Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Response to Herb Eko Deer on money and Buddhism

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.


Mumon K said...

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.

And just to note as well: I'm not talking about monks who depend for all their sustenance on a community, with nothing expected to be given or given in return.


eko said...

i will have a response to this on my blog very very very soon

eko said...

jk, thanks for your kind response, i mostly agree with you, maybe except that dharma can be included in secular settings with hierarchies if we want them to be. we might not call it dharma but there could an overt intention to awaken, of course the bosses would need to be down, but they will.

and the straw man i make is to engage the straw "purity" of dharma some might be stuck on. i think the angry responders believe in the "real" reality of both my projection and the "most holy teaching" unfortunately.

and i feel there is something that is or can be taught, part of which is that there is nothing to teach, or the difference between spiritual bypassing and samadhi, or the difference between "mu" and "oneness", or between being being a buddha and killing the buddha, or between following the precepts and letting go of them.

and "enlightenment" can be authenticated, its just not standardized and very complex in reality.

anywho, i will certainly keep my eyes open for good traditions to learn from and i will continue my bjj/qi-gong/ninjitsu training as soon as my shoulder heals. word

Mumon K said...


Thanks for your response here.

The one point I'd reply in return is yeah, I think in order to awaken, and actualize that awakening in every crevice of one's life it's nearly essential - it is essential in my case - that there be someone else there who has been down that path.

But it really isn't taught, per se. A koan is answered not because you thought up something clever, but because of how everything was. Somebody you call a teacher or I an osho might tell you the difference between "mu" and "oneness," but he ain't going to give you the rice cake, kind of sort of point in the general direction.

And re: authentication of enlightenment, I think it is authenticated, and at least in my school, I think it would be difficult to fake it. But to someone naive, they might either doubt a person is awakened who is, or they would have believed Frederick "Zen Master Rama" Lenz was awakened. But even if I were to get the kōan-passed scroll from Hakuin himself, it really doesn't mean all that much unless I'm doing something in my life as a result of that.

That's possible, and that possibility should be taught.

Good to hear re: the martial arts.

That's what kind of started me on this, to be frank. Both my osho and my Wing Chun teachers are guys in their (later) 60s, both are very unassuming, and regarding the Wing Chun teacher, you'd never expect someone his size and age could throw a linebacker across the room.

And he's sort of an embodiment of what real kung fu is; that is, it's not about his martial arts skills, but about who he is as a person. His school of martial arts is truly one of no rank. There's no ranks.

And some folks on the 'net charge how much per hour to for someone to meditate?