Shaila’s Blog

/Shaila’s Blog/

Fault Finding Tendencies

Do you have a tendency to find fault with yourself, others, or the situations that occur around you? In The Art of Disappearing by Ajahn Brahm, page 91-95 we find a important practical suggestion: to investigate the fault-finding mind. Notice if and when your attention slides into negativity, criticism, and blame. Investigate that experience: how [...]

Pleasure and the Happiness of Release

The Buddha taught that happiness comes not through gaining or possessing things, but through release. You might inquire into your own experience to see if this is true. When you desire some pleasurable experience or object, notice the experience that surrounds that desire: What do you need to go through to get it? What does it cost in time, effort, and resources? Are you happy when you get it? Is there any identification with the experience, entitlement, arrogance, expectation, or conceit? Is there any fear that the pleasure will end or that the object will be lost? When you are present for a pleasant experience, you will be able to distinguish between the present moment pleasant feeling and craving for more pleasant feelings—a craving for it to last or for the experience to be repeated. Does your happiness really depend upon gaining the possession or sensual experience, or perhaps happiness arises because desire has ended? Experiment: Sometimes, intentionally abandon the desire without pursuing the object or experience that you desired. Are you happy when the desire ends even if you did not gain the object? […]

Overcoming Agitation; nurturing Calm

Are there any habits in your life that fuel agitation?  A fire will go out when it is not fed by grass and wood, and a glass of water will become still when it is set down. We can notice if our habits promote agitation, and then take opportunities to quiet the mind rather than [...]

Virtue is the basis of achievement

This post is a reflection based on readings presented by Venerable Analayo in an online course that I am currently auditing. I am especially moved by the gradual path articulated by Ven. Anuruddha in MĀ 80 with the final line “relying on the precepts, established in the precepts, using the precepts as my ladder, I ascended to the hall of unsurpassable wisdom, to the pavilion of true Dharma and, with little effort, I observed the thousand worlds.” As most of us will probably agree, a foundation of virtue is so very important for the development of concentration, insight, and all the various attainments that a meditative path offers. This discourse beautifully articulates the humble foundation and the gradual development of the path of release. Although the supernormal powers that Venerable Anuruddha possessed might be dramatic and impressive, they rest on the integrity and commitment to virtue. Similarly, I appreciated MĀ 77 with the descriptions of the attainments of various disciples, each of whom developed precepts, faith, wisdom, kindness, and generosity. Reminders of the link between what we do and what we later experience serve the important purpose of continuing to inspire the […]

June 28th, 2013|Meditation, Sutta Study|

A thought is a thought

At our weekly meditation group we are continuing the exploration of self-construction. In the discussion yesterday, one member described how she witnessed her mind constructing a notion of self through believing a series of thoughts and speculations. Another member equated the sense of self with a discernible feeling of stuck-ness. Indeed, we create the “self story” by clinging to our thoughts and interpretations, and then form a fixed idea of who we think that we are. One important discovery in mindfulness meditation is that a thought is just a thought. A thought is not the thing it represents. It does not matter if the content of our thoughts are accurate or false, we are not the collection of our thoughts. By examining the mind in meditation, we distinguish between the content of thought, and the process of thinking. Recognizing thoughts as thoughts rather than the story that they tell, we free ourselves from the compulsion to believe and identify with them. We will still be able to think, reason, analyze, plan, and remember, but we will not be compelled to fabricate a sense of self through obsessive and unexamined habitual thinking. In the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (M. 2.7) the Buddha describes how someone might wisely or unwisely think: “This is how he attends unwisely: ‘Was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I […]

Conveying the past into the present

This post is an "at home practice" for our Walking the Path course participants, June-July section. Investigate and reflect on to the process of conveying the past into the present. In what ways do you find that you might be "conveying the past into the present"? Consider your work life, social life, meditation practice, self [...]

I-making and mine-making – What are the five aggregates?

Buddhist teachings use the model of the five aggregates to describe the material and mental conditions that come together to create human experience. These five aggregates include materiality, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. When we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think, or experience any event, an intricate interaction of mind and body occurs enabling [...]

