Shaila Catherine has been practicing meditation since 1980, with more than eight years of accumulated silent retreat experience. She has taught insight meditation since 1996 in the U.S. 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 Bodhi Courses, an online dhamma classroom, and Insight Meditation South Bay, a Buddhist meditation center in Silicon Valley.
Books, Courses & Podcasts
Focused and Fearless
With this accessible guide, meditators (and non-meditators) can understand how to attain extraordinary states with relative ease. Blended with contemporary examples and pragmatic “how to” instructions that anyone can try, Focused and Fearless provides a wealth of tools to cultivate non-distracted attention in daily life and on retreat. Shaila Catherine has a friendly, wise approach to the meditative states (jhanas) that lead to liberating insight.
Focused and Fearless is about much more than merely meditation or concentration. It offers a complete path towards bliss, fearlessness, and true awakening.
Wisdom Wide and Deep
Wisdom Wide and Deep is a comprehensive guide to an in-depth training that emphasizes the application of concentrated attention (jhana) to profound and liberating insight (vipassana). With calm, tranquility, and composure established through a practical experience of jhana meditators are able to halt the seemingly endless battle against hindrances, eliminate distraction, and facilitate a penetrative insight into the subtle nature of matter and mind. It was for this reason the Buddha frequently exhorted his students,
Wisdom Wide and Deep follows and amplifies the teachings in Shaila Catherine’s acclaimed first book, Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity. Readers will learn to develop this profound stability, sustain an in-depth examination of the nuances of mind and matter, and ultimately unravel deeply conditioned patterns that perpetuate suffering. This fully detailed manual for the mind sure to become a trusted companion to many inner explorers.
Shaila Catherine: Mastering the Jhānas
In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we meet Theravada Buddhist teacher Shaila Catherine, author of Wisdom Wide and Deep and Focused and Fearless. Shaila was introduced to transcendental meditation in high school, and then later entered the path of Theravada Buddhism. She shares the difficulties she encountered on her first meditation retreat as well as what she encountered on that retreat that inspired her to continue practicing. She then shares how she spent a decade practicing in India, studying with meditation masters including H. W. L. Poonja (Poonjaji). She shares what it was like to study with Poonjaji and the phenomenal mind-to-mind connection he had with students. Shaila then reflects on how important the “ordinary” is as a part of spiritual practice. She also tells us about how she began going on longer retreats, during which time she began exploring the jhāna states. We hear about the powerful and useful application of jhāna practice, and how it enhances insight meditation and brings stability to the mind—as well as some common misunderstandings some people have about jhāna practice. Host Daniel Aitken and Shaila then discuss how a practitioner can move from using the breath as the anchor to using mental states as an anchor through the “precise technology” of jhāna practice. They also discuss how to use the breath as a focus for concentration. Shaila then describes in depth the first jhāna and how it can be used for insight meditation, and how concentration practice illuminates the causes of suffering. Shaila also reflects on the difference between conceptually understanding impermanence, and really understanding it on a deeper level. She also shares her thoughts on the conditions needed to enter the jhānas, and whether we can access the jhānas in the midst of our busy lives, rather than simply on long retreats.
Ajahn Brahm and Shaila Catherine: Dialogue on the Deep States of Samadhi
For this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, host Daniel Aitken travels to Berkeley, California, to attend After Mindfulness, a two-day conference and retreat bringing together Buddhist practitioners from around the globe to ask the question what is mindfulness? At the conference, Daniel joins revered meditation teachers Ajahn Brahm and Shaila Catherine for a live panel discussion on the topic of deep states of samadhi. Both Shaila and Ajahn Brahm are widely revered for their knowledge on jhāna practices in the Theravada tradition. In this conversation, they discuss their shared and contrasting points of view on theory and practice. Both speak to the necessity of “letting go” as a primary orientation, and how deep states of absorption allow one to return to the world of the senses with unprecedented insight. Ajahn Brahm teaches the practice of letting go as a non-effort—that you can’t “do” letting go and how one must completely disengage from the “doer” frame of mind. Shaila shares a more systematic approach to this notion of letting go, and stresses the importance of developing a clear understanding of how one both enters and exits jhāna states.
The mind can be a potent tool, used to guide extraordinary achievements, inspire good works, and incline your spiritual path toward peace and awakening. But the mind can also produce thoughts that lead to suffering. For many people, thoughts run rampant and seem to oppress or control their lives. Even the Buddha tells us that before his enlightenment, he sometimes found his mind preoccupied by thoughts connected with sensual desire, ill will, and harm. But he figured out how to respond to thoughts skillfully and developed a step-by-step approach to calm the restless mind. Now, Insight Meditation teacher Shaila Catherine offers an accessible approach to training the mind that is guided by the Buddha’s pragmatic instructions on removing distracting thoughts. Drawing on two scriptures in the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, Shaila shows you how to overcome habitual modes of thinking, develop deeper concentration, and discover the insights into emptiness that are vital for a liberating spiritual path.
Following the Buddha’s pragmatic approach, Shaila guides you through five steps for overcoming distraction and focusing the mind:
- Replace unwholesome thoughts with wholesome thoughts.
- Examine the dangers of distracting thoughts.
- Avoid it, ignore it, forget it.
- Investigate the causes of distraction.
- Apply determination and resolve.
Each chapter includes exercises and reflections to help you cultivate the five steps to deeper concentration. You’ll learn about your mind and develop your ability to direct your attention more skillfully in meditation and daily activities. And ultimately, you’ll discover for yourself how these five steps boil down to one key realization: In the moment you recognize that a thought is just a thought, you will find yourself on the path to a life of remarkable freedom.