Fusion of Faiths

fusion of faithsStudents from the grade 6 religion class at Joan of Arc Academy experienced the Buddhism section of their studies live in a recent field trip to Sati Saraniya Hermitage. Our afternoon together included meditation time and a question/answer session about monastic life which touched on the common ground of our great spiritual traditions.

We chanted verses of blessing and protection to wish them well and, in turn, were showered with generous offerings of food items, flowers, soaps and other thoughtful gifts. Meeting this way in kindness, generosity, respect and openness was an opportunity for greater understanding and friendship, not to mention the joy and gratitude that flowed in both directions while rescuing their school bus when it got stuck in the mud!


Just as birds leave no tracks in the air,
there are those whose minds do not cling to what they receive,
their focus is the signless state of liberation
that to others is indiscernible.

Just like birds who leave no tracks in the air,
there are those whose minds are freed of greed and hate,
unconcerned about food or shelter
their focus is the signless state of liberation.

Like birds in the sky that leave no tracks,
they move unhindered on their way.”

                                                                                          Dhammapāda, 92-3 (adapted)

All winter long, on the darkest days, when shrill winds whip across the world and the earth is thick with snow and ice, these tiny winged friends appear. Time and again, they happily feed on what is given, taking their turns, and singing their thanks and praises.

As we venture into the unknown terrain of the heart, they teach us what is possible – even in harsh conditions.  How blessed we are to undertake this interior pilgrimage, well-cared for by the kindness all around us, provided with alms food, warm clothing, shelter, medicines, and seclusion from worldly activities.

Yet, at times, we feel blinded and shaken by the relentless clout of craving or erratic mental weather, and the search for true refuge seems beyond our reach. In such precarious moments, how can we sustain our footing?

We look to the Buddha himself, a human being who, by his own example, taught us that we can know the signless, the Deathless, that unsurpassed freedom and peace of heart.

     “Friends, it is through not understanding, not penetrating the Four Noble Truths that I as well as you have for a long time run on and gone round the cycle of birth-and-death. What are they? By not understanding the Noble Truth of Suffering, we have fared on, by not understanding the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering, of the Cessation of Suffering, and of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering, we  have fared on round the cycle of birth-and-death.”

     “And by the understanding, the penetration of the same Noble Truth of Suffering, of the Origin of Suffering, of the Cessation of Suffering, and of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering, the craving for becoming (sorrow’s root) has been cut off  . . . the support of becoming has been destroyed, there is no more rebirth.”

                                  Mahāparinibbbāna Sutta, Digha Nikāya 16                                  The Great Passing: The Buddha’s Last Days

Hearing his words, we carry on, guided by the Buddha’s map of consciousness. We calm the mind, summoning greater integrity, gratitude, and contentment to heal and protect it. Loving-kindness and compassion add radiance, joy and uplift while mindfulness serves as our trustworthy compass.

Should we stumble or lose heart, wise reflection helps us rekindle our resolve and trust enough for one more step, a new moment, another breath. We keep going – restored, nurtured, and single-minded – gently steering our way forth again to an ancient refrain of thanksgiving: “Namo tassa bhagavato arahato, sammāsambuddhassa.”*

We learn that sanctuary is here – letting be, going inward, sweeping away the cobwebs and detritus of lifetimes in search of that Dhamma jewel. And every morning the chickadees return, reminding us to persevere; whatever storm, whatever trial or obstacle, just to patiently endure and stay on course, as long as it takes.

Ayyā Medhānandī

*Pāli phrases meaning: Homage to the blessed, noble and perfectly Enlightened One

Ethical Footprint

new kutiA prevailing theme of the Buddha’s own life and teachings resounds for his disciples across more than two and a half millenia. Repeatedly, he extols the virtues of dwelling in the wilderness, exhorting us to devote ourselves to solitude, seclusion, and meditation so that we can realize Nibbāna, the Deathless.