May 29th, 2013|Investigating body and mind, Not-Self|

Intention and the Power of Thought

Intention is a powerful form of thought. Intention is the key to the ethical, moral, or kammic (karmic) dimension of experience. Observing our intentions we see how a thought leads into an action. We do not live with a single intention that determines all our actions. Instead, intentions arise moment by moment and flavor the choices that we make. Reflect on a choice that you recently made, and identify the intention that seeded that decision. […]

When gripped by a powerful desire for liberation

I’ve recently been contemplating a brief discourse in the Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (A. 4.170) on four combinations of tranquility and insight. This subject arose as part of an on-line course led by Venerable Analayo that I am auditing. The discourse presents four combinations of tranquility and insight: 1) the development of insight preceded by tranquility, 2) the development of tranquility preceded by insight, 3) the development of insight and tranquility in pairs, and 4)  the mind gripped by agitation before realizing liberation. I’ll share some of my reflections here: I find the 4th mode of approaching awakening (A. 4.170) quite intriguing as it may point to the powerful effect of urgently wanting liberation. The desire for liberation can be so strong that the force of this desire, rather than sustained tranquility, effectively dispels all distractions and hindrances. When we want one thing (nibbana), we don’t want other things. […]

May 21st, 2013|Enlightenment, Jhanas, Sutta Study|

Five aspects of obstacles to understand

Here is the list of five ways of overcoming obstacles to meditation discussed at last Saturday's day long. It is from the Satipatthana Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta number 10, paragraph 36): In regards to each hindrance the meditator: 1. Understands when the hindrance is present in me. 2. Understands when the hindrance is absent in [...]

Those first precious moments of a meditation session

This is the 'at home' practice assignment for the Walking the Path course. How do you settle yourself to begin your meditation practice? How do you establish mindful attention at the beginning of your daily meditation session? Some people dive in upon their meditation object (such as the breath) so quickly and forcefully that they [...]

May 13th, 2013|Daily Life Practice, Meditation, Mindfulness Practice|

Jhana Interview for radio show

I (Shaila Catherine) participated in an interview collage on the topic of jhana meditation created for a radio program by Jari Chavalier. Speakers include three other meditation teachers: Leigh Brasington, Steve Snyder, Tina Rassmussen, and a research scientist Jud Brewer. You can listen at:

April 22nd, 2013|Jhanas|

Want to be where you are

Do you want to be where you are right now? If the answer is no, you’ll be suffering. If the answer is such an enthusiastic yes, that you are planning how to keep or repeat the experience, you’ll also be suffering. If there is a tendency to seek comfort, security, pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment in a future experience, we will be disconnected from the reality of the present moment. Planning, seeking, craving, hoping, rehearsing, fantasizing, worrying and anxiety are mental habits that all share an element of seeking something that isn’t currently present. Recently I was inspired by a comment by Ajahn Brahm about wanting to be where you are. Playing with this simple instruction I have been periodically reminding myself to want to be here. Each time I remember, I accept the invitation to settle with whatever is actually happening, pleasant or unpleasant—to find contentment with what is real. In the Abhidhamma classification of mental factors, the occasional factor of desire is not so very occasional. It is a feature of every wholesome state, and all the unwholesome states rooted in greed and hate. It is classified as “occasional” because it is absent in delusion based […]

April 20th, 2013|Daily Life Practice, Mindfulness Practice|

Three Questions and Responses about Sankhara

Through sutta study groups and via email questions recently, I have been involved in several discussions about sankhara. Sankhara is usually translated in English as mental formations, volitional formations, activities, inclinations, or fabrications. Sankhara appears as a factor of the Twelve Links of Dependent Arising and as one of the Five Aggregates. This factor tends to be quite confusing to many students of Buddhism. In this post I shall share a recent series of questions and responses with a student about sankhara as it appears in the model of the five aggregates. Question: What does sankhara refer to? Shaila’s Response: For a basic description, I’ll refer to the description I wrote in Wisdom Wide and Deep: “Mental formations (sankhara) include all the formations of mind—wholesome and unwholesome—such as hindrances, intentions, compassion, tranquility, thoughts, hopes, fears, plans, mindfulness, effort, anger, determination, opinions, attitudes, joy, envy. This is a vast category of mental phenomena that includes qualities we endeavor to cultivate, qualities we seek to abandon, and all the thoughts that proceed from […]

February 28th, 2013|Investigating body and mind, Sutta Study|

Mindful Listening

We concluded our Mindful Speech series with a discussion of Mindful Listening.  Reflective suggestions for this week included: 1. During conversations this week, notice if you tend to listen or speak more? When you are listening, are you fully present? Notice if you are planning your response, interrupting, or searching for the next opportunity to speak? [...]

December 15th, 2012|Daily Life Practice, Sangha Practice|