Saturday, March 27, 2010

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 even 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 – real 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 that Tibetan stuff about giving your body for all beings and having 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, 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.


yuri said...

When Ajahn Sumedho came to Moscow to teach Dhamma during a retreat, his trip and stay in Russia was fully paid by a wealthy businessman, and those who attended the retreat paid only for food and accommodation in a Tibetan Buddhist centre outside Moscow. Both were quite inexpensive. The sponsor's help did not include any fee for teaching. Same is true about vipassana retreats in Russia, though donations are expected but in no way obligatory. Which is in such sharp contrast to seminars and retreats conducted by non-Buddhist spiritual teachers, who charge quite high payments for their "spiritual service".

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Yuri,
Thanks for the comment. You have been commenting so long I feel I almost know you whereas in fact I know nothing of you. If you live in St.Petersburg I would be delighted if you could send me some pictures of the Bhuryat temple built there in, I think, 1912.

Anonymous said...


I presume you've seen these pictures:

Found them g**gling for buryat temple. Didn't know about it until now. Interesting.

Ben said...

Actually I had similar conversations about a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism who is very famous in Europe. He gives five to seven lectures a week to hundreds of disciples and interested people and travels around the whole world. Attending a single lecture cost you €10 to €15. When I realized that some people just couldn't afford to hear their Lama, to attend Dharma lectures even to take refuge, I though that this wasn't Siddhartha's intend when he started turning the wheel of Dharma.

I estimated that the weekly income is at least € 7.500, but rater €10.000+ and of course the money from the various books he sells and the meditation brochures and the membership fees. I don't know what they do with all the money (I guess not anybody of his disciples does.), I hope at least that they use it for something good. Anyway, it is sad and even more sad that so many people just pay without holding in for a second and think about what the Buddha said about money and monks.

P.S: I don't want to say that he is a bad teacher or person or imply anything else.

Ken and Visakha said...

Our Burmese teacher in Japan is a remarkable contrast -- some years ago, before we knew him we were in a fix and had to ask him to lead a meditation retreat in Kansai (the Sri Lankan monk couldn't make it) Sayadaw did. We made all the arrangements and only asked participants to pay for their food and lodging (at a Japanese temple).

We asked SayadAw how often he'd taught meditation during his many years in Japan and were astonished when he said that that was the first time.

Why, we asked.

Nobody ever asked before, he replied.

Roni said...

A video about the Buddhist temple in St. Petersburg HERE. (Look at the comments as well.)

Unknown said...

Dear Shravasti Dhammika,
A friend led me to your blog.I put my hands together in greeting you, from a fellow sangha (an American ordained in the Tibetan tradition) living in the west.

I have been involved in arraanging many Dharma teachings for different organizations. Some have been offered on a donation-only basis, happily. Others, which were intended to fund large projects, such as providing education and food for the needy, had set fees. When I suggested that we ask for donations, I was told that because Western people have not been raised in that tradition, they won't understand and they won't value it, as they have been indoctrinated to correlate value with money. Indeed, I must work to sustain myself here and offer counseling (my profession before ordination)on a donation basis;
many people who are quite well-off leave very very little as a donation.

However, at one center where I had the chance to arrange a series of Nyung-Nes and did it on a donation-basis, the offering far surpassed what might have been set as fees. But that was attended mostly by Asians.

I personally have heard the Dalai Lama comment very forcefully that the expenses should be covered, but no profit made, from his visits. He said if profits happen to be made, they should be used to print Dharma books and give them away free. I hope this approach cam become more common. Recently, I applied to attend a teaching as a monastic and was told I had to pay the full price (very high), because the Dharma center had to rent a facility to hold the event, and did not have the funds to pay for it otherwise. It is a real problem here.

Thank you.

ani Lhamo

Unknown said...

It is even worse than that, they charge money for teaching something they really know nothing about and add their own inane ideas too.

