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).
How is a sense of self constructed? What is the concept of not-self in Buddhist practice? How do we construct identity? This talk explores the traditional model of the five aggregates affected by clinging and explains how clinging occurs in contact with sensory experience. The five aggregates—materiality, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness—represent an early Buddhist model for understanding how suffering forms through misperception. Clinging to misperceptions produces a sense of continuity in experience that we conventionally call "I", and a relationship to experience the we conventionally call "mine". This model clarifies the precise objects contemplated in vipassana (insight) meditation practice. This talk explains each aggregate so that insight may liberate the mind from this subtle type of attachment.
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.
Mindfulness brings a powerful quality of presence to our encounter with experience. By cultivating deep presence we meet life below the level of superficial concepts. We disentangle the mind from the story of self. More than charisma or social skills, deep presence implies a profound way of being which brings our momentary encounters into the immediate present.
Boredom not a state of relaxation. It is a manifestation of aversion and restlessness that arises when we are not bringing enough mindfulness, interest, energy, or attention to what is actually happening. The habit of seeking happiness in external events and sensory pleasures is fundamentally unsatisfying. The restless seeking of more stimulating experiences ignores the First Noble Truth of dukkha—that there is suffering in conditioned experiences; that unpleasant feelings arise in our lives. Boredom arises because the quality of attention is not well direction; it arises with unwise attention. We can counter boredom with mindfulness. Make the effort to observe the changing nature of things. Appreciate and enjoy what is worthy. Notice moments in which there is no clinging. Reflect upon your purpose and goal—aim for the highest liberation, complete awakening, the peace of release, nibbana.
Awakening is the profound aim of the spiritual life. Awakening is not described as a mystical goal, we wake up to the four noble truths. We look squarely at the world and recognize that we cannot fix it, and through this clarity we realize the end of suffering. Enlightenment does not imply a separation from life, instead, it brings us to face the reality of lived experiences without resistance. Profound realization brings a deep equanimity and peace into every encounter; it is defined as the ending of greed, hatred, and delusion. Awakening is known through the result—the end of defilements, craving, and ignorance.
This talk teases out the meaning of several difficult "D" words: disenchantment, dispassion, detachment. These terms do not imply an aversive response to experience, instead they play a vital role in the process of awakening.
The talk explores profound spiritual experiences. It considers the danger of arrogance and conceit arising, clinging to, and corrupting enlightenment experiences. It discusses how to express, describe, and speak about our spiritual awakenings without identification.
Meditation can reveal the dynamic process of emotional life. This talk explores relationships between mind and body, between thoughts and emotions, and between present moment experience and concepts. Emotions are not avoided in meditation, instead we engage in a balanced and wise investigation of emotions and see their changing, impermanent, and empty nature. Transformative insight into impermanence may come through understanding the functioning of mental states, without worry about difficult emotions such as anger, grief, or fear. We will learn to respond, act, and speak with wisdom as we learn to open to the full range of emotional life.
How does suffering manifest in attachment to views? This talk explores right view and addresses the danger of attaching to a position, philosophy, belief, or opinion. Primary sources are the teachings from the Middle Length discourses numbers 72 and 74. Recognizing the dangers of attachment and clinging to beliefs and opinions, we directly investigate what can be known in the mind and body. This is a pragmatic path of mindful awareness that results in actions that are immediately liberating.
What do we need to know, understand, investigate, and realize through our meditation practice? In the Anguttara Nikaya. VI, 63, the Buddha described six things that should be known in six ways. The six things to be known include desires, feelings, perceptions, taints, kamma (actions of body speech and mind), and suffering. Each can be known through their presence, conditioned origin, diversity, outcome, cessation, and way to cessation. This talk explores the structure and details of this brief sutta teaching, and proposes a practical approach to investigating the mind and our relationship with life.
Shaila shares her process of discovering and practicing the deep concentration states of jhana, and detailed vipassana practices as taught by Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw of Burma. She speaks about the cultivation of concentration and insight, and the systematic path that leads the mind from distraction to clarity, understanding, and nibbana. At the request of Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw, she wrote a book to serve as a practice guide for other practitioners: Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana