Fearless in the Good

A reflection from Ayyā Nimmalā:
More than two and a half millenia ago, in ancient India, one of the Buddha’s royal supporters, King Pasenadi of Kosala, was fortunate enough to be given a teaching using a powerful simile to remind him of the imminent nature of aging and death. And how powerful, too, was the wise king’s response.

The Buddha asked King Pasenadi to reflect, “What if one of your trustworthy and reliable scouts came running to you from the east and said, ‘I have just come from the east and there I saw a great mountain as high as the clouds coming this way, crushing all living beings. Do whatever you think should be done, great king.’ Then a second scout came from the west, and a third from the north, and a fourth from the south, and they all said the same thing about the direction from which they had come.”

The Buddha then asked, “If such a peril should arise, such a terrible destruction of human life, the human state being so difficult to obtain, what should be done?”

King Pasenadi replied with great respect to the Buddha, “Bhante (venerable sir), if such a great peril should arise, such a terrible destruction of human life, what else should be done but to live by the Dhamma, devoted to non ill-will and non harm (dhammacariya), to live devoted to spiritual calm and peace (samacariya), and to live devoted to goodness, doing kind and generous deeds (kusalakiriya and puññakiriya).”

Then the Buddha replied, “I inform you, great king, I announce to you great king, ‘aging and death are rolling in on you’. When aging and death are rolling in on you, great king, what should be done?”

And once again King Pasenadi replied, “As aging and death are rolling in on me, Bhante, what else should be done but to live by the Dhamma, devoted to non ill-will and non harm, to live devoted to spiritual calm and peace, and to live devoted to goodness, doing kind and generous deeds.”

The Buddha reminded King Pasenadi that people, particularly kings, are obsessed with wealth and power and fame and getting one pleasant sensory experience after another, even at the cost of others.

But, to modernize his analogy, the king is reminded that no army nor government – no matter how large; no health care system nor vaccine – no matter how great; no riches – no matter how grand; no attitude of superiority due to skin colour, culture, language, gender or sexual orientation has any place or any scope when aging and death are rolling in.

Once again, the king replied, “There is no place or scope for any of these when aging and death come rolling in. As aging and death are rolling in on me, what else should be done but to live by the Dhamma, devoted to non ill-will and non harm, to live devoted to spiritual calm and peace, and to live devoted to goodness, doing kind and generous deeds.”

The Buddha consented, “So it is, great king! So it is, great king!  As aging and death are rolling in, what else should be done but to live by the Dhamma, devoted to non ill-will and non harm, to live devoted to spiritual calm and peace, and to live devoted to goodness, doing kind and generous deeds.”

May we all find value in the Buddha’s message to this great king and in the king’s wise response, and, no matter what comes rolling in, may we set our compass towards love, kindness, goodness and deep and lasting peace.

No Goodness Is Ever Lost

A reflection from Ajahn Jayasāro:

For most people, reaching the end of their life, breathing becomes laboured. Meditation on the breath, even for experienced meditators becomes difficult.  At this crucial time, with death approaching, the meditations that are most practical are those that use the power of recollection to stimulate uplifting emotion.

Once kindled, that emotion can become the meditation object.  If the mind starts to waver,  then the meditator is encouraged to return to the original recollection in order to rekindle the emotion. Wholesome emotion, systematically cultivated in this way, can take the mind beyond the hindrances and into samādhi.

The most powerful of these meditations is the recollection of the good deeds that one has performed throughout one’s life.  When we recall occasions on which we acted kindly and purely for the welfare of others, with no desire for any kind of reward, we feel an immediate sense of well-being.  This is true even for good actions performed many years ago.

To realise that such a source of joy and peace lies within us is a wonderful discovery.  We come to understand that no goodness is ever lost.  Every kind action we have performed has added to the store of ‘noble treasure’ within.

