Should we pay Buddhist teachers?

Posted by on Apr 29, 2013 in Buddhism | 594 Comments

As you may know, I’m currently trying to help Brad Warner come to the UK to do some speaking events later in the year to promote his new book. (So new it’s not even out yet).

Today he wrote an interesting post about Dharma teaching and money.

Most of the comments seemed to struggle with the idea of people making any money from teaching Buddhism, or even the idea that Buddhist teachers should want to.

I find this bizarre.  Here is my comment (it’s around comment 52 so I figure if I don’t write it as a post here no one will ever read it!)

What I think about Buddhists earning money from Buddhism

During the time of the Buddha in India, a kingdom’s wealth was partly based on the number of spiritual seekers (sadhus) living within it. At its height, 1 in 3 people were living as sadhus. The economy supported that because people thought it was worth it.

In traditional Buddhist countries today, the laity believe that they accumulate merit by donating to the monastic community. It’s in their interest to cough up.

These kinds of beliefs keep people fed. And not just that, they get magnificent temples built.

In the west, we don’t have such beliefs.

We live in a capitalist economy. We’re used to equating price with worth. And we like a bargain.

There’s always a bunch of goods and services competing for our disposable income. It’s easy for us to feel like we can’t really afford to put ten bucks in a dana bowl. And we can’t really afford to pay for an album we can download just as easily for free. After all, we’ll probably only listen to it once or twice.

The current financial model for dharma teaching simply doesn’t work – just like the current music industry model.

We try to transplant old ways into a new set of conditions. It takes some time for our minds and attitudes to recalibrate.

In a capitalist society, personally I think the dharma should be both free *and* expensive. It should run on both a charitable *and* a business model.

The Dharma changes your life. People pay loads for stuff that does that!

If Brad changed his job title from ‘Dharma teacher’ to ‘life coach’ the world would be fine with him changing $200 for an hour of his time, or $2000 for a week of residential retreat. We’d just assume that this meant he was really good!

As it is, we somehow think he should not demand a decent standard of living – despite having undertaken decades of training and authored a bunch of books. If he magically gets supported out of the generosity of the world, fine. But he shouldn’t demand it before being willing to turn up. Why not?

I’m fine with Dharma teachers charging. If they’re no good, no one will come, and they’ll have to go do something else. If they’re good, they’ll arrive at the zendo in a ferrari and retire at 50. Of course they’ll be ‘beyond such things’. The ferrari will be skilful means, designed to snap you out of your delusion 😉


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