Episode 141 :: Shaila Catherine :: Focused and Fearless with the Jhanas

| November 3, 2012 | 4 Comments

Shaila Catherine

Meditation teacher Shaila Catherine speaks with us about jhana meditation and her book, Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm and Clarity.

These days, it seems that there’s a great deal of attention to mindfulness meditation. And there’s nothing wrong with us spending time learning about and practicing under the guidance of a teacher this seventh part of the eightfold path. But we don’t see quite as much attention given to the eighth part, which is most deeply manifest in the practice of jhana. Why not? After all, it’s not the sevenfold path, it’s the eightfold path.

Think about it. Jhana is the abeyance of the hindrances, a taste of what enlightenment can be right now, in this lifetime. Longing for the pleasures of the senses, and the contrasting ill will, set aside. Physical and mental sluggishness, not an issue. Restlessness and worry, those concerns about the past and future, not on the map as you focus on the present moment. And doubt, the negative kind that doesn’t prompt you to learn, but rather sends you spinning in uncertainty, off the table. How wonderful to experience freedom from the push and pull of our likes and dislikes, the casting forward and backward in time of our minds, and instead being awake and confident right now.

But for some reason, jhana seems to not be a very common meditation for which the aspiring student can find direction, help, and guidance. Fortunately, there are a few teachers, like our guest today.

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, and completed a one year intensive meditation retreat with the focus on concentration and jhana. She authored Focused and Fearless: A Meditator’s Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity, and 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.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Lemon Ginger tea.

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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “The Bird of Happiness” from his CD, Traditional and Modern Pieces: Shakuhachi.

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Category: Book Reviews, The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA's official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. His background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture.

Comments (4)

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  1. Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

    Thanks for this, Ted. Look forward to listening to the episode next week. FYI I was at a fantastic day long retreat with Leigh Brasington on the jhanas last weekend. He has a very informative website, which includes a detailed list of jhana teachers and their approaches. It includes Shaila Catherine.

    http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm

    Apparently Leigh was Shaila’s first teacher.

  2. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Wonderful interview with Shaila, Ted! I really enjoyed listening to this podcast, hearing Shaila explain what the Jhanas are, why sharpen the mind, and how they fit into daily living.

    For those of you who might be interested in doing jhana retreats with Shaila, she usually has info on upcoming retreats on her web site: http://imsb.org/

    I did an 8 or 9 day jhana retreat with her and it was super helpful and productive for me. A really great experience.

  3. Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

    Thanks Shaila and Ted for this talk. I enjoyed it very much.

    Over the past few weeks I’ve now heard three, slightly different takes on the jhanas. First was from a monastic from Pa Auk, who described a route to the jhanas that was clearly very long and arduous. Second was on a daylong with Leigh Brasington, who distinguished the arduous, “Visuddhimagga-style” jhanas (like those from Pa Auk) from the less arduous “sutta-style” jhanas, such as his own and those of his teacher Ayya Khema. (In my above post I’ve got a link from Leigh’s website where he discusses this further).

    Leigh said that for most people a ten-day retreat was sufficient to learn the jhanas, and I’m interested to hear Shaila say the same thing in this talk.

    For many of us on the recent daylong with Leigh, the question came up about whether it was possible to encounter the jhanas or do jhana practice with a normal, everyday meditation schedule (in the range of an hour a day) that did not include ten-day retreats, which can be a real difficulty for many of us. Like Shaila, Leigh also said that reaching jhana without a retreat was difficult, but not impossible.

    I say this because I have a regular, everyday practice but haven’t gone on ten-day retreats, yet was able to reach jhana after Leigh’s instructions. I’m a rank beginner at them, and would not claim “mastery” of the sort that either Shaila or Leigh describe. But nevertheless being able to reach the first three on a pretty regular basis and the fourth from time to time has totally changed my meditation experience, and deepened my vipassana practice to a degree I would not have expected.

    So anyhow I would urge people not to suggest that everyday practitioners should avoid attempting jhana, or expect it to be a failure. I think a good teacher can get them across, at least to someone with a long-standing, everyday practice. It can be worth the attempt.

  4. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Shaila has a really nice guided meditation, Cultivating concentration with a steady attention to the breath: http://tinyurl.com/a7tdxyh

    I’m now focusing on concentration meditation each day, not with the intent to enter jhana, but to increase concentration and see how it goes. It’s still hard for me to meditate over a half hour. I get restless, or start getting sleepy. I’m out of practice! This Saturday I hope to attend her Daylong which is on concentration.

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