James Ford has offered some what I think is valuable perspective on my recent posts on "fee-for-service Buddhism" here. In particular, it was issues discussed regarding Mr. Kenneth Folk. I used the quote marks back there because I wanted to specifically emphasize a bracketing of whether or not an economic system where a "teacher" or "coach" should be paid for services is a form of right livelihood.
So, given the complexities of the Japanese ordination models which have produced many Dharma teachers here in the West as well as the significant numbers of lay teachers, we have come up front and ugly, to confront that connection between money and teaching.Among the options I see, we can
1) scrap the non monastic ordained and lay teacher models.2) keep these systems amateur (in the most positive use of that term), where the teacher is expected to make her or his living in some way unconnected to the Dharma.3) revisit the “ethics” of financial support for non monastic teachers
Frankly, I think the horse has been out of the barn vastly too long for option one.Option two is what many are doing, myself included. I’m endlessly grateful for having stumbled into a line of work that has, I think, fruitfully, pushed me and challenged me as a Dharma teacher. I think those who have taken on various uniquely Western disciplines as psychologists, social workers, coaches and the various related, also fit into this option two adaptation.
And, I think, as good as it has been for me, and a number of other teachers, it isn’t an ideal model. For one where is the line between a psychological counseling and Buddhist teaching? Or, coaching? Or, the rising discipline of “spiritual direction?” I find that line so movable depending on this or that as to be almost meaningless.
So. Acknowledging it isn’t going to be easy, still, I think we need to go with all deliberation toward option three.
I'll also note before I go deeper into this that the notion of fee for services is not unknown in Japan, and one of the more lively debates/scandals etc. over there - at least as of several years ago - was the fact that some temples were selling "better" Buddhist funerary names for more money. And temples remained in the family over there, etc. So these types of issues aren't even unique to the West.
And I'll state flat out, that my preference above is James' Option 2; it seems to have worked best to avoid so many attendant problems historically.
I'll also note before I go deeper here, that from a Zen perspective, "teacher" or "coach" seems a bit much, and "roshi," as I've noted before, is a bit over-the-top as well, mostly because it's applied in Japan to very old great or dead great widely recognized leaders in the field, though translated back into Chinese it literally means "teacher."
So over there, you don't call someone a teacher unless they're pretty much not in a position to abuse their position, Sasaki-roshi notwithstanding. The term of use in Japan is oshō, "和尚" which my dictionary says is composed of characters for "harmony" and "further." I like that. That said, for purposes of this conversation, since many of the principals involved are not in the Zen school, or even possibly recognize where I want to go with this ethically, I won't quibble with others' use of the word teacher here, but note in passing that I would hope that those who use it stipulate to possibly committing the same wrongdoing critics of Western Buddhism have been accused of doing, which is the use of jargon for the purposes of mystification. I, myself, maintain the position of my 和尚: There is no teacher. Bodhidharma is the teacher. The most neutral terms, I think would be "provider" and "client," and I'll use those terms in what follows. (I could use the more geeky and probably even better "server" and "client," but let's stick with "provider" and "client" for now, since it's a similar terminology used in the secular world.)
James wishes that the rhetoric might be a "toned down" in this. I won't speak for others, but I can't see that right speech categorically might exclude rhetorical styles that are within the pale of Hunter S. Thompson or Mike Taibbi or at least a good old fashioned polemic. But that's just me. R.D. Laing's The Politics of Experience, is one of the best polemics I've ever read, and despite Laing's own failings as a human being, he made some points that echo down even to this conversation *. And regarding the blog posts of others, as I said elsewhere, there's an internet version of active listening. It works more often than you might think. Use it. And for those who took umbrage at my use of the term huckster, I think I used the word properly in context, especially given the existence of a coupon code.
Anyway, that's just the prelude to this post. Anyhow, Al commented on James' post, that perhaps we might want to address questions to Mr. Folk directly. Again I come at this post from the perspective of a professional who is well-paid for what I do but with that status comes a host of ethical obligations to which I adhere for purposes of right livelihood, and because it's my job, and because I don't need the trouble of going through legal disclosure. I have never had that done but once (and that's an amusing story in and of itself which I can't go into the details in any great degree). Trust me, although it's never happened to me, you do not want to be deposed for in relation to an anti-trust action. Angela Davis was right: a fair trial is no trial at all if you're innocent, and Clarence Darrow was right if you're guilty.
And regarding ethical issues of pay-for-service professionals, I'll note that in the secular sector, there's issues that arise there too:
- The abuse of fee-for-service by medical, psychological, and counseling professionals is not unheard of, and I've known of several instances in my life (and one that affected me personally) where this structure's been abused. The usual mode of abuse here is maintaining a provider/client relationship and money flows from client to provider long after services from the provider are no longer needed.
- There's also of the abuse issues that arise from the power relationship between provider and client, including but hardly limited to sexual abuse issues. In fact the asymmetry of the power relation between provider and client is one of the big issues that arise in the medical field, in the US especially, especially when it comes to attempts to negotiate fees in an emergency room.
The secular sphere has put some safeguards in place but they are inadequate even there.
So based on all of the above, here's questions I'd ask to Mr. Folk directly:
- What code of ethics would you adhere to? Is it published? If someone has a dispute with the services you rendered, how is redress effected?
- How does the client know when he no longer needs your services?
- From a Buddhist perspective, are you concerned with the ethical quandaries of teaching meditation without the corresponding instruction in right conduct? If you feel it is not necessary, why is that so, and why or why not, from your perspective, is that a Buddhist right livelihood?
- Aside from time constraints, under what circumstances would you refuse services to a client?
- Do you offer pro bono services to those who cannot meet your fees?
- How does the client have assurance that your claims of enlightenment are genuine? How can you ensure that these claims have no bearing on any potential exploitation of the relationship between you and your clients?
- Regarding your fees, are you aware that the motivation for certain pricing schemes and business transaction methods are structured precisely to encourage a sale? For example Publisher's Clearing House makes people go through a lot of effort to enter into their contests because they have found that it makes one more likely to subscribe to a magazine if one goes through a lot of effort to register for a "free, no obligation" contest. Then there is the well-known pricing with prices ending in "9," and there's more recent results on the use of numbers in context with other things to encourage certain behaviors. Are you aware of how your "coupon code" discount might be construed?
- How were your fees set at the levels they are? What factors, such as cost-structure and retirement planning were considered in setting them?
As I said on James' blog, I'm pretty easy to find, and look forward to Mr. Folk's respsonse. For that matter, other practitioners of "fee-for-service Buddhism" are encouraged to reply as well.
Update: Dosho Port answers the questions here.
*Speaking of active listening and R. D. Laing there's a story about how there was an incommunicative schizophrenic patient who spent his days sitting on the floor rocking back and forth. Nobody had been able to speak to get him to communicate, until Laing sat down next to him, and rocked back and forth...until the patient spoke to him, if I remember the story correctly.