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Dharma is usually donation-ware.

There is a really valuable dharma book that my friend is in no financial condition to buy (it is $100) but he also does not want to download it for free from me.

Is there any sutta which clearly states that dharma is donation-ware and that it is OK to redistribute dharma content even if it is copywritten?

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  • Can dhamma have a copywrite according to the Buddha's teaching? Can we violate such a copywrite according to the Buddha's teachings? Is that what you'rd asking?
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 17:03
  • @Uilium yes exactly..
    – Ahmed
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 17:10
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    I doubt you'll get better answers than already exist in "Does illegal downloading or viewing of copyright material violate the second precept?".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 17:11
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    Thanm you that is a good related question.. but i could swear i remember seeing a sutta where it is claimed that dharma is free.. i wanted that reference..
    – Ahmed
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 17:22
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    @Ahmed I think it may be against the vinaya to sell the dhamma (or to teach it in exchange for donations) ... but I presume that's not applicable here, though (because the author in your question isn't a monk). Also, I think that copyright is relatively modern, which therefore wouldn't be mentioned in suttas.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 17:27

8 Answers 8

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The Buddha did say:

"One should not go about making a business out of the Dhamma"

This web page gives a source for the quote. They use a different numbering scheme ("Ud 66") to Access to Insight, which gives it in the verse at the end of "Ud 6.2 PTS: Ud 64":

One should not make an effort everywhere,
should not be another's hireling,
should not live dependent on another,
should not go about
as a trader in the Dhamma.

However, this is on the side of the seller. The seller is putting wealth above sharing the dhamma which is why this normally is considered to give bad karma. This quote says nothing about the buyer. Just because selling the dhamma is not a wholesome action does not mean that taking the dhamma is a wholesome action.

There was no written language at the time of the Buddha so there was no such thing as taking the dhamma which was not given.

You'll have to make your own decision about whether you should pirate the book. The second precept may also be relevant but some consider it to not apply to pirating. "I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given"

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  • Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
    – user11235
    Commented May 20, 2017 at 0:29
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I have a significant problem with this as well... the enriching of one self in either money, status or both, by charging for Dharma teachings. It is the primary reason I stopped going to for pay teachers whatsoever. It is also the reason I do not often buy Dharma books.

Begging or putting out a donation box is one thing. Charging is another. Even more insidious is the giving of favors to those who donate.

If you are serious about teaching, why on earth would you care about any of this? Your life isn't about having 'things' beyond food, shelter and companionship, and so there is no need to charge. A monastery or dharma center could easily make ends meet if they ran a few simple businesses that had nothing directly to do with The Dharma, such as selling malas, clothing, icons, and so on, Even better would be an unrelated thing, such as running a grocery store, accounting group or research team.

The teachings should always, always be free. The teacher should always, always be able to turn away anyone, for any reason other than money or material things.

Stopping charging actually frees the teacher up to do 'right action' in teaching. He isn't bound to make himself available to those who pay a large sum of money. He isn't bound by anything material except society, which seems to be the trickiest part of this. And he isn't bound so much that he is forced to say, when asked "How do you know all these people are ready to hear these teachings?" he says "By virtue of their Karma, they were able to afford it, and thus must be worthy" which to me is ridiculous.

As far as books go, the teacher should accept an amount to cover costs, and when that has been repaid, he should offer the book for free.

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  • I agree with your last statement. Good point. There are a lot of hidden costs that go into research, explanation, translation costs (lots of sacred texts are yet to be translated), publishing, etc. but once they are paid off seller should alter the price. :/
    – Ahmed
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 16:15
  • All Dharmas are from the Buddha so it's free by nature, a teacher re-teaching the Buddha's Dharma is like a GNU GPL software redistributed by the none-original program-creator. As far as I understood redistributing a GNU GPL Software with fee is absurd or even illegal. @Ahmed an authentic translation of sacred text can't be price-tagged, usually involved "Celestial inspiration". Not anyone/scholar qualified just because he/she has that professional knowledge, though the nature of ur issue is unknown to me I'm only talking in general case. Commented May 23, 2017 at 13:06
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The word 'dharma' is not exclusive to Buddhism. All Indian religions are forms of 'dharma'.

