm but we don’t usually say much about the eye at its centre.
The interesting thing about the eye itself is that there is much to explore within that eye. That eye is actually eye-ness. It’s not an ‘I’, not a person. It’s not a personality. And it’s not ‘an eyeness’ either, because that could quickly be thought of as an ‘i’ with a ‘dot-ness’.
The most valuable and unique aspect of the Buddha’s teaching is that this I-ness is empty. It’s actually empty. But we mistakenly perceive it to be full – until we learn how to see.
And learning how to see is not something we can do conceptually. Our conceptual instrumentation is flawed. Not from birth, but from lack of training.
This particular path of practice and opening to this core which is coreless – that’s another thing. Language doesn’t capture it. It’s a core but it’s coreless. Like a banana tree. It’s a tree that has no core. Most trees if you cut them and look in, you find a core. But the banana tree has none. It’s coreless. And if you take it apart, there’s nothing inside it – nothing at all. Absolutely nothing.
So if you take this mind and study it deeply and look within it – look truly deeply within it! Look deeply within it and see through. You find nothing.
The finding of nothing is a very important discovery. We can’t discover it conceptually. It can only be discovered intuitively. During the process of discovering, necessarily we have to go through steps.
And those steps can be very painful.
There’s a beautiful analogy in the scriptures of a meditator being like a chicken in the egg and the meditation process is like the mother hen sitting on the egg – sitting on the egg and heating it up. And when the conditions are right, then there’s enough heat but not too much.
When the shell is mature and the little foetus inside is ripe to come out, then the thickness of the shell becomes something that the little chick can penetrate with its beak. And it starts pecking away until it makes a hole big enough for it to emerge.
But if the mother keeps getting up and leaving the egg, then these processes of the shell warming and the chick inside developing and the conditions for its breaking through never ripen.
So that can be used to describe a meditation practice which is sporadic. It does not have within it the right factors to develop the conditions for the mind’s ripening: the right warmth, the right attention, the right intention, the right clarity, the right consistency, the right commitment, the right effort, the right way of paying attention that warrants diligence, ardency, remembering to be present, to be studying, peering into the core so one-pointedly, so undistractedly that the whole process can mature and the chick can poke through the shell and see.
In this process, some of the necessary steps before the little chick can come out are its having to experience terrible pains, excruciating pains, unearthly pains – and at times very earthly pains. We feel all manner of pains: internal pains, external pains; what we think are pains, what we don’t think are pains; what we perceive to be mental pains, what we perceive to be physical pains; what we perceive to be internal pains, what we perceive to be external pains; what we perceive to be social pains, what we perceive to be psychological pains, what we perceive to be our pains, what we perceive to be other people’s minds pains.
We engage in receiving those pains in ways that are unbearable, and we blame others or we blame ourselves; or we don’t blame anyone. We just feel hopeless, helpless, lost, unequal to the task, incapacitated, inadequate, oppressed, pressured – wanting to get out, wanting to run away. Wanting, Craving. We fall back into deeper and deeper states of exaggerated craving. And this, of course, does not make the process of opening ripen.
It doesn’t lead to the celebration of that opening – that ability to see through. Instead, it misdirects us. We flap around a lot, and in our flapping we can create quite a mess. And we feel even worse for all our effort. Then we make up our minds – this is a waste of time, this is harming, this needs to stop. That’s very common. It’s classical. We feel sure,“This is harming.” So we have to stop!
That’s to our detriment because all of us are capable of opening. I know many women have described the pain of labour. Perhaps it’s one of the most intense pains that a person intentionally experiences – because she knows it’s result is that the little chick is allowed to come out.
In this process we don’t realize that we are in labour. But we have other pains that simulate that – like a mental pain. It’s a heart pain, not a physical pain. By mental we don’t mean brain. It’s really important to distinguish that. It’s not cerebral pain but it’s a pain of the heart.
So the pain of the heart is a cracking open. It’s a complete cracking open. It’s a seeing, it’s a bearing with. And it may be excruciating, but we bear with it. We bear with it, we take care. We take care of the body the best way we can. And we take care of the mind the best way we can.
We don’t accelerate. We don’t try to manipulate the process or speed it up. We are just patient with it, realizing that this is an important and difficult ascent. It’s an ascent of the highest mountain; or it’s a descent into the deepest possible space that exists in this world.
