Monday, November 23, 2009


     Someone has to tackle this particular hot potato, so here goes. The issue of money changing hands when spiritual teaching occurs is one of the looniest, most irrational, and divisive issues I have encountered since beginning to teach publicly over 5 years ago. Those who actually know through their own experience something about Awareness realize that there are no hard and fast rules about anything. Yet I have encountered many who believe they know for certain that 'spiritual teaching' should be free-always. Some believe that any spiritual teacher who charges money is necessarily a fraud merely because they charge! Fixed beliefs about anything whatsoever are guaranteed to be dead wrong, yet this particular fixed belief remains largely unchallenged. Isn't that curious? Let's look into this particular notion a bit more deeply.
     First, we might wonder what 'spiritual teaching' is. Can we define it? How do we know that someone is teaching spirituality, and not merely teaching reality, or the truth? In my case, I have been a full-time practicing clinical psychologist for over 35 years. When I teach my understanding of the truth, or reality, the teaching is heavily influenced by my many years of absorption in helping others and myself become less crazy and more functional human beings. When does it stop being psychology and start being spiritual?
     Can we isolate 'spiritual teaching' from the ebb and flow of our life? Of course not. The teaching that comes through me is deeply psychological, certainly spiritual, practical, user-friendly, and sensible. Even asking the question of charging for spiritual teaching presupposes that there is such a thing. For a long time I have been hesitant to use the term spiritual to describe this teaching. Who said it's spiritual? Is chopping wood and carrying water 'spiritual'? How about feeding your children? Driving to work? Talking with your aged parents? Anyone who actually Knows recognizes that you cannot draw arbitrary boundaries around life. Why call it anything at all? It's just… this, nothing more, nothing less. Calling it spiritual or calling it anything at all separates us from the direct experience of what is Real.
     OK, so now we at least know that there is no such thing as spiritual teaching. This is a very big step in the right direction. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. For a moment. But back to the issue of charging money for teaching… this. Every time I open my mouth, this comes out. I have nothing to do with it. It just happens on its own. Sitting in my psychological office counseling troubled clients, this occurs. Of course it does. How could it not. Should I charge? Let's say I don't charge because of some misguided notion about the inherent wrongness of charging for teaching. What would happen? For starters, I would quickly be unable to pay my bills and would become a financial burden upon those who do charge for practicing their craft. If I didn't charge, would I be more holy, righteous, or Realized? My phone rings off the hook now. I have taken very few new clients for years. There are only so many hours in a day, and only so many days in anyone's productive life. How do I choose to spend my remaining time? If I wish to have some freedom to write, create teaching CDs, DVDS, and other useful media which might help those who are willing to learn, I need to be able to make a living.
     There's more. Let's say you are fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of top-notch, free spiritual teaching. What are your karmic obligations? For our current purposes, we will also assume that you have not yet evolved enough to know that 'karma' should always be followed by 'chameleon'. Let's pretend that karma is very real. Do you really believe that there is a free lunch anywhere in the universe? Do you think you might incur some karmic debt by receiving such a rare gift without any reciprocity or payment of any sort on your part? It's true that accurate teaching is priceless, and extremely rare. Always has been and always will be. But are priceless and free the same thing? Wouldn't you rather pay for what you receive? I know I would. The end result of spiritual evolution is becoming an actual adult, responsible but not constrained by fear and trembling. Do you somehow think you deserve to be given what is truly priceless for free? What makes you think that? Many humans are beset by issues of entitlement. I consider the belief in entitlement to be the root of all evil. Give it up. Now. Entrenched 'spiritual seekers' are among some of the most entitled and narcissistic people I have ever met. Let's pause for a moment and remember the parting words of Shakyamuni Buddha, namely, become a light unto yourself. Do the work. Figure it out. Seek guidance from the highest sources of spiritual wisdom you can find. Expect to compensate these rare ones in some realistic manner. Grow up, quit whining and get to work. No one is special. Do not incur karmic debts. Pay for what you receive.
     Are there, in fact, real spiritual teachers who teach without expecting anything at all in return? I know a few, but they are very low key and barely visible. Look at it this way. If teaching is occurring, someone somewhere is paying for it. Why shouldn't those who receive the teaching be the ones who pay? Isn't that common sense? Unlike some spiritual teachers, I highly value common sense. We should see more of it in the spiritual marketplace. It actually costs quite a lot to provide even the most basic teaching. David Hawkins, for whom I have the highest regard, was once challenged on why he charged 'so much' for his teaching. Dr. Hawkins often charges $100 or so to be part of a large class (250 people) in his hometown of Sedona, Arizona. He took the question seriously, insisting that he receives nothing whatsoever for the teaching he does. All proceeds go to a nonprofit foundation, and the income is easily consumed by the ordinary expenses of providing the teaching, i.e., renting space, publicity and public relations, secretarial costs, website fees, consultants charges, publishing costs, insurance, legal and other professional fees, ad infinitum. We can be remarkably childlike, ignorant and entitled where money is concerned. Someone somewhere is paying. Should it be the teacher?
