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TOPIC: Learning about money

RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 04:10 #59236

Hi, Kenneth! Here's my take on this. We better get pragmatic with money (as with anything else) lest we repeat what has already been demonstrated: naive idealization effectively undermines realization. Monastic, anachronistic, cultural etc. taboos around money are not restricted to Buddhism or Asian spiritual traditions in general. But that's not where the problem lies anyway. We're not considering sustaining a 10 thousand monks' sangha.

Quite a few teachers have taken advantage of their students, in various ways; in other cases, students have often taken advantage of their teachers. In both cases, there was a less than transparent relationship to money, due to some sort of shadow around it. All sorts of moralistic explanations are given to uphold a basic reluctance to face the issue squarely, but simply put, transparency takes best care of that. Though not everyone is childish about spiritual income. Spiritual teachers are humans, meaning they have lives, families, interests, which means they have expenses not unlike other humans. Responsible spiritual teachers are responsible with money too.

Sentimentality won't help either. Trying to persuade (or teach) stingy people is a waste of time. Only a sober, pragmatic, mature approach will work. It's very nice to want to make dharma "free" and available to everyone (as if everyone was really interested), but someone will have to pay the price, right? So, the final decision may well depend on many factors - individual, economic, and cultural - but the basic logic isn't about satisfying the hypocritical righteousness of karma-police - instead, it's about making your dharma-activity sustainable, both short-term and long-term. Sorry if this hurts anybody's feelings, but teachers' generosity never meant they were foolish enough to refuse getting paid. Even masters with royal patronage happily took gifts from the poorest. Live well and prosper!
  • Hokai
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 05:07 #59237

Transparency (for trust) &
"it's about making your dharma-activity sustainable, both short-term and long-term." - Hokai

pretty much nails it.
  • sparqi
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 05:50 #59238

"Now this I relate to. It makes sense to me because it reflects my experience. I studied, read, posted, talked online, and practiced my ass off for a long time before I got to a place where I knew I needed the personal attention of someone with the experience and skill to help me, one on one. At that point I knew what that personal attention was worth to me and I knew exactly what kind of person I wanted. I then called and made appointments. So... if you're unsure what the time of a dharma teacher is worth opt out of the private lessons. Keep reading, keep practicing.

"

Sorry, but I don't agree that because I don't know how to value the time, that I should opt out of private instruction. Part of my uncertainty is based on my fundamental uncertainty of *all of this*. Is it the real deal? It is not like piano or golf, where the skill being learned is concrete and unquestioned. I don't know that the dharma is true (isn't that one of the definitions of stream entry?), so I am struggling along. And that struggle makes me need the help more, not less, even though I can't put a precise value on it. (Or I guess, to call a spade a spade, I can put a value on it, but it is less than the posted amount?)

Honestly, would you not have asked for help if it were offered in your "practicing your ass off" stage because you didn't have a good sense of its worth?
  • tomotvos
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Returning to the marketplace? 12 May 2010 06:06 #59239

Initial (disjointed) thoughts:

Tiered/Graduated Fee structures based on the amount/quality of personal contact and instruction.

My opinion for some time now has been that teachers are extremely under-paid. It's also true that the closer one's proximity to power, the more one is able to benefit financially and otherwise. So the teachers of the wealthy and powerful (and their children) earn more than the teachers of the poor or less powerful.

I like the idea of taking an innovative approach to financial/business models. Do this yourself or work with someone else who is able to do it.

A graduated hierarchy of services and access, all, in the final analysis, subject to your personal discretion. One on one guidance should be most expensive. Group guidance (e.g., tele-conference) somewhat less so. General guidance (e.g., writings, etc.,) the least expensive.

Sliding scale based on your business model and on the student/practitioner's income level.

The above-mentioned transparency. Important for social, ethical accountability.

  • NigelThompson
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RE: Returning to the marketplace? 12 May 2010 06:51 #59240


"Honestly, would you not have asked for help if it were offered in your "practicing your ass off" stage because you didn't have a good sense of its worth?"

Tomo, I could have requested personal instruction at any point in my practice but didn't because I read MCTB and other books, talked to other practitioners and participated online, especially at DhO. So I kind of thought I knew what others were doing and what they were experiencing, and thus what to expect. So I honestly didn't feel the need for the personal instruction at that stage of my practice. We're all different and have different needs at different stages of practice. I think Kenneth's model accommodates that variety.

Also, I was convinced long before stream entry that this was a valid training that I wanted to pursue very seriously or I wouldn't have put the kind of time and energy into it that I did (and still do). I was convinced of this because people I respected greatly were getting a lot out of it and, frankly, I was suffering and wanted relief. I place a high value on "this."