Sati Saraniya Hermitage Podcast

We started publishing select Dhamma talks through a Sati Saraniya Hermitage podcast. New episodes will come out every Friday and you can get notified about these by subscribing to an update email from Mailchimp (make sure that you check “Sati Saraniya Podcasts” option) or by using your favourite podcast app. We are listed in the following directories: BlubbryiTunesGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher. For custom software, you can also use this RSS feed.

You can also listen to recent talks on our teaching’s page where you can search through a collection of Dhamma topics. Please let us know if you encounter any issues.

Four Kinds of People

the Northern Lights photo from Nijjy Potikanon  While reading the news of current world events, I am reminded of one of the Buddha’s teachings on different kinds of people in the world. On a certain occasion the Buddha said, “There are four kinds of people found existing in the world. What four? One in darkness who is heading for darkness, one in darkness who is heading for light, one in light who is heading for darkness, and one in light who is heading for light.” Tama Sutta: Darkness, AN 4:85
What does it mean to be ‘in’ darkness or ‘in’ light? The darkness or light that we are ‘in’ describes the conditions we are experiencing or have experienced in the world until now, including the whole range of pleasant and unpleasant conditions, within our environment, our community, our family, our bodies and minds.
The Buddha describes those ‘in’ darkness as literally those with more worldly dukkha, whether it be, difficulty obtaining food, shelter, clothes, medicines, or difficulty with physical illness or disability. You could also think about those suffering in abusive family situations, those who are bullied or discriminated against, and those in war torn countries. There are countless examples of people living with more than the average share of dukkha in the world.
Those ‘in’ light are described as those whose worldly conditions have been more favourable, literally those with more sukha, who easily receive worldly comforts, status, and wealth, and whose health is good and body and mind are strong.
With these two examples, the Buddha describes the extreme ranges of people in darkness and in light. There are many of us, I suspect, who would say we are somewhere on the grey-scale between the darkness and the light.
Reflecting on how one might consider oneself with regard to being ‘in’ darkness or light or somewhere in the middle, we can see it as ‘just how it is’ right now. One has to be careful not to default to a judging mind with any sense of pride on the one side or shame on the other, or any comparing of ourselves as better or worse or equal to anyone else with regard to these worldly conditions.  As the Buddha so frequently reminded us, they are impermanent, unstable and could change in a second. Isn’t that what we are seeing around the world right now? Rather than making a judgment on this, the Buddha points out that it doesn’t matter whether we are currently experiencing darkness or light, or some shade of grey, we all have the capacity to direct ourselves towards light … and we all have the risk of falling into darkness.
With the second half of the equation, ‘heading into darkness’ and ‘heading into light’ the Buddha is no longer referring to worldly conditions we are experiencing, but rather he is referring to our intentional actions. ‘Heading into darkness’ means unleashing the darkness of unwholesome actions by body, speech and mind – harming others, and/or ourselves, by our physical actions, our speech and even our thoughts. To be more specific, the darkness of killing, stealing, abusing, assaulting or lying, speaking harshly or divisively, or spreading unfounded tales and rumours, diverging far from the Dhamma. And, of course, all unwholesome action and speech start with dark, unwholesome mind states – greed and jealousy, anger and hatred, ignorance and delusion. When we are unable to reign these in, no matter how comfortable and wealthy, or poor and down-trodden, it’s like we are heading into a deep, dark cave with endless tunnels and no light to guide our way out.
‘Heading into light’, on the other hand, is the uplifting of the heart by developing wholesome actions by body, speech and mind. Avoiding unwholesome actions and allowing loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity to steer us towards physical actions that are helpful and generous, not harmful and stingy; speech that is true and kind, gentle and leading towards reconciliation, timely, appropriate to the listener and directed towards Dhamma; and mind states that are devoid of stinginess, ill-will and delusion. This brightness is like our treasured guide, our parent and teacher, lighting our path to joy and peace in our hearts.
Perhaps many of us feel a sense of living in darkening shades of grey as we experience a new state of the ‘Covid’ world with so many businesses closed and people out of work, with global requests or requirements to stay at home and physically isolate as much as possible, and of course for so many, with sickness and death. Whatever shade of grey we are living with, may we use mindfulness and wise reflection to always guide us towards the light of goodness and kindness, compassion and wisdom. May our faith in the Buddha and the Dhamma and our patient endurance protect the light when the worldly winds start blowing up a storm. May we keep this light shining brightly in our hearts and may it overflow in all directions. And may the warmth and brightness of this light bring us joy and calm and lead us on the Path towards unconditional peace.
© Ayyā Nimmalā, April 2020