     The Indian guru Sai Baba provides free education and medical care in wonderful facilities in poor parts of India. Who pays for these services? A single American benefactor donated $100 million to help underwrite this effort. Many American teachers are supported by nonprofit foundations, such as Zen Centers, Tibetan monasteries, ashrams, and so forth. These are worthwhile endeavors, and I have personally supported such efforts for over 30 years. Are the teachings free? Extensive fund-raising efforts accompany such free or low-cost teaching. I pay $550 per year to the Rochester Zen Center to be a member, even though at this point I have no real contact. I have been a member continuously for nearly 30 years. I am glad to give in this manner. Somebody somewhere is paying. Remember this. Other teachers, like Richard Rose, never charged any money for his wonderful teaching. Was it free? A casual reading of by After the Absolute by David Gold and Bart Marshall reveals that most students worked like dogs on the farm in West Virginia. Nearly all were young men, and I'm sure the hard physical labor did them a world of good. But what if the students were 70 years old and in poor health? Would they have been able to keep up? Who would teach those who are not young and fit?
     Maybe 15 years or so ago, I was involved in a peripheral manner with the successful attempt to bring a well-known 'spiritual teacher' to town. A non-profit wanted to bring a recognizable speaker who could reach across diverse professional fields and appeal to a variety of people. The event began life as both a fund raiser and a community educational experience. The only problem is that the coveted teacher wanted $30,000 plus first class travel expenses to come and present a single three hour talk. There also may have been a small, brief meeting for invited poobahs, I forget, but I'm trying to be scrupulously fair and accurate. It turns out the fee and assorted expenses were completely non-negotiable. If our nonprofit did not want his Excellency, there were many others that did, and were very willing to pay the full freight. Swallowing hard on this end, the deal was consummated. I was in shock, actually speechless. Also, breathtakingly naive. Strangely, I was even more peripherally involved with a different nonprofit who had the similarly bright idea to invite the same esteemed speaker a few years later. Guess what? The fee now was $50,000! No negotiation! Again, against better judgment and wiser counsel, the second nonprofit bought the farm; drank the cool aid. The speaker came and gave a good talk. I had to pay $30 to hear it, which seemed a bit steep, but I could afford it, and I did want to see what all the fuss was about. I like this guy, and have tried to imagine his reasoning for charging so much and being so inflexible. Perhaps it might be something like the belief that he will know how to spend the money in a manner that will best benefit humanity and the planet. That is, he will better know how to spend our money than we would. Maybe I'm wrong-just guessing. I do know that he is a brilliant writer and teacher, and is a generous and kind man in many ways. Last year my 18 year old son was attending an international youth peace conference at a hotel where this man was teaching. He noticed many bright, inquisitive young people, and inquired about the nature of the event. Learning more, he volunteered to speak with the group for 1 ½ hours before dinner. His generosity was accepted. He did this because he wanted to, without thought of compensation. God bless him.
     What does this vignette have to do with the matter at hand? Maybe a partial, temporary solution is suggested. Perhaps fees 'should' be determined by context. In my office, it would be hopelessly codependent, not to say insane, to insist on never charging for spiritual/psychological teaching. I charge what other psychologists in my community charge. The fees are basically determined by insurance companies and Medicare. Much of the teaching I do in my community and out-of-town is provided either free or for small donations. I do try to cover the actual direct cost to me of providing the teaching. This is not always easy to accomplish, and not always necessary. I really enjoy teaching anyone who is deeply committed and open, and in that case I don't care much whether I am being paid or not.  My recent trip to Raleigh, NC to teach with a wonderful group organized and led by Bart Marshall was such an experience. I enjoyed every minute of it, felt privileged to be there, and would return if asked in a heartbeat. There is a contact high of sorts that emerges when a group of people gather together to work seriously on awakening their natural ability to be present. However, I couldn't afford to make this model my default setting, regardless of how satisfying it is to me and others.
      In most contexts it doesn't seem right that because I have something worthwhile to teach, that I should pay to teach it. Yet for now I am willing to underwrite the teaching I do to a some extent when necessary or desired. We all have the fundamental right to decide where and with whom we choose to  be, as well as whether we charge for our work or not. We'll see how this evolves. Even so I am astonished at how much criticism I have received from some true-believers, mostly indirectly, for even being willing to accept donations. I will continue to charge for my time and effort in a way that makes sense to me. Others will have to find their own path.