 1. “Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living in the Kuru country where there was a town of the Kurus named Kammāsadhamma. There he addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Bhikkhus.”—“Venerable sir,” they replied. The Blessed One said this:
2. “Bhikkhus, this is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realisation of Nibbāna—namely, the four foundations of mindfulness.
3. “What are the four? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating feelings as feelings, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind as mind, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating mind-objects as mind-objects, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world.
4. “And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu abide contemplating the body as a body? Here a bhikkhu, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out…”

Majjhima Nikāya 10. Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta:
The Foundations of Mindfulness

Due to the extremes of Canada’s winters, and as bhikkhunis, we do not use the roots of trees as a resort, but we have empty huts. Thanks to the kind generosity of our community, this winter we have two log kutis* styled after the early settlers’ wooden log houses – apart from a smaller footprint of 108 square feet, metal roof and modern double-hung windows. The locally-grown pine logs are dovetailed in traditional fashion and built to last for generations of meditating monastics.

We are happy to be testing them during our winter retreat. They are superbly suited to forest-dwelling and contemplative practice. Though designed for sustainability and care of the earth, above all, inside these tiny spaces we are eager to reduce the kilesa* footprint in our minds.

*kuti: meditation hut
*kilesa: mental hindrance ie. greed, hatred, delusion, anxiety, restlessness, pride, selfishness…

Daughter of the Buddha

On July 5th, one week before the start of our annual vassa or rains retreat, Acala took anagarika ordination in the temple at Sati Saraniya Hermitage. A small gathering of our community members watched her request permission to live the homeless life. Soon afterwards, she emerged with head shaved, wearing the signature white robe of a postulant, prepared to undertake the first phase of training as a monastic.

We were moved to witness this act of profound commitment to the holy life. For every one of us, it nourishes the aspiration for spiritual awakening and brightens our resolve to persevere on this path of prudent happiness.

Unexpected Blessings

After the solitude of our winter retreat and the return of bright spring days, we decided to follow the ancient Buddhist practice of walking for alms to receive spontaneous offerings of food from the community. On Saturday mornings, we have been going pindapat in the Perth Farmers’ Market. We stand between the colourful displays of fruits, plants and home-made products where vendors and passers-by exchange friendly greetings. Time and again, our alms bowls have been overflowing with generosity – a sign of the warm reception and interest people express in our way of life and local presence.

These last few weeks have also been a time of receiving new visitors to the Hermitage, notably Ayya Anandabodhi, co-founder of Aloka Vihara in California. Not only is she the first bhikkhuni we have hosted for an extended visit, but we also share more than 20 years of spiritual friendship as nuns. It was rich and meaningful for our community to have her with us and to hear her teach the Dhamma.

We also welcomed visits from several women interested in monastic training. One of them, Denise Morrison of Pennsylvania, presented us with a special gift – a portrait she painted of Arahant Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha’s aunt and surrogate mother. This life-like portrayal of our first elder bhikkhuni and ancestral mother is now framed and mounted in our vestibule.

One of our guests from the UK took a spiritual name, Acala (the Pali word for ‘unwavering’), and requested anagarika ordination – living as a homeless one. Her wish to formally receive the eight precepts, wear the white robes and have her head shaved by her 50th birthday will be fulfilled on Saturday, July 5, 2014, in the meditation hall at Sati Saraniya Hermitage.

Acala’s devotion to the teachings of the Buddha stirs us to reaffirm our own aspiration for awakening. We remember how rare and precious it is to live dependent on the kindness of others and to commit ourselves to truth, harmlessness, greater wisdom and compassion.  When we reflect in this way, every day for us is filled with blessings.  These act like a scaffold that sustains us through the many spiritual trials and hurdles that must be overcome.  In turn, what we receive, we give back.

First Things First

Just as a deep lake is clear and still, even so, on hearing the teachings and realising them, the wise become exceedingly peaceful.      Dhammapada 82

Every year has been auspicious for our community and 2013 was no exception. We will remember it as the year the Temple was completed, rising in the footprints of four ancient barns that stood sentinel for a century at the top of our driveway. And we remember the many inaugural events we hosted inside the meditation hall – a first day of gratitude to parents with the Tisarana Sangha, a first ordination ceremony, and a first residential retreat on the theme of ‘Death and Dying’.

We also remember the joy of our first mornings of pindapat along the rural lanes of Lanark County. Following the spirit of the Buddha going for alms in village India more than two and a half millenia ago, we walked mindfully in silence with our alms bowls to the homes of dear devotees to receive a meal offering and chant blessings.