That’s how vast the journey is. How magnificent and immeasurable the whole process is. And it has to unfold karmically. We can’t intentionally speed it up because of craving, because of wanting a result, or expecting it to be a certain way and have it the way we like. This is all delusion – because the opening is a very major letting go. And that’s why it’s so excruciating – because we’ve been taught not to let go!
Yes, because we’ve been taught to cling, to own, to have, to possess, to increase, to inflate, to expand, to broadcast and receive results; to be gratified and have it pleasurable, have it satisfying, have it protecting us, keeping us well – so to speak – according to our socialized, acculturated definitions of getting well, and all of that.
But in this letting go, it’s like the letting go that those little boys in the cave in Thailand experienced. They were in the dark, they had no food, they could barely drink water – just a little drip-drop from the walls of the cave. And they were terrified. Because they were alone, abandoned, lost, down in the bowels of the earth.
So what a magnificent thing they were able to do because their teacher helped sustain them and guide them to be like little chicks in the dark within a shell, breaking through and able to see within their own body-mind process the corelessness, fearlessness, true deathlessness, the dying to the craving to get out, to be rescued, to be found.
He was able to help them – and they were captive. There was nowhere to go, nowhere to run, nothing to run to. No succor of any kind. No comfort. No tangible oxygen tank or hero to carry them away in his or her arms. There was just facing death, disappearance, destruction.
But within the corelessness of their own little body-mind processes, they could find some space, some place, some way of being that went beyond all the panic, anxiety, fear and helplessness. They were able to go beyond that and touch it.
It’s very much what we’re doing here. And it feels artificial – because it is. How many people would choose to climb into an oven and bake? Do that, even heat the place up, or overheat the body – and look at your mind.
So by our choice of staying within these cloisters, we’re like chicks in a little dark space, little Thai boys in a cave and we feel like we’re trapped. This is because the mind is too frightened, too immature, too unripe to go into that corelessness and let go of the world enough to be able to see through. Not just to see.
Seeing isn’t enough. We have to see through our conditioning. We have to see through our blockages. We have to see through our clinging. We have to see beyond our craving.
We have to see through our enslavement to having all the things that we can experience through the sense doors – and we have to only use the mind door, the heart door.
Sit in front of it. Sit in front of it and be with it, examine it, know it, taste it, touch it, until we see that it doesn’t exist. There is no door. It’s just an empty space. We are already in that. We are that. We’re nothing less than that – and yet – we are nothing.
In the emptiness of all impurity in the mind, we begin to see through. We see not just the arising of phenomena in consciousness due to our attachment, and our wanting things to arise in consciousness so that we can feel alive, but we begin to see through to the ending of phenomena in the mind. We begin to see through to the ending of phenomena in the heart – taking up one by one the detrimental observations of phenomena, and what is detrimental to their emptying.
We see what is detrimental, we see what diminishes us – and what takes us back to clinging. We see that. We see how it begins and how it ends. We see the ending of it.
At first it’s very frightening to see the ending of things. But in seeing the endings, craving is also ended – the ending of craving and the ending of attachments. We see the ending of hanging on to things that we trust and that we don’t even know we’re hanging onto because we haven’t stopped long enough, perseveringly enough, committed enough to see through.
In observing the endings and not being terrified by that, we start to taste the interior. Tasting the ending, tasting the emptying out is a wonderful moment. And it gives us a sense of trust, an “O, what is that?” moment. Something to experience, to know, to feel, to be with – without being. To burn everything for that.
In the burning up of all that is familiar and safe that we think we know, we discover that which cannot be burned. We discover that which is unburnable. In that corelessness there is the unburnable, the pure, tasteless, nothing to cling to, nothing at all – that is a total freedom.
It’s difficult to trust that there is something we have without experiencing it. Faith is a difficult quality to develop. But without it we are lost – lost in our doubt, lost in our ideas, and our self-view – which is the biggest prison of all. In the meditation practice we have the opportunity to develop that trust through our own insight. No one else can give that to us.
Once we develop even a little bit of trust, and we spend even one moment in that place that is so pure, we want to give more and more to it. We are willing to stay in the cave to do that. It’s very rare that beings can stay in the cave. Most people want to run out into the sunshine.
But the imperceptible light within us is even greater. It can light up the whole world. In the dark of night, it can light up our hearts – even in the middle of the greatest storm.
© Ayyā Medhānandī 2018
In mid-September, we were blessed to welcome Ajahn Sucitto to Sati Saraniya Hermitage for a joyful sharing of the Dhamma. We marvelled at the benevolent impact of his wise, gracious presence on our inner well-being, and how – both during and long after his visit – we experienced the profound virtues of kalyanamitta so frequently extolled by the Buddha.