Where Is Sanctuary?

photo by Vivienne Bartlett

Nearly nine billion circling
This realm of disease
Decay and death
We all perish one day
And the end comes
Where is sanctuary?

I tell you –
Everything is ownerless
Everywhere crumbling
Ready to be wrenched away
At any moment
Just like this body
We have no choice
Then we let go –
There is sanctuary.

When compassion and wisdom
Preside in the mind
Awake in your refuge
Every imposter unmasked
Spurred on through panic
Or unspeakable loss
To surpass all suffering –
There is sanctuary.

When you gaze
At your own heart’s mirror
Beyond the tumult
Of the world
Nothing can compare
To that sheer silence
In the unabashed joy
Of the mind’s purity –
There is sanctuary.

When you pierce the trappings
Of delusion
Unveil the mystery of being
Our innate treasure
Dwelling blameless
Radiant and wise
Shredding the ghosts
Of lifetimes –
There is sanctuary

Knowing what is counterfeit
Fleeting and empty
Die to shame
Sorrow, anger
And selfishness
Stay long enough
Under the arc of Truth –
There is sanctuary.

Ascend like the giant sycamore
A friend and shelter
For living beings
Reviled or loved
Seen or lost
Glad or despairing
Bestowing forgiveness
To all –
There is sanctuary.

Bless and be blessed,
Nothing greater nor less
With absolute faith
Expecting nothing
Enduring the many pains
Of the Way –
There is sanctuary.

When those pains reveal
Hidden gems
In your innermost heart
Trusting as you venture
In the unchartered depths
Of that sacred Truth
A seedling no more –
There is sanctuary.

© Ayyā Medhānandī
Sati Saraniya Hermitage 01-2020

Turning Our Minds To Compassion

*** from Ajahn Jayasāro

“The more closely we contemplate our bodies and minds and the world we live in, the more profoundly we become aware of fragility and instability.

When a crisis like this pandemic lays bare the unreliable and uncertain nature of the world, we are unsurprised.  We know that what is happening right now is not a deviation from the norm. It is merely that the covers have been dragged away from the truths that most people spend their lives trying to ignore.

With a daily grounding in the way things are, we can remain free from panic, anxiety and depression.  We can turn our minds to compassion.

Faced with suffering of this depth and range, we form the heart-felt wish that all people, young and old, in all countries of the world, be free from infection. If they have contracted the virus, may they recover.

If they do not recover, may they be able to endure their pain with patience and acceptance; may they have a refuge in their heart to turn to; and in their final days, may they be surrounded with love and kindness.”

*** from the Buddha’s teaching at Sāvatthī, “If There is No Desire”, Nidāna Saṃyutta, SN 12.64 (Connected Discourses on Causation)

“Suppose, monks, there was a bungalow or a hall with a peaked roof, with windows on the northern, southern, or eastern side. When the sun rises and a ray of light enters through a window, where would it land?”
“On the western wall, Venerable Sir.”
“If there was no western wall, where would it land?”
“On the earth, Venerable Sir.”
“If there was no earth, where would it land?”
“In water, Venerable Sir.”
“If there was no water, where would it land?”
“It wouldn’t land, Venerable Sir.”

“In the same way, if there is no desire, relishing, and craving for solid food, consciousness does not become established there and doesn’t grow. … If there is no desire, relishing, and craving for contact as fuel … If there is no desire, relishing, and craving for mental intention as fuel … If there is no desire, relishing, and craving for consciousness as fuel, consciousness doesn’t become established there and doesn’t grow.

