Shaila Catherine, has been practicing meditation since 1980, with more than eight years of accumulated silent retreat experience. She 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. Shaila Catherine has practiced under the guidance of Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw since 2006; she authored Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana to help make this traditional approach to meditative training accessible to western practitioners. She is the founder of Insight Meditation South Bay, a Buddhist meditation center in Silicon Valley.
This talk was given as a part of the series "Enhancing Mindfulness Skills: A Seven-Week Series Dedicated to Cultivating Transformative Insight." Mindfulness of the body is one of the most fundamental approaches to meditation. This talk focused on a traditional Buddhist meditation system called the "Four Elements." In ancient India, the materiality of the body was conceived of as composed of four elements -- earth, fire, wind and water. These four elements, in turn, have twelve characteristics -- (earth) heaviness and lightness, hardness and softness, roughness and smoothness, (fire) heat and coolness, (wind) pushing and supporting, (water) fluidity and cohesion. All of these characteristics can be known with our mind and in our body. Contemplating and observing these characteristics lead us to see the constant changes in the body, hence, its impermanence. In other words, being aware of these simple aspects of the four elements allows us to form an insightful relationship with our body that sees its impermanence, that recognizes how we cannot control it, and realizes that it is not what and who we are. The body is not self, it is not possessible, not I, and not eternally me. This insight helps us to let go of attachments to our body that cause so much suffering. This talk concluded with a guided meditation of body scans, with emphasis on the four elements and their respective characteristics.
This talk was given as a part of the series "Enhancing Mindfulness Skills: A Seven-Week Series Dedicated to Cultivating Transformative Insight." How do we approach the breath? The breath can be used in a variety of ways to enhance mindfulness and to cultivate insight, such as impermanence. Most simply, perhaps, is that we can calm the mind by observing the breath. We can use the breath to tune into the present moment experience, here and now. We also can use the breath as a way to assess our feelings. Namely, we can tune into our moods by noticing how our breath changes. Another approach to work with the breath is to realize that it's changing, that it's impermanent. This realization of the impermanence of the breath can lead us to a skillful and powerful recollection of death. Let this contemplation of death be poignant enough to stir a sense of urgency within us, so we can reflect on what is really important in our lives.
This talk was given as a part of the series "Where Rubber Meets the Road: A Series on Mindful Living." We live in a world that requires a diversity of relationships. How do you choose your friends? What kind of relationships support or stunt your spiritual growth? How do you relate to life, and to love? We can bring wisdom and mindfulness to our interactive lives, to the roles that we perform, to our intimate sexual relationships, and our friendships; we practice both in solitude and in community. Harmony, generosity, and joy are developed through noble friendship. Relationships can challenge us to work with the tendencies of our own minds, clarify our precepts, develop compassion, learn to let go, and nurture the path of awakening. Deep friendship is considered to be the precursor of right view. A good friend encourages the best in us and supports our development of the noble eight fold path.
Shaila Catherine gave this concluding talk in a guest speaker series that was organized to stimulate critical inquiry about mindfulness and how the teachings about mindfulness are manifesting in western cultures. This talk presents critical thinking, reflection, and discussion as integral elements of Buddhist practice. It refers to the early Buddhist custom of reciting teachings, sharing the Dhamma, and inviting correction and criticism about how the Dhamma was presented and taught. As mindfulness practices become mainstreamed, and applied in corporations and therapeutic contexts, some concern arises that the deep and liberating teachings of emptiness might be ignored as non-Buddhists, and sometimes non-practitioners, assert their own definitions of mindfulness in the media. This brief talk concludes with reflection questions about:
1. the meaning and definition of mindfulness—how is mindfulness different from attention?
2. how are ethics taught in Buddhist and secular applications of mindfulness?
3. how are secular interests affecting the development of western lay Buddhism?