In the spontaneity and fullness of this occasion, no recordings were made. Fortunately, Ajahn Sucitto’s talks are freely and widely available.
In one of his recent reflections, The Practice of Inclusivity, Ajahn Sucitto describes how our external and internal worlds come to be built upon exclusion. And he encourages us to give up the exhausting endeavor of excluding the uncomfortable in favour of meeting the suffering of the 1st Noble Truth. In this way, we can release suffering through embodied presence with all that arises.
“The revival of the bhikkhuni tradition is…the most significant development for the Theravada tradition of the 21st century.” Bhikkhu Analayo
With respect to the bhikkhu ordinations at Tisarana Buddhist Monastery on Sept. 16th, we have delayed our annual almsgiving ceremony this year to September 30th.
Traditionally, we celebrate the Theravada Bhikkhuni Sangha by paying homage to the Buddha’s mother, Arahant Mahapajapati Theri and all the arahant bhikkhunis of ancient times and down through the ages.
This year, we also rejoice in the restoration of full-ordination for Theravada Buddhist women emerging in this second millenium and the growth of our community here in Perth, Ontario. And, at this time, we feel especially blessed that Ayya Anuruddha’s Permanent Resident status in Canada has been granted!
The program will be as follows:
10:00 am: Almsgiving ceremony, precepts, meal blessings and dana potluck meal
1:30 pm : Chanting, meditation and Dhamma teaching
If possible, please carpool for this event. We look forward to welcoming you.
This year our community was blessed with a Spring visit from Ayya Tathaloka Mahatheri and Ayya Niyyanika of Dhammadharini Monastery in Penngrove, California.
Since Ayya Anuruddha and Ayya Niyyanika were both ordained as bhikkhunis at Dhammadharini with Ayya Tathaloka as their preceptor on Dec. 3, 2017, their visit became a spiritual reunion as well as the first occasion for four bhikkhunis to gather here at Sati Saraniya Hermitage.
In the twilight of our final evening together, we chanted auspicious verses to establish a ‘sima‘ (formal boundary) for our monastery, after a week of sharing spiritual dialogue, silent meditations, meal blessings, and the many joys of our monastic journey.
On May 13, 2018, we were blessed with a visit by Ajahn Amaro, abbot of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery, members of the Tisarana monastic community, and many devotees from near and far who were also present to listen to his Dhamma talk on Mothering: A Quintessential Quality of Practice. He spoke about the extraordinary qualities of ‘Mother’ that are manifest in the Buddha’s teachings and within each of us through our Dhamma practice. May his words continue to enrich and uplift us.
On Sunday, April 22, 2017, with hardly a trace of the snow storms that had blanketed the area just 24 hours before we began, we held a special day of remembrance attended by nearly 120 members of the Tisarana Monastery and Sati Saraniya Hermitage communities to honour our parents.
We quickly felt united in the joy of bringing together our good intentions and gratitude for mothers, fathers, teachers, family members, friends, and loved ones. We decorated a memorial shrine to our parents with precious photos and colourful Spring tulips; we shared nutritious foods and joined our voices in a chorus of chants of peace, homage and thanksgiving; and we listened with rapt attention to the heart-warming Dhamma talk by Ajahn Viradhammo about the meaning of gratitude to our parents and the journey they set us on through this life.
May we always remember the gratitude we have to our parents and teachers by supporting and nurturing them both physically and spiritually – while we still can. In this spirit, may we learn to parent ourselves in the ways of wisdom, compassion and true happiness. And may these blessings, in turn, be shared with all beings in the ten directions.
“These three manifestations are rare in the world:
A Buddha is rare in the world.
A person who teaches the Dhamma and Vinaya is rare in the world.
A grateful and appreciative person is rare in the world.”
(adapted) Anguttara 3:114, ‘Rare’
After a hiatus of a thousand years, Theravada Buddhism has been experiencing a true renaissance of the Bhikkhuni Sangha in North America. On Dec. 3, 2017, Ayya Anuruddha together with Ayya Niyyanika received their full ordination as bhikkhunis in a beautiful ceremony at Dhammadharini Monastery in Penngrove, California. These joyful ordinations by an act of the dual Theravada Sangha were led by Ven. Pallawela Rahula Mahathero for the bhikkhus and Ven. Tathaaloka Mahatheri for the bhikkhunis.
