Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions2018-12-31T18:48:02-08:00
What do the words Buddha, dharma, and sangha mean?2014-10-27T12:26:01-07:00

Buddha refers both to the historical man who was born in what is now southern Nepal and taught in northern India 2,600 years ago, and to awakening or enlightenment. The word literally means “one who is awake.”

Dhamma [Sanskrit: dharma] refers to the nature of things, natural law, or fundamental truth; the teachings of the Buddha; and the liberating path of practice.

Sangha means community. It customarily includes:

  • The communities of Buddhist monks and nuns
  • Those followers of the Buddha, lay or ordained, who have attained a level of realization and distinction that culminates in Nibbāna
  • The wider community of followers on the Buddhist path

In general usage we extend the definition to include all those who practice meditation together.

What does the word jhāna mean?2016-08-24T09:27:55-07:00

Jhāna refers to a type of absorptive concentration that develops through one-pointed attention on a fixed meditation subject. Four levels of concentrated attainment—simply named the First Jhāna, Second Jhāna, Third Jhāna, Fourth Jhāna—describe successive stages that are characterized by increasingly subtle qualities of happiness, bliss, peace, and clarity. Jhāna concentration produces a unified and undistracted mind and is a useful basis for vipassanā practice.

Shaila Catherine periodically teaches jhana retreats. Practitioners who wish to train in concentration and jhana will find more information on our Concentration and Jhana FAQ page.

What is meant by metta or “loving-kindness”?2017-02-16T09:34:59-08:00

Metta or “loving-kindness” refers to a profound state of friendliness and goodwill. It is the wish that other beings should enjoy internal and external safety, mental and physical happiness, and ease of well-being. Click here to read an article on loving kindness meditation.

What does the word vipassanā mean?2017-02-16T09:34:59-08:00

Vipassanā means insight or clear seeing. It refers to meditative practices that illicit direct insight into physical and mental phenomena as they arise and disappear. Click here to read an article on Vipassanā.

Does Shaila Catherine offer individual consultations?2017-02-16T09:34:59-08:00

Shaila offers private consultations (called interviews) during the afternoons of most Saturday daylong programs. These meetings provide opportunities to discuss your meditation practice. She also offers individual consultations by appointment for active IMSB members and students who have already attended previous retreats or numerous daylong programs. If you are a frequent IMSB participant or have attended Shaila’s retreats, you may schedule a weekday interview by contacting consult. There is no specific fee for these private consultations, but it is customary to offer dana/donation. You may hand her an envelope with a donation at the end of the interview, or donate online, through the mail, or in the teacher bowl at an event. More details about individual interviews are included on the principal teacher page.

What is the general format of nonresidential retreats?2021-06-11T22:40:45-07:00

Nonresidential retreats are usually a combination of silent sitting and walking meditation, and dhamma study and discussion. Days usually start around 9:30 a.m. and end around 5:00 p.m., with a break for lunch. There may be an opportunity to speak with the teacher about your practice during walking meditation periods.

What is the general format of residential retreats?2017-02-16T09:34:59-08:00

Residential retreats are silent retreats. We speak only during Q&A sessions, during interviews with the teacher, and during work-meditation periods, when necessary. Days usually consist of alternating sitting and walking meditations, with a dhamma teaching in the morning and/or the afternoon or evening, and breaks for breakfast, lunch, and a light evening meal. The first sitting is usually between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. and the last sitting is usually between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. Sittings may last 45 to 75 minutes (depending on the type of retreat) and walking meditation may last 30 to 45 minutes. You will have an opportunity to speak with the teacher about your practice usually once every two or three days, but there may be additional opportunities if the need arises.

Can I sit in a chair at IMSB retreats and are chairs and/or cushions provided?2021-06-11T21:59:56-07:00

Yes, you are welcome to sit in a chair or on a cushion on the floor. You may also switch between a chair and your cushion during retreats. Chairs are always provided at IMSB retreats. Each retreat center that we rent for our programs is unique, but cushions are usually not available and you must bring your own if you wish to sit on a cushion.

Do you offer scholarships for retreats?2015-04-11T14:10:51-07:00

Yes, we are usually able to offer a modest, partial scholarship if you are in need. The amount of scholarship we can offer depends on the amount that is in our scholarship fund when we begin the registration process. You may also structure a payment plan with the registrar, or offer volunteer services in exchange for a reduced fee.

What is the fee for attending a retreat and what does the fee cover?2017-02-16T09:35:00-08:00

Retreat fees vary depending on the length and location of the retreat. Retreat fees cover the rental of the retreat facility, insurance, printing costs for any study material, and other miscellaneous administrative costs. Residential retreat fees also cover housing costs, food, and cook’s services.

