Saturday, July 5, 2014

Putting A Price On The Dhamma

 The Buddha gave the Dhamma freely to all. He often underwent difficulties and inconveniences and on occasions even risked his life, in order to teach the Dhamma to others (Ud.78). The monk Punna was prepared to teach the Dhamma in a district where the people were known for their violence and where he had a good chance of being manhandled or worse (M.III,269). Today, some Westerners go to traditional Buddhist countries to learn Dhamma or meditation, they return to their homelands, and then charge for teaching what they were taught for free. I really think this is unethical. Likewise, some Asian monks put a price on the Dhamma, certain Tibetan teachers being the worst offenders. I once mentioned to the student of a rimpoche that his teacher charged very high prices for his teachings – really high. Rather defensively the student said that air fares, accommodation, etc all cost money. “Why not just ask students for a donation rather than charge them?’ I said. “What if the costs were not covered?” the disciple shot back. I let the subject drop but it seemed a little odd after all the insistence  about infinite compassion for all beings. I also couldn’t help thinking that Goenka (and his assistant teachers) rely entirely on donations. 
In charging for Dhamma such teachers are turning the precious Dhamma into a commodity and the Buddha clearly said:  “One should not go about making a business out of the Dhamma” (Ud.66). When the Buddha said:  “The gift of Dhamma excels all other gifts” (Dhp.354) he clearly meant that the Dhamma should be a gift, not something to be sold. During the Buddha’s time people knew that teachers of other religions charged a fee (acariyadhana) but that those teaching Dhamma expected nothing more from their students audience than respect and attentiveness (A.V,347). I think there is nothing wrong with charging for the food, accommodation etc. used during a meditation course. Nor is it improper for a teacher to accept donations. But to charge a fee, even if it is called  “sponsorship”  or to announce that a  “donation”  of a certain amount is expected or required, contradicts the most basic ethics and ideals of Buddhism. Those who teach the Dhamma should see what they do as a rare and wonderful privilege and an act of kindness, not a means of livelihood.


TheJourneySoFar said...


I have heard one reason why Dhamma lessons are charged a fee in Western countries is that the people are rather suspicious of anything free and don't think that its too legitimate, but of course, that may not be true. Also it is very common to pay a lot of money to attend self-help gurus and other teachers.. perhaps its a culture there?

Ken Yifertw said...


I like this article.
Is it possible that I post it at my blog in both English and Chinese?


brahmavihara said...

I have a maxim about this. It always seems to hold true. The more money you pay, the less Dharma you get.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Ken, your welcome to translate the article and put it on your blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what the Buddhist equivalent for "AMEN, BROTHER!" is... but thanks so much for this post. In this era of the commodification of everything, we cannot hear such words enough.

I am also really disturbed by the "dharma" industry advertising in magazines such as Tricycle and Shambhala Sun.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Russell, someone recently put it to me like this: “It used to be ‘Will I be able to attend this Dhamma talk.’ Now it is: ‘Can I afford to attend this Dhamma talk’ ”

elin said...

Thank you for your writing. I stumbled across your blog looking through some material on Facebook and I am glad that I now can read through your writing.

For years, I have questioned my religious stance (was brought up a Buddhist, and grew up wanting to be a Christian), spent a period of time contemplating which 'camp' do I want to belong to. I was happy to acknowledge that there is a spiritual side to me but I was very reluctant to participate with any form of organised religion. Hence, in recent years, I have decided that organised religion and participation in a community of committed religious followers is not for me.

Reading your thoughtful pieces have revived hope in me that perhaps not all committed religious followers are bent on pushing through a one-sided agenda and excluding all others who do not subscribe to it. Thank you, I look forward to enriching my spiritual side by reading through your pieces.

Gratefully yours

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Elin, thanks for the complements. I get few but they are always welcome. As for organized religions, when people say to me: “I don’t like organized religions” I always say to them: “Then become a Buddhist. You’ll love it because it’s completely disorganized.”

Ken Yifertw said...


Your article is translated into Chinese and posted here.
Please feel free to let me know once you have any comments about it.

brahmavihara said...

@ Russell Smith
The Buddhist word that is the equivalent of Amen, is Sadhu. Phonetically it would be S-a-doo. This word is generally reserved for the end of a Buddhist talk esp, by a Buddhist Monk or at the end of Buddhist festivities, or even as a congratulation to a Buddhist friend who has achieved some insight into The Buddhist teachings that you can appreciate.
s - a- d o o I just remembered that the inflection is higher at the start and lower at the end if that's any help.

Unknown said...

I was always suspicious of people who charged, which is one of the reasons I first started study with Goenka. When I first heard about him, my response was, it's so good they trust in giving it away that they will receive in return. And practice shows that in fact they always do.

jps said...

I believe that the dhamma should never be 'used' for anything. If it is made to serve any other purpose, then that diminishes it - actually fails to recognize what it really is. Dhamma must always be understood and taught for its own sake, for no ulterior motive or any external purpose. If circumstances don't enable you to teach it for nothing, then find an occupation that generates an income. (Incidentally I have also noted that Goenka never charged anything and has nevertheless managed to teach literally millions of people.)


Gui Do said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gui Do said...

Actually donations can easily amount to more than a reasonable (and transparent) fee. The vietnamese teacher TNH once created the title "acharya" (not prominent in zen buddhism otherwise) for a German follower who was so generous to donate a million deutschmarks to him. It is not uncommon that those who receive donations instead of fixed fees know no limit in accepting them.