This talk explores insight practice (vipassana) as a profound approach to the unsurpassed happiness of liberation. Awakening (realization of nibbana) arises through the clear seeing of mind and matter as they actually are. Insight into the impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty nature of things leads to a profound disenchantment and dispassion toward what was previously clung to. Mind and matter will never the a reliable basis for lasting happiness. Seeing this, the mind releases its habits of craving temporary pleasures, and clinging to things that change. The insight into impermanence is the spark for the most profound state of peace and joy, and creates a pleasant dwelling in this very life, even for the Arahant. The talk is followed by a guided meditation that encourages the observation of changing feelings, formations, mental states and emotions—seeing the impermanent nature of all experiences.
This is a talk on the theme of the joy of seclusion, followed immediately by a guided meditation on concentration using the breath as the focus. A concentrated mind is a happy mind. Joy, rapture, happiness, pleasure, sublime bliss, peacefulness, and equanimity are intrinsic to concentrated states. This brief talk introduces the four states of concentrated absorption known as the four jhanas and the immaterial states of infinite space, infinite consciousness, the base of nothingness or emptiness, and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. In Buddhism, not only is the rapture and pleasure of attaining jhana a form of happiness, but the deep ease and equanimity of the immaterial states are considered to be refined forms of happiness.
An uncluttered mind and heart brings great joy! Contentment is a state of serene ease, free from the fear of loss. Letting go and renunciation are taught as joyful practices, not penance. The Buddha taught his disciples to "abandon what is not yours, this will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time". So we ask, what is "not ours"? And by implication, what is really mine? Joyful renunciation enables meditators to investigate the delusion of possessiveness until the mind if freed of all clinging to the impermanent experiences that really cannot be grasped anyway.
This talk introduces a series of talks on the theme of happiness, and addresses a tension found in Buddhism between teachings that emphasis suffering, and teachings that encourage profound joy. In the Buddha's teachings a distinction is made between sensual pleasures, and pleasures that develop through wholesome states of virtue, renunciation, concentration, or insight. Happiness can be supportive for practice, and this talk encourages us to enjoy meditation, to open to natural pleasures, and to cultivate delight in the dhamma, but we must understand if the support for our joy is skillful. By reflecting on our virtuous acts, generosity, and meritorious deeds, and by recollecting the noble qualities of the Buddha, we can delight the mind, stimulate self-respect and self-esteem, and inspire our practice with a wholesome source of joy.
This recording begins with approximately 20 minutes of teachings on anger, followed by a little less than 20 minutes of a guided meditative reflection.
The talk examines the force of aversion, anger, hatred, and hostility as manifestations of what in Pali are called dose-rooted states. Rather than criticize and judge ourselves when anger arises, we extract ourselves from the story of anger, and practice seeing it as an experience of suffering—as dukkha. Anger does not happen to us; we actively engage in the process. Therefore, through clear seeing and wise inquiry, we can change the conditions that perpetuate anger in our lives. Often anger arises when there is unwise attention to an unpleasant sensory or mental contact. We can learn to work mindfully with these deeply conditioned tendencies and feeling how it manifests in the body, become aware of the feeling tone (vedana), recognize the mental state, and discern how it functions—its origin, cessation, and way leading to its cessation. The primary antidote is mindfulness.
This talk explores the concepts of self and not-self, and how we conceive of a self by clinging to sensory experiences. How do you construct the sense of being a someone, and the notion that you possess something? The process of selfing is addressed as a form of thought. We can intentionally investigate how the identification forms, what it depends upon, and liberate the mind from it's hold.
Restless thinking often fuels self concepts with thoughts about me, what I desire, or the projects I am planning. The formation of identity is seductive, and even jhana states and meditative attainments can become the basis for clinging if the meditator is not watchful. As we awaken to the empty nature of mind, we might ask: will nothing be enough? Do you experience in seeing, only seeing; in hearing, only the hearing; in sensing, only sensing; in cognizing, only the cognizing? Or does the habit of conceiving of a self in experience complicate perception and cause discontent with the basic truth of emptiness?