" It is not like piano or golf, where the skill being learned is concrete and unquestioned."

I respectfully disagree that the value of "this" is nebulous, questionable and ill defined, but it's clear to me that's a big reason why people are struggling with the value proposition of personal instruction. I think this is far more valuable than piano or golf lessons. But that's just my opinion and I know your mileage may vary, and by a lot, and that's okay. You have to make this decision for yourself. This is why I like the market based model as it's based on choice and it puts the onus on teachers and students to get their value calculations right.

  • cmarti
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 06:57 #59241

In my opinion, it is not unreasonable to charge for dharma related services. The way our society is structured, you must earn money to meet the minimum needs of food, clothing, shelter, and medical care/medicines.

As with anything, those of us who value and can afford certain goods and services will find ways to save money so that we can then purchase those things.

I, for one, don't make much money working in the retail industry. So, I've learned to simplify my life and prioritize my spending. I do without many things, including dharma talks and retreats, because the travel costs + the talks themselves are too much for me at this time. Does that mean that no money should be charged? No. But I do feel that the sliding scale approach based on income or the model of paying what you earn can be helpful. This would make the teachings more accessible to people who are not high wage earners, like myself.
  • Tina_A
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 08:41 #59242

"Since there are people not only from the US on this forum but from all over the world, a fixed hourly-rate which may be appropriate for people from the US will not be appropriate for others. For example, 70$ per hour in Israeli standards is very high, especially for unemployed students like me. Thats why I prefer the previous method of paying whatever one earn's per hour to value Kenneth's time."-YadidB

"But I do feel that the sliding scale approach based on income or the model of paying what you earn can be helpful. This would make the teachings more accessible to people who are not high wage earners, like myself."-TinaA

Hi Yadid and Tina,

While I don't rule out moving to a fee-for-services system for personal instruction at some point in the future, for now we are still on a pure donation model; students can choose how much to donate (or whether to donate at all). The only thing that has changed with this latest chapter in the experiment is the suggested donation. My intention is to be transparent: "this is what it will take for my teaching to be self-sustaining." There is still room for people to donate less than the baseline amount of $70/hour, because there are people who pay more. As long as there is a good balance between scholarship students and benefactor students, this can work. And I think it helps to be clear about what the fulcrum point is.

I don't want to be part of the failed experiment of the past. I don't want to be one of those teachers Vince pointed to, "close to retirement and can't retire, having subsisted on near poverty-level income (unless they supplement their teaching as a therapist), and now are old, broke, and resentful."

We can find a better way. We are finding a better way. Transparency, honesty, and a realistic attitude toward money are our friends.
  • kennethfolk
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 08:50 #59243

I thought about this for another day and still can't find any buttons to offer, no money either but my funny bone has really been acting up over it.

I was at a monastery at one time for three months and the sum of all the conversations I had there would fit in one of these posts. I think the total personal instruction I had in that time was one sentence long. But I did find the three months of almost never speaking very instructive. So that is fairly characteristic of the traditional approach in my limited experience. At $70/hour for personal instruction I would owe the abbot about a nickel.

A thought I had on this was that whatever the ethic and structure would be in this new context, it will probably do as much to define perceptions & expectations in the 'clients' as the traditional renunciate model did.

Maybe you should consider wall street clients, from what I hear they are the one's who have everyone's middle class incomes. I was a laborer throughout my working life, never earning more than ten thousand a year. My income is about the same now on a disability income which is fine for living a humble hermits life in the woods but it is entirely beyond the realm of possibility for me to jet around to retreats or lay out that kind of cash for someone to do for me whatever it is that you do for people Kenneth. I don't have any criticism of what you are suggesting but I think it will probably be a major factor shaping the demographic you work with. It would limit it to people capable of doing things on a particular economic level which would exclude people like me and probably anyone else who has opted out of things so that they can spend most of their time meditating and so on. In my experience people who have that kind of disposable income have a much different mindset than people like me and that comes with much different expectations as well. Maybe it will be a good match, maybe not.
  • triplethink
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 10:46 #59244

I think it worth mentioning again that there ought to be other sources of revenue, aside from private instruction, that might help subsidize some of us struggling with this. I really think that Shinzen Young has a great idea with his at-home retreats, where you dial in (or Skype in) for a weekend of instruction. In light of the postponement of the Nov. retreat, this might be more doable, sooner, and might also impact the position of the dana fulcrum.
  • tomotvos
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 10:59 #59245

Though I'm sort of new here, and haven't found myself able to participate in the dialogues much as of yet, I just wanted to throw in my 2 cents on this as I feel it is a really important issue when it comes to making sure places like this survive.