Ayya Anuruddha will remain at Sati Saraniya Hermitage to continue serving the community in Canada. In fulfilling the Buddha’s legacy, these rites of passage revive an ancient spiritual pathway for women to awaken and serve as protectors of peace, compassion, and wisdom in our troubled world.
Late November meditation practice opportunities:
Ayyā Medhānandī will be leading three meditation events in Toronto: November 24-26, 2017, co-sponsored by Satipaññā Insight Meditation Toronto (SIMT) and the Therāvada Buddhist Community of Toronto (TBC). All 3 sessions will be held at The Centre, 316 Dupont St., Toronto.
Nov. 24 – 25: Friday evening meditation and public talk and a weekend of insight meditation practice:
Venue: The Centre, 316 Dupont Ave, Toronto (west of Spadina, north side of Dupont)
This year three Sati Saraniya nuns attended the Kathina ceremony marking the end of Vassa 2017 with the bhikkhus of Hilda Jayawardena Temple in Ottawa, Ajahn Viradhammo and some 3 dozen monastics from all over USA and Canada.
How uplifting it is to gather with wise elders and monastic brethren and the laity who encourage us in the holy life. Those who foster generosity, virtue, compassion, good-will and wisdom at a time of widespread fear, greed, and violence embody the precious blessings of the Buddha’s teachings.
May we continue to cultivate peace of heart within and around us.
May all beings live in peace and well-being.
May all beings work hard for the good of others.
“Blessed are they who sever the ties of hatred, and,
with a tranquil heart, cultivate the way beyond suffering.”
Our ‘Vassa’ has been blessed with abundant rains and many wonderful beings in our forest. As the Vassa comes to an end, we welcome you to join us for an Almsgiving Ceremony to honour our budding Bhikkhuni Sangha on Sunday Oct. 1, 2017 .
We will be marking Ayya Medhanandi’s three decades as an alms mendicant nun as well as the bhikkkhuni ordination of Samaneri Anuruddha on Dec. 3 in California to be attended by Ayya Medhanandi and Ayya Nimmala.
The October 1st programme at Sati Saraniya Hermitage will be:
Please let us know if you plan to attend, and if so, kindly carpool for this event. Your presence in itself is an offering. If you wish to also offer a requisite to the Sangha, please see the requisite list.
We have much gratitude for your many expressions of support, generosity, and loving-kindness.
On one occasion two and a half millenia ago, the Buddha was walking alone through a forest in India when a bandit who had killed nine hundred and ninety-nine people chased him at top-speed. Even though the Buddha was walking at his normal pace, the bandit could not catch up with him. Intrigued and amazed at this phenomenon, the bandit cried out: “Stop, recluse. Stop, recluse.”
The Buddha replied, “I have stopped, Angulimala. Now you stop too.”
What had the Buddha stopped that he wanted the serial killer to stop? And what can we also stop? The Buddha wanted us to stop – not just suicide and homicide. He wanted us to stop killing the goodness in ourselves and others through our violent and destructive thoughts and emotions.
It is not easy to stop when we feel trapped in deep despair or shut off from the world; and when the desire to self-harm or to harm another has all the force of a hurricane. Likewise, a mind obsessed by jealousy, judgment, blame; or inflamed by righteous anger is more prone to violently lash out at someone else.
When we harm ourselves, we inevitably harm others. When we harm others, we ourselves are harmed. Conversely, when we feel blessed, we bless others. And blessing others, we too are blessed.
How can we effectively protect ourselves from falling prey to toxic states of mind? Ironically, the clues we need lie hidden in the ways we think about happiness in everyday life. We should consider that there is no true happiness without virtue, that is, wholesome qualities of mind, such as gratitude, truthfulness, loving-kindness, compassion.
In our pursuit of happiness, we should consider whether we feel peaceful or not. Are we filled with remorse, anxiety, sadness – or not? Whenever unwholesome mind states are present, we know that we are not on the path of true happiness.
Therefore we should always consider whether or not our actions – through body and speech – uphold ethical, wholesome, benevolent conduct. If our conduct causes no harm to ourselves or others, we should persevere in it. And if it brings harm to ourselves or others, we should avoid or abandon it – because we are no longer on the way to true happiness.
How do we manifest harmlessness? Harmlessness is gained through developing moral restraint and good-will; respecting life and being sensitive to our own needs as well as the needs of others; observing ethical precepts; and directing the mind well.
