A variety of meditation teachers now teach jhāna and concentration practice in the USA, Asia, and internationally. Different approaches, meditation objects, and teaching styles may be more or less suitable for different practitioners.
Some teachers accept rather light states of heightened joy as a jhāna attainment; other teachers do not use the term jhāna until concentration is sustained and repeated. Some teachers encourage rapid progress through brief dips into concentrated states; other teachers emphasize greater mastery and maturity at each stage of jhāna practice. Some teachers only offer jhāna practices; others are adept at applying the concentrated mind to insight practices. Some teachers teach only one or two meditation objects (such as breath or mettā); other teachers offer a wide selection; and others may offer group instructions with one meditation object, but offer students more flexibility through the individual consultations.
Common differences in the currently available approaches to ānāpānasati samādhi practice circle around:
- the inclusion or exclusion of bodily and sensual perceptions
- whether the meditator keeps the attention on the chosen meditation subject, or turns the attention to either investigate or relish the qualities of the concentrated mind
- when and how one works with the five jhāna factors of applied and sustained attention, rapture/joy, pleasure/happiness, and one-pointedness
- how one develops the sign of concentration called a nimitta
- how concentration and insight practices are distinguished or intertwined.
It is difficult to pigeonhole Shaila’s teaching style because her approach responds to individual temperaments. In general, she inclines toward a gradual, careful, and deep training that develops concentration through consistent attention to a single mental perception, starting with the breath. Most students use the breath to establish the four jhānas and later cultivate additional concentration objects; some students choose to use a different meditation subject from the beginning of their practice (such as mettā or mindfulness of the body).
Shaila draws inspiration from the early discourses of the Buddha, the Visuddhimagga, and the Abhidhamma. She incorporates investigation of mind strategically, and trains students to gain some degree of mastery at each level of jhāna before progressing to the next stage. The training results in a malleable, quick, clear mind that is strongly inclined toward awakening.
A discerning practitioner can get a sense of Shaila’s approach by reading Focused and Fearless and listening to some of her online dhamma talks before attending her retreats. But even with some research, it can be difficult to understand why and how a teacher teaches until actually undertaking the training.