Is attachment to maximising income in the West corrupting the Buddhist/Yoga/Advaita/Mindfulness tradition?
Small incidents often go unnoticed. I recall staying in the Wat Suanmoke (the Monastery of the Garden of Liberation) in Chai Ya, southern Thailand, where I received my first Dharma teachings from Ven. Ajahn Buddhadassa, the most radical Thai teacher of the 20th century.
At the end of my 17 day stay there in February, 1970, I asked Ajahn Poh, the deputy Abbot, about making a dana (donation). He said: “Oh, buy a few kilos of bananas.”
We can’t live just on bananas.
We have to keep inquiring into ways to stay dedicated to service, living in faith and wisdom, free from attachment to maximising income. And stay down to earth.
After some years as a monk, I realised the precious relationship of the Buddha Dharma (the teachings/practices for liberation) and trusting in dana (a practitioner’s offering of generosity, the acts of giving, the gift, the donation.
I remember decades ago listening to the teachings of spiritual teachers in India – Ananda Maya-Ma, Krishnamurti, Nisargadatta, Goenka-ji, Sri. Dayananda, Dalai Lama, Sri. Chinmoy, Vimala Thakar, Poonja-ji, Ramesh Balsikar and others who gave their teachings without charge. Some offered satsang (meetings to explore truth) in the living room of their home several mornings every week without a door charge.
The tradition of Dharma-Dana appears to be seriously under threat in the West despite numerous spiritual teachers, meditation and yoga teachers in the West, who genuinely live a truly modest lifestyle as an expression of a sustainable way of being. It reflects in their relationship to the material world, their care with diet and lack of any ostentation with their homes. They are willing to live on donations or make modest charges for their service.
Sadly, such devotees of the long tradition of Dharma/Advaita/Yoga with their quiet austerity could become a threatened species as the West loses its way with regard to the profound significance of Dharma-Dana.
A growing number of spiritual teachers, Buddhist/Advaita/Yoga/Transpersonal /Mindfulness offer expensive courses on an aspect of the Dharma. Their high premiums exclude a growing number of people. The daily rates of far too many retreat centres/yoga centres have become exorbitant especially in the Anglo-American world. Despite similar living costs, daily rates in centres in continental Europe, Israel, Canada, Australia often seem much more affordable.
I hear of Buddhist teachers declining to go to certain places or return to them if they feel they have not received enough dana. I hear of various expensive retreats in India (not only in Osho’s ashram, an empire of spiritual capitalism). Certain so-called spiritual masters from the West charge hundreds of Euros to give a retreat in India with actual running cost at a fraction of the price.
Mindfulness, one modest limb in the vast body of the Dharma, is becoming a major limb of psychology, and that seems to become the justification to charge premium prices to offer a training in mindfulness.
I hear of teachers who decline to teach with new teachers because the senior teacher will receive less dana. It does not augur well for the future. Self-interest then takes priority over acts of faith.
I regard these developments as far removed from the spirit and letter of Dharma-Dana, a tradition going back more than 2500 years. When business values hold to an emphasis on money making ventures, it corrupts the act of a primarily selfless service due to the increasing shadows of personal gain. This shows a loss of trust in the generosity of the human spirit. It sets a monetary measurement on the Dharma and inhibits the capacity to remain faithful to the Deep.
It is a pathetic rationale to claim that the West only values something and stays committed if the charges are high.
We must never forget to give access to teachings/practices to the many in and out of the Sangha who struggle daily to make ends meet – the young, the elderly, the single mother, the housebound, the pensioners, those in debt, students, the unemployed, poor families, the travellers, the spiritual seekers and many, many others.
I hear frequently voices from dedicated seekers and practitioners along the lines: “Christopher, I cannot afford to go to some of the major Buddhist centres in Britain and the USA.” “ I can’t afford these mindfulness workshops.” Or “I cannot afford these yoga training programmes” or “I can’t afford the prices of these teachers who offer a professional training.”
It is vital that Dharma teachers address with compassion the challenging issues of money and service. The offer of a modest reduction in rates or a scholarship to a handful means spiritual seekers must go cap in hand to request help to attend a retreat or course.
Advaita/Dharma/Yoga/ Mindfulness teachers, as well as centres, need to ensure their teaching around service and money shows genuine love, trust and dedication. Retreat centres are in danger of becoming five star spiritual hotels.
With a loss of faith and trust, metta (loving kindness) meditations in Buddhism in the West become a form of gymnastics for inner feelings with little relevance to love and service in daily life.
We are called upon to stay mindful with clear comprehension.