The Buddha-Dhamma ('dharma of the Buddha') is a "benevolent gift" thus is given free.

To quote:

This is the best of gifts: the gift of Dhamma. And this is the best of friendly speech: to teach again and again Dhamma to those who wish for it and who listen attentively. This, monks, is called the power of benevolence.

AN 9.5

Buddha-Dhamma is found in the Pali suttas. A Wall Street opinion about what Buddhism may or may not be is obviously not Buddha-Dhamma. It is another type of 'dharma'.

Therefore, if the Wall Street Dharma is not free, taking it without paying for it is stealing. Buddhism does not allow stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

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  • I would be careful here... if someone is "rich" off of stealing from others, then stealing from them wouldn't be wrong action. And remember, excessive wealth is something the masses allow to exist.. not necessarily something that is necessary. I know many teachers ( including The Buddha) have condemned this way of looking at things, however it is clear to me that this is done for political and social, and not dharma, reasons. Clearly, if everyone thought "eye for an eye" justice was appropriate, we would live in chaos. But that doesn't make it 'wrong'.
    – T. B.
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 21:11
  • My understanding is the 2nd precept is: 'not taking what is not freely given'. Regards Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 23:17
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Hmmm.. money talks !! I would not buy this book ....if you are looking for the real thing visit a temple some have libraries ...you can borrow a real book !! Or some wealthy temples will even give you the book with all the trimmings ...also you will notice a donation box around somewhere in the the temple ..." What do we do then "? Shall we donate for the cost of the book as we shouldn't get something for nothing the question is how your mind works ....personal effort is what the great Lord wanted ..he only gave us the directions for the path ....be free all is well.

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If you perceive something as theft, or 'taking that which is not given', then best to avoid it. Since you intend not to steal, but perceive something that is close to it, if you wish to avoid it, don't do it! If you don't perceive it as some form of theft, and do not intent to steal, then you're fine!

https://suttacentral.net/en/pi-tv-bu-vb-pj2 for the permutations!

As for the price, given the cost of publication, I would guess covering costs would be reasonable, but $100 seems a bit much. Also is counter intuitive that a person who follows the Dhamma truly would try and make themselves rich off it!

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  • There are sometimes tremendous translation costs not to mention publishing, etc. and this is why it is necessary to charge a higher price.
    – Ahmed
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 16:14
  • I suppose Bikkhu Bodhi's individual Nikayas go for $60 on Amazon, so $100 not much of a stretch for cost. As the quote on Hugh's answer says, it shouldn't be a business venture. Recovering costs and making no profits is arguably not a very good business model! (I guess subject to a reasonable definition of costs too!) Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 16:47
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Demanding is wrong view.

He takes, in the manner of a thief, things in a village or a wilderness [Internet] that belong to others and have not been given by them.

There is the case where a certain person is covetous. He covets the belongings of others, thinking, 'O, that what belongs to others would be mine!' He bears ill will, corrupt in the resolves of his heart: 'May these beings be killed or cut apart or crushed or destroyed, or may they not exist at all!' He has wrong view, is warped in the way he sees things: 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves. Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta

So the question "should..." is already wrong. If asking "is it good to share and give of what is mine, I am given to give, not needing to take what is not given.": Especially giving Dhamma is the highest gift.

There is nothing destroying Dhamma faster as dealing and selling Dhamma and taking part. But there is no way to help those greedy beings, not to speak of those even demanding and believing to have such as rights.

Being even in association not only with bad lay friends but also with monks of wrong view who encorage to revolution, demanding and are not shy to walk the thievery Robbin Hood way, who would be able to help aside of big suffering that naturally follows if aware of causes later or even already yet.

How much have you given till today, and how much do you demand? Most are not even able to make right anf fair trade and belive that paying the proper amount is already meritorious.

