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).
In this talk, Shaila Catherine addresses the great teaching of the Buddha known as the four noble truths: 1) suffering, 2) the cause of suffering is craving, 3) the end of suffering, and 4) the path leading to the end of suffering. Shaila Catherine explores each of the four truths through inspiring sutta references and daily life examples that show how we can live our daily lives from the perspective of liberating wisdom. Rather than engage in endless philosophical speculations or become attached to views and opinions, the Buddha taught a practical path based on the recognition of the fundamental unsatisfactory characteristic of experience. When we recognize dukkha (suffering), we can realize the end of dukkha (suffering).
In this guided meditation, Shaila Catherine introduces a practice of mindfulness of the body by observing a sequence of touch sensations. This meditation guides practitioners to gradually move attention through a series of bodily locations where the feet, buttocks, hands, lips, and eye lids touch. At each location we pause to experience the present sensations that are known at that place of touching. After exploring touch points, we broader the field of attention to the whole body sitting. By alternating the focus of attention between precise and clear points of contact, and broad, restful, receptive awareness of the whole body, the meditator nurtures a clear bright balanced mind that can meet the present moment as it is.
In this talk, Shaila Catherine encourages practitioners to view illness and pain as opportunities to practice equanimity, patience, and mindfulness of the body. When we are sick or in pain, we can still practice being attentive to present conditions, and reflect that all beings are all also subject to illness and death. Illness is not wrong; it is inevitable. The more we resist this fact, the more mental suffering we add to our physical difficulties. When we learn to be present with both pleasant and unpleasant feelings, we will know an experience of profound peace.
How are we using our minds? Where do our thought incline? The Buddha's teachings focus on the practical application of intention and the power of thought, rather than ritual, as the potent force behind action. Working with thought, we see how habits and tendencies develop and form patterns known as kamma (karma). We must be honest with ourselves and see any conceit, agitation, anger, greed, or restlessness that might be lurking as tendencies of mind. We can learn to use our thought skillfully, and guard the mind with diligent mindfulness. Wholesome and unwholesome thoughts are explored. There is nothing to fear from wholesome thoughts such as intentions toward renunciation, letting go, loving kindness, compassion, and generosity, and yet a concentrated mind will bring deeper rest. The path of liberation and awakening includes the development of morality and virtue, and also calmness, concentration, and wisdom.
In this talk, Shaila Catherine explores the purpose of meditation practice. By knowing the goal of the Buddhist path, we can avoid becoming satisfied with deceptive attainments such as mere joy, calmness, and concentration. These pleasant states are not the aim of the liberating path. If we become attached to these temporary states and initial attainments, they become impediments on the path and can prevent the realization of 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.
Shaila Catherine offers this 20-minute teaching on impermanence and not-clinging in the mode of guided meditation instructions. We practice being unattached to pleasant and unpleasant feelings and releasing all clinging connected with sensual desire or aversion. To cultivate non-clinging, first notice the experience of clinging, perhaps by observing physical tightness, mental contraction, or a sense of separation. As you become mindful of the changing nature of experiences, allow yourself to deeply accept this fact of impermanence. Allow experiences to arise and be known, and also let them end.
This 25-minute guided meditation by Shaila Catherine explores ways of recognizing and working with the five classic hindrances that arise in meditation: sensual desire, anger, sloth and torpor, restlessness, and doubt. We observe how hindrances arise, and learn how to respond wisely to them.
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.