The term 'non-Buddhist' is most appropriate, as anyone with even an inkling of Buddhism knows that commercializing the teachings is one of the lowest things that one can do.

Usually, members of The Sangha would never dream of charging anything, so anyone who does is simply a pathetic joke of a human being, even if it happens to be a Lama.

yuri said...

Dear Shravasti Dhammika,
I live in Moscow and do not plan to visit Piter - as we call it - this year. Unlike Moscow, Piter does have a Buddhist temple, built at the beginning of the last century. When I am more free than now - in the midst of examination period for several groups of my students, I'll try to find the photos of the temple and send you.

Ben said...

Dear Lhamo,

There are meditations in Tibetan Buddhism which include to give away whole universes as a gift and munificence is generally emphasized, but you don't expect the Buddhist attending a lecture to donate enough? Even if it is true that Westerns are indoctrinated the way you described, which I don't believe, should meditation break this indoctrination?

If there is really is not enough money to rent big hall for Dhamma teachings than maybe one shouldn't do that? Actually, I don't think these mass events don't have much in common with Dhamma teachings, a personal relationship to your Lama is more important.

When the Dalai Lama was in Germany a ticked did coust €50 (U$ 67) and thousands of people saw him. Nevertheless it was a money-loosing business.

Unknown said...

Hi again,
To Ben,
I am sorry I was not clear. I am totally in favor of having things on a donation basis. I live that way.

I was bringing up some other people's concerns and viewpoints
to add to the discussion.

Also, sometimes situations are a bit complex? If you want a lot of people to have the benefit of hearing teachings and beginning to wake up, and have to rent a hall to achieve that great goal, then sometimes the practical side of that is having to ask for money to help support the endeavor. Which is the greater good? to not have it at all, or to set a moderate ticket price, and devise a plan for free admission for those without money?

In this country, things cost a lot
especially in urban areas. But that is also where teachings can be greatly needed. So often,
situation involve a sense of balancing opposing factors, just as with the discussion on bedbugs.

Thank you.

Tenzin Lhamo

Ben said...

Dear Tenzin Lhamo,

I do not think that you have to bring the Dharma to the people (or lets say not the way it is done today) the people have to come to the Dharma. To me Buddhism is not a mass movement, the people who are able to follow the path are few and this hype which is mostly based on the glorification of the Dalai Lama hasn't much in common with what I would consider to be Buddhism. If you go to Amazon you find 2,318 results for the Books>Dalai Lama and much of the results are anything, but not Dharma, it is that what Chögyam Trungpa called 'Spiritual Materialism'. That doesn't help people.


Unknown said...

I am so thankful for the chance to encounter the teachings of the Buddha. May those who have that fortunate karma to connect with them, in whatever forum and lineage which opens that connection, come to embody those teachings with every action of body, speech and mind, for the benefit of all.

with respect for all,signing out,
ani Lhamo

Chris Kang said...

Dear Bhante,
Thanks for this post. I agree with your observations. It might be worth mentioning that not all teachers in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition are into charging high fees for Dharma. As a case in point, when my teacher Kuzhab Lama Geshe Tashi Tsering gave teachings recently in Brisbane, the five-day course on Buddhist mind science was offered entirely free of charge. Attendees can but are under no obligation to offer dana at the end if they so wish. A recent piece by Thanissaro Bhikkhu on dana is relevant here. See

Buddha said...

I wish to add the following..
In Goenkaji's Retreat ..we are specifically told that the Teaching is Priceless and cant be repaid in money, we are requested to donate in two ways
1.Thru Money, Just to Provide food & Shelter for the Next Batch.This is quite optional and some people give less and some people give more.

2.Thru Dhamma Seva : Goenkaji says that this is more Meritorious
But one has to have attended atleast 3 10 day sittings to be enabled to give dhamma seva.

3.Thru metta..At the end of Evry Meditation sitting Goenka ji also asks us to give metta to all sentinent beings