There’s been a lot of fruitful discussion around the Tricycle Community lately about money and Buddhism. At the latest post to take on this issue, “Making Buddhism accessible to working-class people,” a guest post from Joshua Eaton, there have been some helpful comments from people who have founds ways to sustain their practices despite financial limitations.
Here’s what they’re saying:
nancykreml: There are ways that some groups make it possible for all to participate. My small dharma group, also in a southern college town, has no resident teacher, though we have spiritual director only 100 miles away. Our only expenses are renting a shrine room, and there are enough middle-class members to pay the rent. Our weekly practices are meditation and book discussion, both free, and we have recorded and put online many teachings from our spiritual director. We always buy some extra copies of books for people who’d like to participate but can’t buy, though most books we select are available used at reasonable prices. The membership dues are on a sliding scale that starts at $15 a month, but you don’t have to be a member for almost all events. When we have a joint retreat with our director’s dharma group in another city, we always offer scholarships for those who can’t afford it. Some members who can’t attend offer to pay for those who have time but not money. We hold garage sales and do other things to raise money, and those without money can contribute time and energy to those and to maintaining the shrine room. I really think we would not benefit half so much if we didn’t have to work together as a real sangha including people who don’t have a lot of money. Occasional retreats are wonderful, but our daily practice means that we have an ongoing community to share it.
wtompepper: It seems to me that what nancykreml describes is the way Buddhism is going to work in mainstream American culture, if it ever works at all. Freely available weekly practice, book discussion groups, open teachings where beginners can learn a little about Buddhism without feeling intimidated by the incomprehensible discussions and activities at a retreat.
Americans are too obsessed with celebrity teachers and big money events for validation of their practice. There’s nothing wrong with having a teacher who isn’t famous, or just practicing with a group of fellow travelers on the path. Commitment to such a group, to keep showing up and keep trying even when there is not financial incentive or approval of a famous teacher, can be the most powerful kind of Buddhist practice. I’ve been to retreats with famous teachers that were overcrowded and very superficial and useless; and I’ve practiced for years now with a group of lay Buddhists who are all just trying to figure it out together. I’ll take the latter model.
If you want to bring Buddhism to the working classes, just do it. Start a group of two or three people who meet at convenient times in an accessible place, invite a teacher to talk or give some lectures or just have a book discussion group and meditation practice. Good teachers will be happy to help, and those who want big audiences or big fees wouldn’t help anyway. The important thing, and in our culture the difficult thing, is to keep practicing, every day, every week, without any external validation or financial incentive.
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