During the last five months, the palpable stillness and beauty inside the meditation hall created a welcome haven for many overnight guests, stewards and local friends who joined us for evening and weekend practice sessions. For the first time, this year it will become sanctuary for our three month winter retreat.

By taking this time to stop and devote ourselves to meditation, we practise balancing the pace and demands of our commitments. Instead of focusing outwardly, we give ourselves to the vital work of looking within. Instead of singling out the ‘firsts’ of our past year, or of our life, and remembering them as special, we see and investigate our experience moment by moment.

We discover that every breath is its own ‘first’, a new beginning in which awareness grows clear and deeper truths are revealed. These are the seeds of peace and wisdom that stopping and studying our own hearts can foster.

May each of us remember to stop – no matter how compelling or important our activities, or how much enjoyment they bring. Devotion to the higher mind will yield a greater happiness, a deeper peace, and a viable refuge from the world.

May we all strive to purify our hearts and bring forth more loving-kindness and compassion in this world.

Aspiring to Awaken

On the full moon day of September nearly 2600 years ago, Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha’s aunt and foster mother, became the first bhikkhuni to receive ordination in the Buddha’s dispensation and, later, an arahant in her lifetime. This year we honoured her with a pabbajja ceremony at Sati Saraniya Hermitage. One hundred Dhamma friends gathered to witness Anagarikā Ahiṃsā receive samaneri ordination, ‘going forth from home to homelessness’ as a 10-precept Theravada novice nun.

Ahiṃsā means ‘one who brings no harm to anyone’. A native of Vancouver, her endurance, gentleness and compassion during her training, which coincided with major temple construction works at the Hermitage, have endeared her to everyone in our community.

It was groundbreaking for our community, being the first such ritual to be held in the new Temple and in the presence of the Ubhato Sangha or Fourfold Assembly as established by the Buddha, namely: monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen.

Attending the ceremony was Sister Ahiṃsā’s 24 year old daughter, Allison, who travelled from Vancouver especially to witness her mother’s momentous step of deepening her devotion and commitment to the Buddha’s teachings.

How tender the moment when Samaneri Ahiṃsā emerged in her new rust-coloured robes and paused in front of Allison to receive her alms bowl, marking her complete dependence on alms and the kindness of others. Once Allison placed the bowl strap around her mother’s shoulders, Samaneri Ahiṃsā ascended the altar to recite her vows.

For all who sat in the temple, the impact of this rare and moving act of spiritual commitment and renunciation was palpable.

Seeking our own liberation from suffering has the hidden effect of widening the path to awakening for all beings. It is a sign of what is possible, regardless of the trials and storms we must face in life, a reminder of our potential to tap a reservoir of inner resilience, strength and a beauty of heart that can bring forth great blessings.

Dying to be Free

Reclining-Buddha-Polonnaruwa-Sri-LankaSati Saraniya Hermitage will host a 3-day “Dying to be Free” meditation retreat (residential and non-residential) on the Remembrance Day Weekend: 6 pm, Friday, Nov. 8 – midday (after the meal) Monday, Nov. 11.

The traditional format of keeping eight precepts and noble silence with periods of sitting/walking meditation in the Temple hall and vestibule areas will be followed. We will also include dedications and remembrance of loved ones, morning and evening chanting, guided death meditation, and Dhamma reflections on dying, freedom from fear and bringing forth joy.

Meals will be simple breakfast (bread/porridge and a hot drink) and potluck dana for 3 days. Tea/coffee and ‘allowables’ in the afternoon. Please bring a dish and/or groceries to share, toilet paper, warm clothes, towel and bedding/sleeping bag. We have a few spare blankets and a good supply of meditation mats and cushions but you are welcome to bring your own.

We have 16 registered for the retreat and residential attendance is now full. Our local Perth community members are warmly welcomed to attend and return home at the end of each day.

Much appreciation and anumodana.

Ajahn Dtun Visits Sati Saraniya Hermitage

This week of Vesakha puja, the full moon of May, we were graced by the presence of one of Thailand’s most venerated meditation masters and disciples of Ajahn Chah, Venerable Ajahn Dtun (Thirachitto).

