Spirituality and money – the sticky points
The basics in the relationship between money and spirituality are clear I think: money isn’t a measure of spiritual health and each person needs to take responsibility for their own financial health.
When it comes to combining making money and being a spiritual teacher harder questions need to be asked:
- Should spiritual sites avoid advertising?
- Should a spiritual person avoid touching money?
- Should spiritual teachers charge for their teachings? (aka: should poor people have access to those teachings?)
The Theosophical Society has had free open meetings as it’s main standard for years. But as lodges eat up their reserves there comes a point where the lodges have to decide to charge for admittance.
Online advertising is a lovely thing: it makes it possible to make some money online while still keeping the access to the information free. I don’t see why spiritual sites should avoid advertising. They have to keep running.
The second question is similarly easy: it is clear that one would have to set up very complex organizational structures in order to make it possible that one person need not touch money. This was done for Jiddu Krishnamurti, but I don’t think we can expect it of the ordinary spiritual person.
The sticky point is number three: how does a spiritual teacher manage to stay solvent, yet not limit access to their teachings to the well to do?
I think the answers to that questions is partly cultural. While in original Buddhism the monks roamed the country side and ate what people gave them, in China Zen monks turned to growing food for themselves. In most Buddhist countries the habit of giving to Buddhist monks is so strong that monasteries need to have their own (lay) secretaries in order to keep track of all the money.
In practice it’s a gliding scale between a mandatory gift and payment.
Donations are obviously a possible solution: anybody who appreciates their local meditation teacher, should make sure they give them donations. Preferably as many as would be spent on a similar time spent at the local gym or something – if they can afford it.
It may be nonspiritual to ask for specific amounts, but the system only works when the visitors realize the duty to pay what they can afford to miss. Of course one should stop paying once it becomes clear the spiritual ‘teacher’ doesn’t live up to expectations.
It is clearly a two way street. If a spiritual teacher is doing a good job, they should be rewarded by the people who appreciate their work by donations (but only up to the level they feel they can afford to give). It becomes detrimental when the priest keeps getting money (and spending it on fancy clothes and cars) while the people who give that money are living in squaller.
Another potential issue is the difference in relationship between the teacher and those students who give donations, and those who don’t (because they can’t afford it). A good spiritual teacher should be able to stay above that, but most people just aren’t that saintly.
There is the ideal of the spiritual teacher who is above all that, and then there is the practice of ‘spiritual teachers’ who come to the highest bidder. I guess a middle ground would have to be found to settle this.