Retreat fees do not include wages or compensation for the teachers. The teachers rely solely upon the voluntary donations of retreat participants. We follow the custom of giving donations/offerings (dana) to support our teachers. A bowl is set out at the end of each retreat for donations. We ask that each participant practice generosity in a way that is appropriate for the individual, supports our community and teachers, and cultivates the joyful practice of giving.

Are there any requirements for attending IMSB retreats?2014-10-27T13:40:31-07:00

Attendance at some seven-day or longer retreats may require previous retreat experience. Check the retreat application form and website for prerequisites. There are no prerequisites for attending shorter retreats.

Who can I contact if I have questions about a retreat?2017-02-16T09:35:00-08:00

For questions about IMSB sponsored retreats, you may e-mail retreats. For questions about retreats Shaila is offering in other states or countries, please e-mail or call the contact person specified for that retreat on the Retreats with Shaila page.

How do I find out what retreats Shaila Catherine is offering?2014-10-27T17:49:33-07:00

Please visit the Retreats with Shaila Catherine Web page.

Am I required to participate in the movement session (such as yoga, Feldenkrais awareness through movement, or qi gong)?2021-06-11T22:42:35-07:00

The movement sessions are optional. You are always free to do walking meditation instead. St. Timothy’s Church is located adjacent to Cuesta Park and you may use the park for longer walks. There are grassy areas for walking near Foothills Congregational Church.

May I attend only part of the daylong?2021-06-11T22:42:52-07:00

Yes. If you can only attend part of the daylong, please try to arrive or depart during the lunch break to minimize the disruption to other participants. Beginning practitioners should start in the morning in order to hear any introductory instructions.

What should I bring to the daylong?2021-06-11T22:43:05-07:00

Please check the event listing to determine if you should bring a bag lunch or a pot-luck dish to share in a community meal. A kitchen is available to store food. Tea and snacks are usually provided.

Bring a cushion or blanket if you would like to sit on the floor. Chairs are provided if you prefer to sit in a chair. For movement sessions, a yoga mat or blanket is helpful. The floor at St. Timothy’s is cement that is thinly carpeted; the floor at Foothills Congregational is not carpeted.

What is the daylong format?2021-06-11T22:43:13-07:00

Daylongs typically begin with a sitting meditation followed by an introduction and announcements. We alternate sitting and walking meditation periods and the teacher usually gives a dhamma talk in the late afternoon. Often there is a pot-luck community lunch around 12:15 or 12:30. Check our day long page for more information and our event listings for upcoming daylong events.

The daylongs are generally held in silence. Occasionally, talking may be incorporated into the day either with questions and answers, or social connections during the lunch period.

Is there a fee for attending the daylongs or half-day programs?2017-02-16T09:35:00-08:00

There is no set fee for daylong or half-day retreats. We follow the custom of giving donations/offerings (dana) to support the organization and our teachers.

Do I need to pre-register for IMSB daylongs?2021-06-11T22:43:23-07:00

Registration is not required for half-days or daylongs. You may simply show up to attend.

Where and when are daylongs held?2021-06-11T22:43:34-07:00

IMSB offers a monthly day of meditation. Daylong events usually begin at 9:30 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m. They may be held at any of our sites in Mountain View, Los Altos, or Saratoga, so please see our calendar  or the day long event list for specific dates and details.

Can I limit the number of e-mail notifications I receive from IMSB?2021-06-11T22:09:17-07:00

You may choose to join either our Local Contact List which receives all our notices, or our Distant Friends List or International List which receive only those announcements that we think will be of interest to out-of-area friends. Our mailing lists are now self-administered at

How can I update my contact information or unsubscribe to the mailing list?2017-02-16T09:35:00-08:00

Our mailing lists are self-administered. To join our mailing list, update your contact information, or unsubscribe, click here.

If you experience any difficulty working with the IMSB mailing list, simply email the membership contact at the address given on our contacts page.

How can I be informed of upcoming events?2014-10-27T18:11:28-07:00

You can join our mailing list. (click here)

After joining, you will receive e-mail notifications about upcoming events and on rare occasions, surface mail about special events or programs.

I have a hearing impairment. Are hearing devices available?2014-10-27T18:23:08-07:00

We use an amplification system with a clip-on microphone for the speaker when meeting at St. Timothy’s Church. In addition, we have hearing devices that may be available during our meetings. Approach the audio technician prior to the dhamma talk to see if one is available. (The audio technician sits near the brown accordion storage door.) If you have difficulty hearing, please move near the speaker and ask the audio technician to increase the volume.

There is no amplification system at our day long programs at Foothills Congregational Church.