Donovan said...

Nice post. Having come out of the dualist Christian fundamentalist church, I heard the same arguments about charging for the "gospel" for years. Now being enlightened to the point of accepting what is as truth, I can see clearly that receiving compensation for anything is fine and natural. It's the word games and manipulation around the giving and receiving that causes most of the problems- especially the judgements of what is right or wrong. My conclusion is that most of the discussion is always in favor of the one who already has the most money. Case in point. I used to be a talent agent for Christian celebrities back in the 80's. Oral Roberts Minsitries wanted one of my people to appear on the Oral Roberts TV show- of course for free. I declined and said my artist would do it for the normal fee of $5,000. Of course what happened next is classic ego response- used both in the dualistic and non-dualistic realm. First the guilt, then the, "You know if your artist appears for free, God (or the Universe) will give back to you 100 times, yada yada yada. What I did next, proved to me how full of it most people are when coming out of ego. I said, is that so. Is that the truth. The person said, yes, God said it, its true we believe it. I then said. Great, pay my client 10 times his normal fee- $50,000, that way God will really bless you and you will get back $500,000! Amazing, how when confronted with their own logic they actually got angry with me. This was a turning point in my life. Because basically everything we do in life is a transaction of some kind. Whether we use "money" to trade, there is always a trade. To expect one party to give up theire portion as required by the other party to the contract violates every natural law of the universe. It's then all ego.
Peace out.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you why many people have a problem with spiritual healers & teachers & the large sums of money they charge. There is no "regulation" or "accountability" among these teachers & healers. Many of them are incredibly unprofessional. I knew a woman who said she could take away people's karma & make them well & charged $100 a session. Never happened, and many people were screwed out of money & hurt by this woman who was very sincere in believing she could do this, but could not & had no understanding of how to deal with people, illness, or the emotions that went with it). Professional people who are paid for something have received education & training. Many spiritual teachers & healers have no education or training or even basic understanding of human trauma & emotions, and the result is that people get hurt & they feel "cheated." THERE is the PROBLEM!

Anonymous said...

I believe that there has to be an exchange of the energy ( in this case we're talking material goods) between the teacher and his audience simply because if there is no exchange people don't assign it any significance.
For example if a spiritual teacher organises a free workshop it is very likely that people will either not come or they will be late or they won't consider it important.The same would happen with the book... a free spiritual book is usually associated with either cults or Jehova witnesses which we all keep away from.
Last but not least ,all those teacher are humans like us and they also need money to live from and to continue their work.We all take payment for the work we do,lets not condemn others.


Anonymous said...

Nice article.I would like to respond to the post. Even though it requires a lenghty discussion, but I will hold to a short version. Aperson who is truely a guru is not after money. and someone who seriously persues spirituality should not be asked to pay. however, someone who can afford it make a donation. There are many sufi traditions that do not charge money, and in fact they are to this conviction that everyone has to work and earn his living. business and spirituality has to be seperated, especially in an era which many are skeptical and many are not real gurus, itis a good way to make it a rule so, the true would be recognized from the unreal guru.