Where consciousness is not established and doesn’t grow, name and form are not conceived. Where name and form are not conceived, there is no growth of choices. Where choices don’t grow, there is no rebirth into a new state of existence in the future. Where there is no rebirth into a new state of existence in the future, there is no rebirth, old age, and death in the future. Where there is no rebirth, old age, and death in the future, I say there’s no sorrow, anguish, and distress.”


At the Altar of Emptiness

LIttle Blue BugCaught in quivering flames
of fear
too vulnerable to see or hear
deafened by blame and loss –
I listen again to the Quiet.

I stand empty
at the altar of emptiness
bowing to goodness
to wisdom
my singular refuge –
the heart’s great compassion
come what may.

Tears and trials
no pain too cruel
to forgo kindness.

Open and awake
beneath the canopy
of Truth
where the wild fruit softens
ripens and falls –
it has no choice.

I learn to abseil
the impossible heights
on a nameless track
trusting the voice
of the ancients –
weaned on the joy
of letting go.

Through our hurdles
and struggles
of body and mind
we arrive –
yes, we arrive
at the cusp of death
in one tender exhalation.

Better set our moral compass
to the truth of this moment
stay present
facetime with now
discard the burden
in its entirety.

There we will touch
the karmic law
and taste this Noble Truth
of pain
and the ending of pain
leading us beyond

Do imposters beg our attention?
evict them all
one in-breath, one out
two, three

O to see at last
stay the course
at the coordinates of faith
and peace –
the heart will unfold kindly.

Soaked in forgiveness
bravely blessing what is sweet
or sorrowful –
every moment
passing away.

© Ayyā Medhānandī 2019

photo by Brenna Artinger @ Sati Sārāņīya Hermitage

A DAY OF SHARING GRATITUDE – September 15, 2019

On Sunday, September 15, 2019, please join us for a day of gratitude.  We will honour our great Dhamma grandmother, Arahant Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī, the Buddha’s aunt and surrogate mother, on the anniversary of her ordination as the first bhikkhunī.
We will also be celebrating the 70th birthday of our Sati Sārāṇīya Dhamma mother, Ayyā Medhānandī, as well as our 11th anniversary, including 10 years here, in the forests and fields of Tay Valley Township, Ontario.
Along with members of the Tisarana community, we will be hosting Luang Por Viradhammo to bless us with a Dhamma talk as we share gratitude for the devotion and generosity that has created this sanctuary for the Buddha’s Teachings.

  • 11:00 am      Rice pindapat, offering food & blessing chant
  • 11:30              Potluck meal
  • 1:303 pm    Meditation, Dhamma talk, and chanting

** Instead of a gift, please carpool if possible and kindly bring your own plate and fork/spoon to eat out of – this will lessen disposable waste.

A Week of Silent Meditation in August

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAJoin us for a week of silent vipassana meditation lead by Ayya Medhanandi and sponsored by Satipanna Insight Meditation Toronto (SIMT) from August 9-16, 2019.

The venue for the retreat is Chapin Mill, a beautiful 135 acre purpose-built Buddhist meditation center run by the Rochester Zen community. It was founded by Philip Kapleau and is located in rural Batavia, near Rochester, upper New York state – 2.5 hours by car from Toronto, 6 hours from Ottawa.

Registration is now open.  Contact SIMT for registration details.

Ayyā Medhānandī’s 70th – A Day of Sharing Gratitude

Please join us for Ayyā Medhānandī’s 70th birthday on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019.  It is also our 10th anniversary in the forests of Sati Sārāņīya Hermitage and our 11th year in Canada.
Luang Por Viradhammo will join us for this special day along with members of the Tisarana community. It will be a joy to have you with us to hear his Dhamma talk and celebrate the devotion and generosity that has created this sanctuary for the Budhha’s Teachings.
  • 11:00 am      Rice pindapat, offering food & blessing chant
  • 11:30              Potluck meal
  • 1:303 pm    Meditation and Dhamma talk