I live in an agricultural area in Idaho. My small town is nestled up against the Snake River. I receive my Buddhist magazine subscriptions. I listen to dharma talk podcasts while I ride my mowing machine in the summer. I have attended a few retreats. And I’ve found a sangha just four hours away from my home.
Things should be fine, but they are not. I struggle with the impression that Buddhism has become a religious philosophy for the more wealthy and privileged among us. In my mind I see Shakyamuni Buddha sleeping under trees, traveling from town to town with his begging bowl, relying on the kindness of people, and teaching as he travels. Today, however, teachers have moved a long distance away from that example. When I look for opportunities to become more involved in the dharma, I find that there is considerable travel involved, and then there is the high cost of the retreats themselves. So for folks to “go deeper,” they have to really “go deeper”! When I look at other belief systems I don’t find anything like this. I know I could attend any other religious service without charge: Unitarian, Unity, Methodist, Episcopalian, Baptist, and so on.
I’ve also noticed that the typical Buddhist retreats, as advertised, are in or adjacent to high-population areas like New York, California, or Colorado, and are often situated near some pleasing environment like the ocean, a mountain, or a forest. That is fine for those who live in the neighborhood, but throughout this country there are those of us who live in flat, fairly uninteresting areas and who cannot leave family and jobs for a week, a month, three months, or longer in order to feel a part of the greater sangha.
It appears that Buddhism has become a business. (When I wrote this short sentence, it felt like an earthquake inside.) If you have the time and the money, you can fully participate in Buddhism. If you live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, however, you are left with magazines, books, podcasts, and perhaps a small sangha to enrich your Buddhist life.
So here is my thought: What if these established Buddhist centers expanded their view to see a Buddhism modeled after the Peace Corps or the Mormon Church? When a person has chosen to live a monastic life, how about we tear down those monastery walls altogether and send the monks out to live with us, to be a part of our community, to help us grow a sangha, and to teach us? This would require a new way of thinking and doing things, especially in regard to the accepted belief that Buddhists don’t proselytize. I just can’t help but think that there are so many people who would be served by the dharma but are simply living in the wrong place, and having to work day to day to make a living. And if it were possible to create an approach designed to reach those of us who live in these smaller communities, the dharma might help reduce the hate, fear, and division that seem to be growing around us like a cancer.
Removing the Middlephone
In response to the description of the wearable device Spire, reviewed by Caitlin Van Dusen in Meditation App Roundup: don’t you think we are removing ourselves more from our bodies by funneling their activity through technology interpreted by a smart phone? Instead, how about we try actually paying attention to our own embodied experience: incredibly simple to access, entirely free, and far more profound. I’m not saying that these devices and apps are all bad—certainly they can act as a dharma gate for those who are seeking; yet perhaps we need to be careful of sidestepping the point of embodiment and complicating the process by adding in a middleman (middlephone?), when we are all able to experience the wholeness of self right now.
–Kelly Anne Graves
I think the issues raised by “Making Money with Meditation,” by Wendy Joan Biddlecombe, come down to dogma, quite frankly. If you view Buddhism as a dogmatic religion, then you are going to have a problem with this. It’s reasonable to view Buddhism as a religion, but I don’t—I view it as a philosophy. If I could join a club like MNDFL in my town, I would strongly consider it. It would be worth it to spend some time with like-minded people and to pay for quality instruction.
When I give dana to a teacher, it’s because I’m getting much more than basic meditation instruction, which incidentally is usually free at many centers. To this practicing Buddhist, MNDFL’s setup sounds a bit ridiculous.
–Linda Phillips Newman
When does it go IPO? I want to trade mindfulness!
Illustrations by Roberto La Forgia
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.