Are the meditation hall and bathrooms wheelchair accessible?2014-10-27T14:28:15-07:00

Our meeting rooms at Saint Timothy’s and Foothills Congregational are on the ground floor and are wheelchair accessible. The bathrooms, however, are not fully accessible for all conditions.

Can you advise me on public transit and carpooling?2021-06-11T22:44:42-07:00

The VTA bus 51 stops near the corner of Cuesta Dr. and Grant Rd., which is half a block from St. Timothy’s Church where we meet. The nearest Caltrain stop is on W. Evelyn Ave. near View St., which is about 1 ¾ miles from St. Timothy’s Church. The terrain is relatively flat and some members bicycle to the group. If you need a ride to attend future meetings, raise your hand and state your need at the end of the announcements period so that you can meet potential drivers during the break.

Where can I park?2021-06-11T22:45:05-07:00

Parking is usually not a problem at IMSB. St. Timothy’s Church and Westhope Presbyterian Churches have large parking lots that easily accommodate most of our events. There is plenty of parking along the street near Foothills Congregational Church.

Where is IMSB located?2017-02-16T09:35:00-08:00

IMSB events occur at various locations in the Silicon Valley area of Northern California. We also offer online courses. Check the website calendar for the locations of specific events, and our contact page for addresses of our primary meeting locations.

Are there any appropriate attire, ritual, or special traditions that I need to be aware of?2017-02-16T09:35:00-08:00

Regarding attire, wear something comfortable and preferably not revealing. Please do not wear perfume or strongly scented products. Please do not lie down in the meditation hall unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from sitting comfortably. Although it is common in Buddhist groups to remove shoes and bow, we do not follow these customs at IMSB. On special holidays (2–3 times per year) we might chant, but our usual meeting is informal.

What does it mean to be a member of IMSB?2017-02-16T09:35:00-08:00

Anyone who attends our meditation group, events, and retreats may be considered a member. There is no formal process for membership; we are a community of participants who practice meditation together. All of our activities are initiated and organized by volunteers. We welcome your participation in our activities, and your involvement through volunteer service. To get more involved, please fill out our volunteer form or email the volunteer contact at the address given on our contacts page.

Do I need to be a Buddhist to attend IMSB?2021-06-11T22:11:17-07:00

No. We are a diverse community, primarily composed of Western practitioners. Many of our members continue to practice in other faith traditions, along side their mindfulness meditation practice. The meditation practices that we teach do not require religious belief; they are, however, derived from the Theravada Buddhist tradition.

What should I do if I’m unable to arrive on time?2014-11-27T14:40:16-08:00

If you arrive late, please slip in quietly and join in. At St. Timothy’s Church, the wooden entrance door on the east side of the building near the parking lot and rose garden is much quieter than the double glass doors that open onto the courtyard on the west side.

Do I need to preregister for IMSB events?2021-06-11T22:25:06-07:00

Registration is not required for most of our events, such as our daylongs, and sitting groups. Registration is only required for certain programs, such as series courses, year-long study courses and retreats, and it will be clearly indicated on our event calendar.

Is there a fee for IMSB meetings and events?2021-06-11T22:26:08-07:00

There is no set fee for the group meditation and for most of our events, such as daylongs, discussion groups, and beginner’s courses. We follow the custom of giving donations/offerings (dana) to support the organization and our teachers. Generosity is a fundamental aspect of our community; it is the voluntary offering of gifts and effort that support our activities.

We use an online registration system with a sliding scale range of fee options for some series classes. These registration fees help to establish a commitment for longer programs and cover administrative costs. Fees are charged for retreats to cover the rental of the retreat facility, food, insurance, and other administrative costs.

IMSB and our teachers rely upon the voluntary donations of members and participants. Two bowls are set out at each event for donations: one is marked for the teacher, the other for organizational expenses. You may also donate online or by mail (IMSB, PO Box 490, Menlo Park, CA 94026). We do not suggest a particular amount; we ask that each participant practice generosity in a way that is appropriate for the individual, supports our community and teachers, and cultivates the joyful practice of giving.

Do I need to bring my own cushion? Are there chairs?2021-06-11T22:18:19-07:00

You may bring a cushion or blanket if you prefer to sit on the floor, but there are plenty of chairs at all our events.

At St. Timothy’s Church, the floor is carpeted and we usually reserve the front and side of the hall for floor sitting.

Foothills Congregational Church and Westhope Presbyterian Church are not carpeted, so we recommend bringing a mat or blanket if you intend to sit on the floor.

What is the meditation group format?2021-06-11T22:21:40-07:00

See the calendar event listing for specific times. Generally people arrive during the 15 minutes prior to the start. We then meditate for 30+ minutes, take a 5-10-minute break for a stretch and announcements, and then hear a dhamma talk from our teacher Shaila Catherine, or guest speakers.

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