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 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.
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.
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.
The Buddha taught a path of profound happiness and peace. Shaila Catherine structures this teaching around a discourse of the Buddha found in the Vedanasamyutta (SN 36:31) that describes a gradual refinement through three kinds of happiness: carnal sensual pleasures, spiritual joy that is associated with concentration, and the unsurpassed happiness of a liberated mind.
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).