Student: Being asked for money or having to ask for money is a hard place for me. I really struggle with it. I watch a deep cringing sensation arise when someone mentions making donations at the end of a retreat or starts to talk about fundraisers for the Bridge Walk. I don’t want to be asked for money, and I don’t want to ask for it!
Teacher: What have you seen about it so far?
Student: A lot of conditioned beliefs! Here are some things the voices say: ”I pay for my participation and its unfair to ask for more! Why can’t the programs be priced to cover the expenses? I feel manipulated – they make me feel expansive and then take advantage of my gratitude. Gratitude might give if it were not asked! Even this Practice is not above commercial concerns! I don’t have enough to give! If I could give more, wouldn’t I? This can’t be a well-run organization if it can’t be financially viable without handouts! I don’t want to have to ask other people to support something that they are not even interested in!”
Teacher: Hmm. So an identification with a process of separation and scarcity?
Student: I am not sure I know what you mean when you say that. What do you mean?
Teacher: I project the conversation leaves you feeling alienated from Practice. If Practice worked differently in terms of money, you wouldn’t feel so bad.
Student: Yes. That is exactly what I feel. And I see what you mean about an orientation of scarcity. I project the organization does not have enough, and I don’t have enough, and lack becomes what I get focused on.
Teacher: Yes. So you are told you don’t have enough, but you need to give to something you have benefitted from. You can’t do that but you should, and you feel resentful that you must! So what do you do?
Student: I just avoid the whole thing. I don’t give when I am asked and I don’t do fundraisers.
Teacher: Do you value this practice?
Student: Of course I do! It’s changed my life. I don’t know where I would be without it!
Teacher: So you were grateful that it was there for you when you needed it?
Teacher: Do you want Practice to be available so others can benefit from it the way you have?
Student: Of course I do! It never occurred to me that I might take responsibility for the continued availability of Practice.
Teacher: Exactly. Conditioned mind has a very narrow and transactional lens: “I” pay for what “I” get. It is all about consumption! But Life is anything but transactional! Do you know the story of the King who had a shortage of milk in his kingdom?
Teacher: Well, to ensure that everyone had milk, the king ordered a milk collection drive. The subjects were each instructed to bring a measure of milk to the storehouse at an appointed time. Everyone in the kingdom assumed that everyone else had enough, and that they were the only one’s enduring a shortage. So almost everyone watered down his or her jar of milk, assuming that the dilution would be unnoticeable when mixed with everyone else’s undiluted milk. The appointed day arrived and each person emptied their watered down jar of milk into the great vats that had been set out. And to their dismay, when each received their portion, there was more water than milk and all of them left disappointed—what they’d put into the vat was no longer usable.
Student: So what you are pointing at is that if we are identified with ego, there is no awareness of being part of all that is?
Teacher: Well actually, what is is made up of all of us. What we are and what we do is what is.
Student: Yes, I see. It is only because someone showed up to give that I was able to receive the benefits of Practice.
Teacher: Yes. And if we extend that perspective, how is any of Life “mine” to give away in the first place? It’s all Life, and we are just revolving doors for Life’s abundance - sometimes giving and sometimes receiving.
There is a Precept that reads: “Not to be avaricious in the bestowal of the teachings.” We often translate this Precept as “the teachings are freely offered.” Looking at what “free” means in the context of charging for practice programs is an interesting exploration.
“Free,” to conditioned mind, gets limited to mean “without a financial cost.” There seems to be a deep belief that anything money related sullies “intrinsic purity,” and so spirituality and money cannot be mixed.
If we recognize that it is the ego that is greedy, avaricious, grasping, coveting and stingy, that the ego is an orientation of consuming, lack and deprivation, we would want to do everything we can to let go the ego! Conveniently, egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate has made the content of money the scapegoat for all evil. “People with a lot of money are greedy and selfish; you shouldn’t have a lot of money; you should have a lot of money; you should feel guilty about what you have; you should have more; you’re greedy for wanting more.” Attention is so pre-occupied with our beliefs about money, that we fail to see the real culprit behind our confusion about wealth, giving, having and wellbeing is egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate.
It is true. Everything in practice is offered freely – without any agenda, thought of gain or profit, or belief in outcome.
Pricing philosophy is simple and practical–how can we remove cost as a barrier to participation, while also being responsible for the expenses related to offering a program?
We attach a price to a practice offering to bring awareness to “value.” As Oscar Wilde put it, “ Nowadays everyone knows the price of everything and the value of nothing!” Practice looks at value not in monetary terms but from the perspective of acknowledging the worth of the person one gets to steward and save. How much time, effort, priority, and attention are we willing to bring to the practice of waking up?
On a side note: Ego dismisses what is “freely offered,” despite its hoarding mentality. It is true that conditioning will most likely convince us to show up for what we have paid for! Authenticity has the last laugh when Practice leverages conditioning to ensure participation in the very things that liberate the human from the grips of ego!
Practice does not confuse greed and sustainability. Nothing the Buddha taught indicates that money is intrinsically bad or spiritually dangerous. Practice models compassionate livelihood and compassionate endeavor. When avarice is not the orientation and profits are not the intention, then it is possible to be kind, mindful, respectful and reverential in generating what is needed to freely offer what we have to give. This is as true for us in our own lives as it is for Practice.
Practice can operate freely because it does so without the fear that it may one day cease to exist. At the heart of the way Practice is offered is a surrender to Thy Will Be Done. Life decides. It would seem that so long as Practice is beneficial to Life, Life will provide what is needed to support its continuation.
The structure of Practice always assists us to make the movement from suffering to freedom. In inviting us to take an active role in supporting the continuity of practice, we are encouraged to explore what it means to stop being a consumer and to start being a steward. We are given the opportunity to see what arises for us as we go beyond the orientation of scarcity and separation. What is it like to live in the recognition of our place in the “family of things”?
If we pay any attention at all, we instantly “get” that the sense of feeling outside of Life is illusory. We are here, living, breathing and being animated. We are a necessary aspect of existence-in-the moment, simply because we ARE. If we accept that, would there ever be a question of not participating wholeheartedly and contributing to the wellbeing of the whole?
Chief Seattle wrote a marvelous letter that Joseph Campbell quotes in Power of Myth. One of the powerful lines in this letter states, “Humankind did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves and to all of Life.”
How does egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate keep you in an orientation of scarcity and deprivation? What are you not allowed to receive in your Life? What aspects of the Intelligence that animates you are you not allowed to express or offer to Life?
For 48 hours, practice accepting that what you are is what IS. If that is so, how would you want to be?
Record and Listen to what arises.