Herb Eko Deer also wrote something recently about "fee for service Dharma," although frankly I'm a bit puzzled by it.
Now before I begin with Eko's post, let me just say there are some things I can see paying for regarding the Dharma; it would seem unseemly to me not paying honoraria to oshōs to officiate at weddings and funerals and what-not. That's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about a situation where someone that wants to cultivate the Way in all aspects of his life is providing a significant portion of the sustenance of another person who ostensibly is helping that person along the Way.
Think about that for a second. OK? Uh...Shouldn't everyone be helping each other cultivate the Way without an explicit "quid pro quo"? And the real question of course, is what is the quo for which quid is requested.
Thanks. Oh and one other thing, see my previous posts if you happen to take umbrage at my placing "teach" or "teacher" and the like in quote marks. Now on to Eko:
Why isn’t meditation taught in schools? Why not in police stations and hospitals? Why isn’t it offered in corporations or government administrations? Why not in the military?
It is simply not valued enough, not as a religion, but as a practical way to foster peace and serenity, not to mention spiritual awakening.
I believe it would shift the planets energy towards peace if it were valued, implemented and supported for its full potential. Compassion and wisdom are priceless. This is because they are more valuable than any price we could pay, not because they are impractical or not valuable enough.
The issues with teaching meditation in schools, corporations, and what not are several:
- Ethical issues of power and the potential for coercion: in schools, police stations, hospitals, and work-places there are hierarchies of power, and those hierarchies of power should not be compromised by anyone's beliefs, whether for or against meditation.
- Ethical issues of religious freedom: While I very highly value a meditative practice, it's absurd to think in this society that everyone values it equally. Although I find their way of life problematic on so many levels, we have to dwell with fundamentalists.
There is a sort of “free dharma” movement who’s members think Dharma teachers should not be compensated financially for their teachings. These voices, in my experience, are usually practitioners who are not authorized teachers themselves.
So what are we talking about? Well, the teachings for example include “introductions” to meditation, perhaps extended workshops, dharma talks, face to face teachings, books, articles or blogs, or “just” holding the space for meditation to happen. These are offered by teachers who must pay for utilities, maintenance, insurance, food, etc.
As i understand the complaint, since the Buddha didn’t charge set fees for his teachings no students seeking teachings should ever be asked to contribute to any of these teachings or activities. But, since the Buddha accepted offerings it is ok for teachers to accept their money as long as it is not asked for.
The complaint that's been made is the one I've referred to above. Nobody in his right mind would challenge a fee to attend a retreat, or the above honoraria. We're talking about people claiming explicitly - explicitly - to be enlightened (with or without wishy-washy language to try to walk back any claims to being a Buddha themselves) charging money so that you, too, Bucky, can see what the Buddha saw.
The issue, Eko, is that you can't sell it and a student can't pay for that. Because ultimately the trainee is living his own life.
Let me be clear about my perspective, in our modern American culture, expecting the teacher to cover the overhead for you to come and be taught for free is ludicrous. Not to mention I don’t hear anyone pining for the good old celibate days. Things have changed, but the teachings are still pure, in their impurity...
I have to say, what kind of teacher teaches what cannot be taught? But putting that aside, Eko is making what, at least from my perspective is a straw-man argument.
Money is empty, it is not good or bad, asking for it is not good or bad, giving it is not good or bad. Renunciation also is empty, it is not valuable or ethical in itself. It does not really exist and we cannot absolutely renunciate the basic necessities of life. The buddha never turned down a meal and he accepted offerings, this is not renunciation, this is modesty. He simply took what he needed and didn’t ask for more. Of course when he expected others to dedicate their entire lives to his path and support his cause full time was no modest compensation.
Well. The goodness or badness of giving and receiving money depends on the circumstances, no? And we baldly have to ask the question here: Is Herb Eko Deer fundamentally more of a Buddha than you are I? And did the Buddha expect something in the way of a guaranteed middle class lifestyle from either his monks or lay supporters?
Herb Eko Deer, like everyone else, needs money for food and shelter. That's a given. And people who patronize him as "teacher" should certainly support him. I'm not talking about supporting someone who chooses to do this (mostly) full time at levels significantly different than what I would pay another trained person.
- We're talking about levels of payment significantly more than compared to compensation of a music teacher or martial arts teacher.
- It's unrealistic and ahistorical to think that, unless one is an abbot of a temple, that one did this kind of thing full time in the past, at least in the Chinese and Japanese traditions. This is not about not giving to those who need it. It's partly about how the word "cynic" evolved. But above all, it's about humanizing the provider; to what degree is the provider a person of accomplishment (in the sense of 功夫) if all they can claim is to be able to "teach?"
That last point is a major one in my book: what good is your "teaching" if you can't allow someone to authenticate it outside of the context of a reference as explicit teaching, if it's not tangible like playing music or demonstrating proficiency at martial arts?
In fact, Daido Loori mentioned various "outside" practices, namely art practice and body practice in his book "The Eight Gates of Zen."
By contrast, there's Genpo Merzel ("Big ___") and a guy litigating his former sangha who was not embraced by Myoshinji.
Herb Eko Deer seems to have an interest in the martial arts. Hopefully he has access to a good tradition here. Some work better than others, as Sam Harris pointed out. I probably won't have the time to learn Brazilian Ju Jitsu in my life. But I'd encourage Eko to continue to practice martial arts if he isn't already, because this is a skill that can be taught well from the background of Zen training.