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In recent years in "Western" culture, teachings derived from Buddhist practices have been increasingly common. These teachings are often of a secular nature and are about compassion, meditation and mindfulness. However, some of them expressly bring out teachings about dharma, dukha, metta, etc. Some of these teachers charge significant sums for retreats, which may have dozens or even hundreds of people attend. It's obvious that a lot of money is being made. While I don't begrudge someone making a living - even a comfortable one - in a few cases, I know that these teachers are living very well: driving expensive cars, living in the most expensive neighborhoods/suburbs of their cities, etc. Am I misunderstanding something, or does this go against the Buddha's teachings?

Edit: For clarity's sake, let me elaborate on the type of teacher I'm discussing. I'm NOT referring a monastery charging a fee to cover operating costs for retreats, classes, etc. What I'm asking about are people who have best selling books, charge $100 for 1 day retreats with 100 people attending, and who have observable significant wealth in that they live in neighborhoods where the houses cost millions of dollars and drive cars that are a hundred thousand dollars or more.

  • Why the downvote? – GreenMatt Jul 8 '14 at 14:58
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    I'd note that this isn't a Western phenomenon, since the age of the Buddha, in every culture some teachers have always lost their way, and tragically misled their followers. Usually this has also involved some abuse of psychic powers, and trust. – Buddho Jun 15 '15 at 8:44

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I don't think there is a definite answer to this question. Bear in mind that Buddha did not give any commandments in form of 'do' and 'do not'. He rather gave guidelines and various methods that are suited for various types of people. The fact that one style goes against your preferences, does not mean that someone else cannot benefit from that. To practise Buddhism one should try not to judge others and focus on his own development.

It should be clearly said, however, that generosity is the first Paramita (liberating action or perfection). Through practising the 6 Paramitas, one can break the cycle of samsara and offering goods to the Dharma teacher is though to be a great act of generosity and it creates lots of merit in practitioner's mind. Bearing that in mind, I can think of the following reasons why there is a lot of wealth around some teachers:

  • a teacher has a very generous and rich sponsor who made promises to always provide for his teacher
  • a city where the teacher lives is not the safest one and the Sangha (community of practitioners) donated money so that the teacher stays in a safe environment. They also want the teacher to be healthy and have a long life, so they will always cook the best food for him and will call for the best (usually most expensive) doctors.
  • expensive cars means that they are reliable and won't break a lot so that the teachers can travel safely to spread the teachings. Same for expensive computers and phones.
  • it is also an act of generosity to give others opportunity to pay money towards the Buddhist teachings. It is better if people pay hundreds of dollars for the teachings rather than in a casino.

The problem arises when the teacher abuses generosity of his students but we are not the ones to judge them. If they use Dharma to get rich, be sure there will be some karmic consequences.

Personally, I am not attracted to teachers who charge a lot for teachings. I trusted a teacher who is low-profile so I can relax and donate as much money as I want and can afford. Other people, however, prefer developing with their teacher in a palace and if it works for them, we can only be happy that the Dharma spreads.

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It is immoral to sell the Dhamma. But meditation retreats might accept donations as it takes money to make the facility available in certain areas. When you say 'teachers', if you are referring to monks, there's nothing in the Vinaya that prevents them from living in expensive suburbs. Rich people need to hear the Dhamma too. Although, I'm not sure if monks are allowed to drive.

  • They are neither allowed to drive nor to touch money. – Jakob Jun 19 '14 at 22:13
  • @Jakob: That may be dependent on the branch and/or monastery. Perhaps I was mistaken, but I believe the monastery at which I did a retreat had monks doing both. – GreenMatt Jun 20 '14 at 13:55
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    @GreenMatt: Yes, obviously;). I was talking about Theravada. – Jakob Jun 20 '14 at 14:02
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One shouldn't get rich by teaching Buddhism for several reasons.

1) Buddhism says that you shouldn't sell the Dharma because of the Elasticity Curve of Economics: if it costs more, fewer people will acquire it. Basically you're turning people away from the Dharma. (Like others have mentioned, of course this does not apply to a center trying to cover operating costs that do not include huge salaries.)

2) Jesus maybe put the second reason best: "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God". If you hoard money while other people are in need of it, you can't be a very kind person.

3) How can you expect a money-loving teacher to teach you about non-attachment?

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I think Buddhism has nothing against being rich, but just says that people should not be attached to what they have. So there is nothing wrong with a teacher driving an expensive car. However, if the car was stolen, and the teacher expressed a regret, anger, sadness, or any other sign of attachment to the car, it would mean that he didn't really follow the Buddha's teaching.

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Sakkāro kāpurisaṃ hanti

To one who correctly understands the Dhamma, wealth and luxury should hold no attraction. I'd expect any teacher of mine to at least have grasped this much - else I don't benefit from such a teacher.

Looking back at the history of Buddhism, this wouldn't be the first time someone profited off it. It used to happen even in the Buddha's time - and this was one of the grounds for expulsion of Devadutta from the order. Subsequently he created a schism and decamped with 500 followers.

