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I was planning to visit a centre, so first I checked their webpage, I thought they are a lit too pushy when it comes to donations, asking for money in a very explicit way to pay their bills. OK, let me be fair, they have bills to pay and utilities can be expensive sometimes.

I have more experience with Mahayana (eventhough I follow Theravada now) and in the two centres I have been to, I have never seen similar thing, so it makes me wonder, why? Maybe their funding structures are different, more robust, I dont know...

Is there anything in the Vinaya that can help? What are the limits when it comes to asking for money?

  • Is the center run by monastics or lay people? Are the amounts listed suggested donations or set fees? Perhaps it makes a difference in the answer. – Robin111 Oct 11 '14 at 16:18
  • Robin, nice to "see" you again, I think it is run by a mix of lay and monastics, regarding the donations, there is no fixed or minimum amount, but the "requests" for donations are constant and very explicit, always linked to a bill (water, electricity etc) – konrad01 Oct 11 '14 at 16:40
  • It reminds me of the "new christian churchs" approach regarding donations, it is not forced, you are free to go without donating, however the topic is discussed constantly. As I said in the two centres I have been for more time (Mahayanas) they had a donation box and a library to sell books, that was ALL – konrad01 Oct 11 '14 at 16:44
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My favorite essay on dana is Thanissaro Bhikkhu's "No Strings Attached: The Buddha's Culture of Generosity".

In it Thanissaro Bhikkhu points out the main criteria Buddha himself set for right dana (AN 6.37):

The donor, before giving, is glad; while giving, his/her mind is inspired; and after giving, is gratified. These are the three factors of the donor…

The recipients are free of passion or are practicing for the subduing of passion; free of aversion or practicing for the subduing of aversion; and free of delusion or practicing for the subduing of delusion. These are the three factors of the recipients.

He then goes on to show that explicitly asking for donations goes against the above:

In pressuring retreatants to give to teachers, it doesn't lead to gladness before giving, and instead sounds like a plea for a tip at the end of a meal. The frequent efforts to pull on the retreatants' heartstrings as a path to their purse strings betray a lack of trust in their thoughtfulness and leave a bad taste.

He mainly argues against putting hard dana amounts on dharma talks (making them paid lectures), but I feel it does apply to your case as well.

It's not clear what he proposes instead though, he does not really explain it at great details:

The ideal solution would be to provide a framework whereby serious Dhamma practitioners could be supported whether or not they taught. ... a genuine culture of dana ...

I personally believe in membership fees. Those lay people who are associated with a given Dharma Center for a long time, could organize a sort of PTA club (with optional membership!), collect membership fees among themselves, and then donate them to the center.

  • Yeah I think it is harder today, by the time of the Buddha when Vianaya was created they were Basically concerned with food, now we have food, electricity, water, taxes, etc etc life is more complicated and therefore more expensive... – konrad01 Oct 12 '14 at 16:05
  • @konrad01 It might be interesting to ask how e.g. Chinese temples are financed in the West. – ChrisW Oct 12 '14 at 16:09
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I don't think this is an issue particular to any sect of Buddhism. Garnering enough financial support for an organization to keep doing what it's doing is a problem shared by religious organizations, non profit organizations, and even for profit businesses. Any organization that wishes to sustain itself must be able to meet expenses.

True enough that it's tradition for the dhamma to be given freely; never sold or traded in a transaction. But few of us are sitting under a tree hearing a dhamma talk from a wandering mendicant. If we are sitting in a nice Buddhist center of some sort, with heat, air conditioning, running water, lights, books, etc., someone has to pay for all that.

Of course there are rules for monastics to follow regarding money; so presumably a lay person or group of lay people at the center you visited are in charge of garnering support to keep the center open. The fact that they were very obvious about it may mean that the community in general has not been very generous in their support in the past and they may be trying to make it clear that support is needed and appreciated.

Dana is a very important Buddhist concept; but with so many newly converted Buddhists in the West (I believe you've mentioned that your geographic area has not had a long standing Buddhist presence.), there may not be a solid understanding yet of how Dāna pāramī helps to stabilize a Buddhist presence in a new area. It may take years for a new Buddhist center to build a loyal and generous following that would allow it to not be so obvious in asking for donations.

I'll close with the observation that a temple I attend that serves a traditionally Buddhist ethnic group seems far better supported financially than a lay lead group of Western converts to Buddhism which I previously belonged to. It could simply be a matter of making newer Buddhists understand that while Buddhism is wonderful, special, and brand new to them; there are still bills to pay.

On the other hand; if you see obvious signs of luxury living in the center, look for a new center! ;-)

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It's easy to see faults of others, housholder Konrad, and interested.

Aside of some aspects what belongs to others, already mentioned here, one should not forget that lay people assisting monks are not assistance of other lay people and actually have no duties toward them.

When one enters another space with a costumer attitude, such will never be of benefit, especially in regard of Dhamma, so it's good to:

Better to Give than to Consume and a demanding mind, thoughts of "I have a right"... such is a mind of great wrong view and not really at a stage to gain any Dhamma.

It might be sometimes hard to access the Sangha but one should not forget that such is related to ones own debts in the world as well as Upanissaya. Nobody needs, has the duty, to give or provide you anything, even if you would be worthy of receiving gifts and hospitality.

Some hints how to approach lay - supporter of the Sangha, if that is even the matter here, wishing to do merits, some hints have been given here: [Q&A] Details on what may be given as alms (Tips for alms-giving)

  • A tip in reagard of organised monasteries
  • Stewards, monastery and Monk helpers

Good to note that centers and communities who serve visitors like gods, could do such very conscious in advanced for later gain. So it's importand to reflecct why one actually goes out to a buddhist center: To make merits or to use of old? In the second case, better to access markets and a person who is after consume will naturally only meet those trading in Dhamma, seldom find ways to make real fruitful merits, lacking Upanissaya, right view.

If wishing to run a center, help a monastery a question: How should a theravada centre approach the lay people for support? is good asked toward wise. If someone making use of possible gifts, an answer "how should they act toward me" is total wrong placed, right at the beginning.

(Note that this gift of Dhamma is not dedicated for trade, exchange, stacks or entertainment but as a means to make merits toward release from this wheel)

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