Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Child Prostitution and Expensive Dharma

Okay, I said that was it for today but I was wrong. I just saw the movie Water which was truly an astounding representation of widows in India in the late 30's at the time of Gandhi's influence. I will not ruin it for you but suffice to say it is a shocking account of the suffering and oppression of women, recommended for all but very young audiences.
I began to think again of my irritation at spiritual teachers who claim that prayer and meditation are what we need to reconcile the pain of this world. This, in my opinion, is utter bullshit, and serves to reveal the low level of psychological development that most spiritual teachers have, in that they cannot accept the fact that the pain of this world is unreconcilable but that does NOT mean that we as a species reach our highest evolution when we cease to involve ourselves with those who cannot free themselves from it. In fact, if we deny our human connection to those with "negative karma" we are denying the most basic and fundamental and simple potential of human life, which is compassion and love. How will we find out how human we are without feeling helpless and stupid? I believe it is surely impossible, and furthermore realizing our humanness is our only hope for any type of realization. For what humans became other than human when they realized the Truth??
A particular source of irritation for me (and I have many as you will see as this blog progresses) are "spiritual" teachers who charge exorbitant rates for their teachings, like upwards of $3000 - $4000 for a retreat that they claim is the only way their students can receive the REAL spiritual truth. This is simply not true and never will be: No one individual has the corner on the truth, or anyone's individual path of the unfolding of their wisdom. Luckily this unfolding comes in as many forms as there are sentient beings. When a teacher says, 'But you must come to this retreat. This is where it's happening. Don't think about the money. The money will come." What about lowering the cost of the retreat? Evo Morales, Bolivia's president who calls himself an "Amerindian President," immediately cut his salary by 57% in the old way of teaching by example. But also there was a razor sharp practical edge to Morales's salary cut. In order to accomplish his aim's, the people needed more money. In the Buddhist world, I think there is a major slip up by teachers who have accumulated fame through their albeit genuinely helpful teachings: They seem to feel that fame, and the current rate of inflation, justifies giving teachings that are only accessible to a certain socio-economic group. This group not only has lots of disposable income, but they also have the ability to leave their job at a whim and spend weeks or months even on a retreat. Or conversely, they are willing to risk being homeless and jobless to spend all their savings, and leave their job for too long. This is a select group of people, many of whom have family who will help them, or nest eggs set aside in the 80's, or are self employed. Interestingly, many jobs that bring people closer to society and it's needs and ills, those who work in the trenches (yes I am in this group working at a homeless shelter) who are spiritual in their desire to serve, are the very ones' stuck in a working class category that looks at this other socioeconomic world through a bit of glass. Sure I would like to go on a retreat for a month that costs $3000, but I am a bit concerned with losing my health insurance. And since I only make $35,000 and have large student loans from my Master's in Buddhism, I have no real savings to speak of, so hopefully I won't lose my job.
But here is the kicker: part of these teachings are about facing fear, losing ground, stopping being controlled by a consensus society that fabricated rules and boundaries which keep you imprisoned in a non-existent self which is the root of all suffering. Tie that with a message of "don't fall into a poverty mentality around money, don't be afraid to take risks" and I might just be singing up on my credit card for a $4000 month long retreat, with my deep longing for inner and outer peace, and my connection to the teacher who leads the retreat.
It is not the retreat itself that is the problem, or the teacher, or the teachings. It is simply the cost of the whole thing and the lack of recognition of most people's actual financial situations. It reminds me a bit of private schools, GRE prep courses, and all the other ways we self select in this country who gets to be educated. It has become the same with some spiritual "journeys." All I am saying is, let's look at cutting costs. Let's cut the teacher's salary in half, like Evo Morales! Maybe the teacher should live in an apartment, instead of a house, until he gets enough students at a reasonable rate to fund his savings account, and he can have enough for a down payment. Sounds more normal, more integrated. Don't these teachers want to understand their students? And if not, why not?
It was hard for me, when the beloved Jack Kornfield came to Mount Madonna Center where I lived at the time, gave beautiful teachings to largely middle to upper class people, and young people willing to risk homelessness to see him, for exorbitant rates, and then I laid a check for thousands of dollars, his payment for 3 days of teaching, next to him expensive leather shoes.
Not that he shouldn't have nice shoes! He should. But like his students, he could save for them. Perhaps, as well as setting a spiritual example, he could set a financial example. This is how you charge for your services so whomever wants to receive teachings and meditate with me can do so. This is how you live, so you are not using money from spiritual teachings to live far above the living standard of most human beings in the world. This is how you live. What a teaching that would be, to me.
Part of the problem is these large conglomerate organizations that form around Buddhist and other spiritual teachings, and then have to be maintained with lots of money. They have to be cleaned, the mortgage and taxes paid, they need an accountant, a web designer, they need office staff, etc. Part of the work gets done by volunteers who are on retreat at the center, but it's not enough, because they simply have to keep up with the salaries of their staff, including the teachers. It is honorable to provide a good salary for a job well done. However, again, there could be another way. Buying land in the most beautiful and expensive parts of the country are an aspect of most retreat centers. What about lowering expectations with the idea of serving more different kinds of people? Isn't access to the teachings more important than peaceful serenity of nature?
Yes, I am ranting, but I just saw Water and child prostitution makes me SERIOUSLY pissed off. We need more hands. More encouragement for us all to come together about spiritual answers, spiritual answers that nourish people, and meet them where they are.
Signing off.


Anonymous said...

You’re the son/daughter of SATIN your role is to create fear mongering so your LORD SATIN will have fertile ground for his work.

alan 'alan' m said...

You are the lord of SATIN. Even if I never see this SATIN, I know underneath those clothes you wear, is SATIN. Oh sure, it is soft and smooth in a way the cotton can only wish to be. Yet SATIN is the devil!!!! It's smoothness is a vehicle for opulence and degradation. The 297th sign of the apocalypses, after distressed jeans and recycling.

I can only weep at the state that this world is in.

Anonymous said...

It's better than being the son slash daughter of RAYON. Damn you Lord Rayon.