Born in Ayutthaya, Thailand in 1955, by his teen years, Ajahn Dtun already felt inclined towards monastic life. In 1978, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics, he was accepted to a Master’s program at the University of Colorado. He had thought to further his studies and look after his father until he could ordain as a monk. But one evening, while reading a book on the Dhamma, he came across the last words of the Buddha, “Monks, all things that arise will pass away. Strive on without heedlessness.”

He was so moved that within two months, he arrived at Wat Nong Pah Pong to ordain with the Venerable Ajahn Chah. He resolved “to ordain for life and be in the forest or in caves like the Buddha”. With his great skill and determination, Ajahn Dtun soon became an accomplished meditator. He travelled to other branch monasteries and stayed with Ajahn Piak and Ajahn Anan at Wat Fah Krahm for 4 years. Then he helped Ajahn Anan establish Wat Marb Jan on a forested mountain and after five years, in 1990, he went into solitude in the forest of Boonyawat in Chonburi province to further his practice.

After two and a half years of seclusion, 100 acres of land was offered to establish Wat Boonyawat under Ajahn Dtun’s leadership. In 2008, he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer and in the following year of treatment, he underwent 4 major surgeries and 12 courses of chemotherapy.  Devotees eager to do good works to prolong his life donated more land for a stupa to be built.

Ajahn Dtun is now in good health and residing at Wat Boonyawat. The monastery encompasses 200 acres of forest and many flock there to listen to his teachings. There are regularly 40-50 monks that live and practise under Ajahn Dtun’s guidance and he also travels to visit monasteries in Western countries. During his stay at Tisarana Monastery, he kindly accepted our invitation to visit Sati Saraniya Hermitage accompanied by Ajahn Viradhammo and Ajahn Tejapañño, his translator from Australia.

We are deeply inspired and blessed by this remarkable meeting with Ajahn Dtun as we near completion of the temple building.  May we follow his heroic example and heed the Blessed One’s exhortation to strive diligently on the Path of awakening.

Blessing Each Moment

Temple in SpringOver 25 years ago, I took the 10-precept nun’s ordination in Myanmar; and five years ago, I returned to Canada to establish Sati Saraniya Hermitage. Recently, as we emerged from our annual Winter retreat to see the snow melting and Canada geese flocking home, I reflected on the impermanence of all things and especially how unwavering refuge in the Dhamma has been my true home.

During our time of seclusion, the Temple builders respectfully and quietly continued working. They framed interior walls, roughed in the electrical wiring, plumbing and heating, and sprayed foam insulation in the walls. In the last few weeks of Spring, they created the beautiful tongue-and-groove wood ceiling of the meditation hall, installed the windows and mounted the exterior cladding in preparation for a day of honouring our parents and teachers on the Path which we hosted together with the monks from Tisarana Buddhist Monastery.

In the transitions we make from times of quiet such as retreat to the business of daily activities, we have to attend to many tasks and responsibilities. These may appear to be obstacles to our practice. In fact, they are opportunities for us to continue developing mindfulness in all four postures while honing our Dhamma skills with greater wisdom, compassion and equanimity.

While we work, rather than wishing we could just stay within the special conditions of retreat that suit our peace of mind, we try to sustain our intention not just to get a job done but to develop the four sublime abidings of the mind, brahma vihāras of loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity. This means continuously clearing the ground of our mind’s debris and seeing the unwholesome inclinations and thoughts that are to be abandoned.

In their place, we cultivate good will and kind intentions which arise from empathy for others in their joys and struggles instead of harbouring negative and critical mind states such as competitiveness, resentment or disdain. Hardest of all, we turn the mind to equanimity, to abide peacefully with conditions just as they are, not from resignation or passivity but from understanding the ways of the world and refraining from giving in to self-centred desire or ill-will.

The resilience and peace that equanimity bestows can be learned during these passages from states of quiet to activity. Not holding onto either extreme, we practice the Buddha’s ‘Middle Way’. We walk right down the middle – empty of the self that grasps for anything at all. We do this for one moment and another moment, patiently practising what is hard for humans to do. At first we crawl along, dragged down by habitual thoughts – until we learn to get up and walk. It is a way of walking that is contented and serene, with loving-kindness and joy. And as our wings to awakening grow, at last, we learn to soar.

May your Dhamma practice flourish and sustain you in peace of heart and joyful well-being.

Medhānandī Bhikkhunī