As for those poor being, making a livelihood from selling Dhamma, teaching, or what ever with this precious heritage, what else as being slaves for a religion that has been disappeared can they aspect. And think about it, how it could come that you need to pay money to gain at least mostly even fake Dhamma?

It's not possible to gain anything in regard of Path and Fruit having bought the teaching of the Buddha. Look of how much they read and pay for meditation. Their situation has causes, and so those today Dhammadealers will end afterwards, meet each other again and wander on in same ways.

And? What are you doing right here? Right now? In giving, what is not given to give here?

Hugh gave a good and right answer here, Sadhu! Take care of such previous friends understanding the basics and teaching you a goid for long time benefit.

Those shares with their attitude and confirming that, are of great demerits opposing right view, the Buddha, Dhamma and specially the Savaka Sangha and nurishing on their heritage.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma not meant for commercial purpose or other wordily gain]

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In responding here I am mostly relying upon logic. I therefore implore you to use your own judgment and not accept my arguments or pov as, for want of a better term, Gospel. Downloading ebooks of copyrighted material is not taking something that is not given, since the ebook is not only not the original item, it is not even physical property. However, the person who copied the original content is without doubt breaking the contract entered into when purchased if there is a statement of prohibition with regards to copying. So copying the material is definitely going against the wishes of those responsible for producing the material. Although it is ambiguous as to whether anything is being taken that is not freely given and so depriving the producers of their material, there is the possibility that the producers of the material are being deprived of either recuperating their production costs or their ability to continue producing similar Dhamma material. If someone received a hard copy as a gift then they did not, strictly speaking, have any contract with the producer, however, if the work contains explicit prohibitions against copying, just having possession would obligate the possessor to not deprive the producer of the ability to recuperate the costs of producing the material or their abilty to continue producing such material. Downloading the material is making a copy and therefore going against the wishes of the producers, again with the same potential deprivations. Charging a fee for Dhamma material whether hard copies or ebooks isn't necessarily charging a fee for Dhamma, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that what is being charged for are production costs of the medium in which it is propagated. Effectively, monks and nuns, and even the Buddha, were paid for transmitting the Dhamma by way of alms. Without donations of sustenance they could not have continued living the holy life and therefore unable to offer the Dhamma to their fullest extent. Their medium of transmission is/was their bodies. With hard copies and ebooks the principle remains, regardless of the medium of transmission. However, there arises a further ambiguity. The prohibition statements within Dhamma material could be considered requests for alms from further recipients of the Dhamma whenever someone passes copies on. It's somewhat like "I'll tell you the Dhamma but if you tell anyone I want the alms". I have actually collated (in digital format) the complete Pali Canon in English translation for my personal use. It took me approximately six years scouring the internet to acquire approximately 95% as that was all that was available. The only material that was not available in English translation was the Niddesa. However, a rough translation has in recent months become available. I am tempted to upload the entire Pali Canon in English translation and to offer it to the world for free. The only thing stopping me is copyright violations. I am considering contacting the publishers of the parts that are copyrighted and requesting permission to distribute so that there is an online resource that offers the complete (100%) Pali Canon in one place. Albeit in varying degrees of quality.

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  • There's already a project aimed at uploading the entire Tipitaka in English: Wikipitaka (and Sutta Central, though I don't know if that's an explicit goal there). Also please don't rely on my Nid. translation, "rough" is an understatement, but hopefully I can revisit it this year.
    – Zac Anger
    Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 20:48
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Dhamma was never, is not, and will never be free, but requires sacrifices, like everything in this world. Yet, if proper attained, by being given (without trade back to the world) by the owner, and proper received in this cause, binds only toward one: liberation. What ever Dhamma is either not proper given (without string toward world), not proper received (taken not given or payed) will not bear the Sublime Buddha's and his Sublime hire's (Sangha) purpose of it and will not lead to right view and liberation.

So what would you be willing to give at first place, of what would you eager try to abstain to take on not given? One just thinking like a thief is bond to stay bond.

A given starter toward debtlessness: Respect, Confidence and Patient

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