The Buddha remarked that he was a fool to be captured by vanity, and it would lead to his downfall. (an 4.68)

Bhikkhus, gain, hospitality and fame arose to Devadatta for his destruction and defeat.
[...]
Bearing fruit, indeed destroys the banana tree, bamboo grove and the reed,
Hospitality destroys the low man as conception the she mule.

This was true in India even before the Buddha, and thus the Buddha doesn't elaborate much on the virtues of austerity because it was widely understood. All dharmic Indian texts also warn against the dangerous nature of human desire and remind us of boundaries. Even Vatsayana cautions in the Kamasutra that kama must be governed by dharma.

The Vedas say gold, woman and land should hold no attraction to the teacher. Yet, even in the time of the Buddha, teachers found ways to justify their misdeeds.

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Since the buddhist teaching isn't dogmatic it is not generally forbidden to live such a life. But you are totally right that it goes against the buddhist goal of not clinging to physical wealth. I actually wouldn't trust "teachers" who don't consequently follow their own teachings.

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A Buddhist teacher who has bodhisattva ethics would not keep more money than needed. He would utilize the remaining for generous funds to help others--and not just by mere charity but perhaps by creating an investment fund or funding a project, etc. a truly good teacher has a mind beyond us and would never be stuck in the small way of human attachment to comfort!

That being said, a truly good teacher might be not be successful per se (a good teaching is unwelcome due to the karmic tension it would cause in one's life) and vice versa.

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If a teacher becomes rich by means of his professional or business activities there is no issue. If you are commercialising the Dhamma then this goes against the spirit of the Dhamma. Ideally there should be no fee.

E.g. meditation centres run under http://dhamma.org/ does not charge any fixed fee but but run on donation basis:

In a course like this, one has a wonderful opportunity to develop this p±ram². Whatever one receives here is donated by another person; there are no charges for room and board, and certainly none for the teaching. In turn, one is able to give a donation for the benefit of someone else. The amount one gives will vary according to one’s means. Naturally a wealthy person will wish to give more, but even the smallest donation, given with proper volition, is very valuable in developing this p±ram². Without expecting anything in return, one gives so that others may experience the benefits of Dhamma and may come out of their suffering.

Source: The Discourse Summaries

Forest Dhamma Books make lot of books available for free. The books carry the following message:

THIS BOOK IS A FREE GIFT OF DHAMMA & MAY NOT BE OFFERED FOR SALE. ALL COMMERCIAL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The Dhamma should not be sold like goods in the market place. Permission to reproduce in any way for free distribution, as a gift of Dhamma, is hereby granted and no further permission need be obtained. Reproduction in any way for commercial gain is prohibited.

Also The Three Roots Inc by Piya Tan discusses multiple instances and issues which has arisen due to promoting religion like a business with profit motives.

The Dhamma should be available for everyone for free has how it was taught by the Buddha and subsequently until recently.

Any form of voluntary donation either in material or cash (for lay teachers) is fine as long as it is not solicited or there is a fixed fee.

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"Careful, not for a means of material gain, I will explain the Dhamma."

This is my translation of "Na āmisantaro kathaṁ kathessāmîti paresaṃ dhammo desetabbo" found in the Udayi Sutta (AN 5.159), which states five prerequisite qualities of one who teaches/explains the Dhamma.

Other translations:

"The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak not for the purpose of material reward. (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.159.than.html)

“I WILL TEACH THE DHARMA NOT FOR THE SAKE OF MATERIAL GAIN" - Piya Tan (http://www.themindingcentre.org/dharmafarer/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/46.1-Dhamma-Desaka-Udayi-S-a5.159-piya.pdf)

A Buddhist monk is required to reject offerings received as a 'payment' for teaching the Dhamma, as the Buddha did in the Kasi Bharadvaja Sutta SN 1.4.

"However, as the lay Dharma worker has not taken monastic vows, he can rightfully work as, say, a resident or regular teacher for an honorarium or sponsorship (traditionally known as dakkhiṇā) to support his work and his family" - Piya Tan (same link above).

Now, if a person writes 'Buddhist Novels' like we see the many 'Christian Novels', and gets rich on account of the success of those novels, then I see nothing objectionable and within the means of right livelihood.

If a person pays $100 for a 1 day retreat and benefits in line with the Dhamma, then kudos to the ones who organized such a retreat. As always let the buyer beware, critically evaluate the purchase (pre & post), and recommend or warn other potential buyers. This all sounds very commercial. So the preference would be to have these types of retreats sponsored through dana.

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Householder GreenMatt, Interested,

It's good to wish others wealth, fame, gain and if such is not wished for own gains, such is of great merits, yet of course it's not good to give into or approve actually wrong ways although one is not responsible of what others do with their gains... detail explainings here

In short, on shoulds:

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.

Paṭisalla Sutta: Seclusion

An extended talk on this question is given here and one may feel welcome and given to discuss and raise questions as well: Should Buddhist teachers get rich?

(Note that it is not given for trade, exchange, stacks or entertainment which binds in Samsara, the wheel here, but as a means to escape)

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