Harmlessness is a strength – a force of goodness. We are called to be courageous, kind and fearless; to be selfless rather than selfish. Good-will is the sister of harmlessness and the guardian of our inner peace.
We have to treasure these qualities of non-harming and good-will. For without them, we suffer a spiritual death. Even our critical opinions or righteous indignation have the power to murder the goodness in us or others; and they cripple our ability to forgive.
For our own moral well-being and happiness, it is important for us to recognize and remove the toxins of the mind and uproot our inner and outer ways of violence. How do we meet this challenge? What obstacles do we face?
Perhaps the greatest obstacle is not acknowledging the depth of our pain or our fear of it. We fear the inner terrorist – fear itself; our anger, and our greed; and we hold on to them. We are driven by our tenacious mental habits. They can feel unbearably painful and overpowering as if we cannot escape them.
So when fear arises, we feel immobilized to draw from our inner resources or those outside of us for help. We feel isolated and unable to articulate or even understand our own predicament. What remedies will support us in our quest to overcome these terrifying mental habits?
First, we take care of ourselves. In Buddhism, wise moral decision-making and restraint are self-care. Instead of being captive to our fear and rage, we investigate them. We see them arise, knowing them for what they truly are: insubstantial; they appear and disappear within us; and we learn how to loosen their grip until they cease. We feel much relief, release and we discover a new sense of freedom.
Also, instead of isolating ourselves, feeling unworthy or self-critical, we learn to be a friend to ourselves. And we endeavor to seek the company of true friends who, by their own good qualities, bring out our moral best.
This will help us to develop inner stability, trust, and confidence. A quiet mind gains resilience, wisdom and moral integrity. We follow a refined ethical code of thought, word and deed and train the mind to restrain the inner tyrants – those painful, unskillful states of inward or outward aggression.
This is kindness to ourselves. In being truly kind to ourselves, we could never harm anyone else. Like a mirror, whatever goodness we have within us is reflected outward for all to receive. Aggression may arise but we calm it. If we can learn to dissipate aggression in its multiple disguises by starving it, we polish the mirror.
Then, gradually, we bring mindfulness, wisdom, and self-compassion to maturity. We perfect the skill of pure attention – listening to and being truly present with unwavering awareness. Such pure presence and awareness is healing; and it is benignly contagious, opening us to a forgiving, kind and loving mind, both to ourselves and others.
This process is really nourished by meditation practice. It sharpens our ability to see and listen, brightens our awareness, and tunes us in to the tremblings and torments of the mind. When we meditate, we pacify and still the mind so that it can directly experience the truth about our own predicament.
With ongoing commitment to this path of practice, we peel away layer after layer of emotional debris and dissolve the identity that we have created around it. We see ourselves and others with greater clarity, truth, and gentleness. Instead of hating what seems unbearable, again and again and again we look with new eyes and see the emptiness of all things. Our ‘self’ view and our world view are literally transformed.
Now we have a new compass – a contemplative way of seeing that takes us wisely through the rapids of life. We use kindness, calm, intuitive insight and wisdom to get our bearings; and, in doing so, we disarm the enemies of our own well-being and happiness.
My first teacher demonstrated this to me in India many years ago, when he was shot and fatally wounded by a drunk villager. “Poor man,” was his immediate response as he lay bleeding, “He will have to go to prison now. What will happen to his children?”
And we remember how the Buddha’s absolute compassion for Angulimala stopped the bandits’ killing spree and turned his life around – the serial killer became a monk, a man of peace; and he realized full awakening. By loving one who to us seems so impossible to love, the Buddha bestowed upon him the greatest gift a human being can receive.
We too can wake up to our own innate goodness and begin to pierce through our delusion. Although we get confused by fear and hatred, and all our other human foibles, we can realize the futility of taking them to be ‘me’ or ‘mine’. They are merely energy, turbulence, heat or wind.
We have to see that and know it directly for ourselves – patiently, step by step. This is the purification of the heart. Blessing ourselves with pure awareness, we bless others. When we bless others, we, in turn, are blessed. We are free. We are at peace.
If we want this freedom and peace, each of us must do whatever we can to enter the process of inner disarmament.
Stop harming. Try forgiveness. Speak and act with kindness. Keep turning away from ill-will. Don’t give in to it. Find the pearl of goodness within you. It’s there. Touch the true happiness and unshakeable peace in your heart. It’s there.
© Ayyā Medhānandī 2017