Shaila Catherine is the founder of Bodhi Courses (bodhicourses.org) an online Dhamma classroom, and Insight Meditation South Bay, a meditation center in Mountain View, California (imsb.org). She has been practicing meditation since 1980, with more than eight years of accumulated silent retreat experience, and has taught since 1996 in the USA, and internationally. Shaila has dedicated several years to studying with masters in India, Nepal and Thailand, completed a one year intensive meditation retreat with the focus on concentration and jhana, and authored Focused and Fearless: A Meditator's Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity, (Wisdom Publications, 2008). She has extensive experience practicing and teaching mindfulness, loving kindness, concentration, and a broad range of approaches to liberating insight. Since 2006, Shaila has continued her study of jhana and insight under the direction of Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw, and authored Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana (Wisdom Publications, 2011).
Shaila Catherine gave the first talk in a speaker series titled "Goals in Meditation." Shaila explored the question of what are the aims of our practice. We can easily fall into the trap of being satisfied with our deceptive attainments, such as joy, calmness, and concentration. For these are not the ultimate goal of this path of liberation. If we become attached to these states, no matter how praise-worthy, they become impediments to reach the ultimate goal of awakening.
Shaila Catherine discusses the importance of developing mindfulness of emotions and mental states. Human beings have the capacity to experience a wide range of emotions—they may be subtle or intense, unwholesome or wholesome. Working with emotions requires energy and courage to be willing to face the raw fact that this mental state is present. We can become aware of, and work skillfully with, any emotional state including anger, hate, gratitude, fear, sadness, calmness, insecurity, contentment, grief, tranquility, lust, compassion, loneliness, jealousy, envy, restlessness, peacefulness, faith, love. Emotions are changing mental states that arise in conjunction with every perception. When we are mindful of emotions we drop the conceptual narrative of the story line and investigate how the mind operates. What conditions nourish each mental state, and what conditions cause them to end? How do these mental states affect the clarity of our perception? We can observe the dynamic interaction of emotions and the body, and learn to work with emotions in conjunction with their somatic manifestations. We might gather ideas for investigation by reviewing the detailed Abhidhamma categories of mental states and the factors that constitute each state, or we might simply observe the arising and ceasing of mental states in activity and our meditation.
In this Dharma talk given as Thanksgiving approaches, Shaila Catherine discusses the benefits of gratitude and a perspective of thankfulness. She notes that studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between gratitude and happiness, and awareness of well-being in life.
Shaila Catherine concluded our lecture series on the Great Disciples, with a talk about the Venerable Mahakaccana. He was a monk famous for explaining difficult and perplexing teachings. The Buddha sometimes gave brief teachings that left the listeners confused. Sometimes the disciples did not ask the Buddha questions to clarify their doubt. Instead they sought out another monk to elucidate the matter and explain the detailed meaning. The Pali Canon preserves several insightful discourses in which initial enigmatic teachings by the Buddha are systematically explained by Venerable Mahakaccana. He addresses profound topics including the construction of I-making and mine-making, craving, conceit, views, mindfulness of sense perceptions, obsession with thoughts of past and future, and overcoming desire and lust. His methods of exposition became the basis of early commentary, and Mahakaccana became known as the first Buddhist commentator.
In this first talk in a lecture series on the Great Disciples, the speaker, Shaila
Catherine, tells the life story of Angulimala and his transformation from notorious robber and murdered to a peaceful, compassionate, truthful, and awakened monk. It is an inspiring example of the power of restraint, and the potential for redemption. Habits and dispositions do not need to control our lives. We can stop unwholesome, unhealthy, and harmful courses of conduct. We can purify our minds.
Shaila Catherine gave the fifth talk in a speaker series titled "Living Wisely in the World: Caring for Mind, Family, Society, and Planet." She pointed out that feelings and emotions can be rather seductive, especially when we are not mindful of them, because they can unconsciously propel us into action. When feelings are pleasant, the response very often moves the mind towards craving and grasping. When feelings are unpleasant, the response is often aversion. Therefore, feelings should be investigated and understood, instead of being the basis upon which impulsive decisions are made.
In this 30-minute guided mettā meditation, Shaila Catherine recommends directing mettā initially toward ourselves, then toward a virtuous person, and finally towards groups of beings. Such groups comprise 1) males and females; 2) enlightened and unenlightened beings; and 3) the realms of existence. Such realms include hell beings, animals, humans, celestial beings and gods. The aim is to gradually expand the field of mettā until it is unbounded, immeasurable, and without boarders, barriers, or exceptions. Meditators may use these traditional groupings or creatively adapt them to support their mettā practice.
Shaila Catherine gave the fourth talk in the five-week series "Four Noble Truths." This talk discusses the Fourth Noble Truth, the path leading to the cessation of suffering and known as the Noble Eightfold Path. We must know this path and actually travel it. This practice allows us to live a life that is noble and upright, and helps us distinguish between that which is wholesome (which leads to ending of suffering) and that which is unwholesome (which leads to more suffering).
Shaila Catherine gave the second talk in the five-week series "Four Noble Truths." This talk explores the causes of suffering (in Pali dukkha), and explains how conditioned mental and sensory experiences are unsatisfactory and stressful. Craving causes suffering when our perceptions are accompanied by delight and lust. Practicing mindfulness reduces suffering, because when we are present we experience things as they actually are, and do not crave something different.
Shaila Catherine gave the fourth talk in a six-week series titled "Ethics, Action and the Five Precepts." Speech is given particular importance in the Buddhist path because wrong speech can cause tremendous harm, and right speech can be profoundly beneficial. Practicing right speech is given emphasis because it's a very vivid way of applying our practice to daily life. When we lie based on delusion and greed, our intention usually is to benefit ourselves. When we lie based on delusion and hatred, our intention is usually to harm others. Even when we lie to cause less harm than would be caused if we spoke the truth, we should be aware of the potential karmic consequences.