Knowing what it would take to make this board self-sustaining seems to me to be a valuable bit of knowledge. Whether this community can generate this support on its own or not remains to be seen, but that's the nature of the experiment. An average of $70/hour seems a not-unreasonable amount (a close comparison would be what therapists charge, and it is usually more than that). Now I think its up to us to see whether we can make it work.

Allowing for some time (a few weeks, maybe a month or two?) of this, to see how it plays out is, I think, the best way to see if this model will create the necessary sustainability. Maybe it will work, maybe it will need some adjustments, maybe the West isn't ready for full time Dharma teachers (though I doubt that last one...) but for the beginning parameters of an experiment in "Westernizing Dana", these seem like good ones to me.

Besides, as Kenneth said, "students can choose how much to donate (or whether to donate at all). The only thing that has changed with this latest chapter in the experiment is the suggested donation." Key word there being "suggested". We know what the target is now, we just have to all work together to hit it.

And if it turns out we can't hit it, then Kenneth (and the rest of us) have some thinking to do. : )
  • IanReclus
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 16:08 #59246

"I've spent years asking various teachers about this, or hearing them talk about it, and what I've found is that almost all of those that have tried the pure dana model are close to retirement and can't retire, have subsisted on near poverty-level income (unless they supplement their teaching as a therapist), and now are old, broke, and resentful. But hey, at least they were giving the dharma away huh?

I actually think it's a complete shame that the 1st generation of teachers have largely supported a system which doesn't translate to our modern context, doesn't take care of themselves and future teachers, and leaves most of them living a life of relative poverty. Is that really a compassionate approach? I also think it's sad that students have expected this of their teachers, haven't challenged their assumptions, and have allowed such skilled teachers to live in this way. We aren't monks and we don't live in traditional agricultural-based societies, and it's insane to think what worked in those contexts will work now. "

If they are old, broke, and resentful after a lifetime of practice, then perhaps their dharma wasn't worth much to begin with.
  • msj123
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 18:35 #59247

"If they are old, broke, and resentful after a lifetime of practice, then perhaps their dharma wasn't worth much to begin with."-msj123

In addition to being unkind, this is untrue. Meditation doesn't protect you from age, poverty, or resentment. Age comes from living a long time, poverty comes from not having enough money to meet your needs, and resentment comes from realizing that you mistakenly believed that others would still care about you when are old and broke.

We can do better.

  • kennethfolk
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 18:47 #59248

"If they are old, broke, and resentful after a lifetime of practice, then perhaps their dharma wasn't worth much to begin with."

That is one obvious thought, among many, that comes to mind.

I'll say up front that I can sympathize with Kenneth's situation. I read his donation page and it seems like a laudable ethic in the context he find's himself in.

It seems clear to me from my travels overseas and understanding of the world at present that traditional values just aren't sustainable anywhere. We live in a monetized world now and it will likely only become more rigidly so given the scale of the forces at work. This makes for some very odd blends of old problems and new.

Personally, I have learned a lot from embracing poverty and I have found a lot of wisdom in it. I think the cumulative impact of billions of people with post war middle class expectations has devastated the environment and our societies. These are huge and impersonal forces so I don't resent western boomers for how they view the world but it is impossible to ignore the results of these ethics. Generations to come will very likely fail to see any wisdom in this era because their resentments will dwarf those of the present.

I've adopted a much different ethic, renouncing as much of the typical expectations as possible. Passing on wife and children, a middle class income and the comforts of modernity. It's been at least as instructive and liberating as the rest of my practices but I'm under no illusions that 'opting out' economically has any impact on the overall picture.

It's almost impossible for anyone to conform to traditional lifestyles so the traditional dharma professionals appear compromised. I don't see this as the failing of those institutions but a byproduct of conditions in the modern world. I don't resent these conditions but I see why people feel conflicted.
  • triplethink
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RE: Learning about money 12 May 2010 22:23 #59249

I've just read the explanation regarding suggested donations on the Personalized Instruction page.

It is very clearly presented and, for me personally, seems like a non-issue.

The decision to request personalized instruction is a very particular choice that is made by individual practitioners. It's something of a luxury and may well have been impossible for many practitioners in the past (and the present). But in a lay practitioner context, it's really absolutely amazing to be able to get access to that kind of guidance.

Personalized instruction is by no means the only option for one interested in practicing dharma. There is a wealth of information here on the board, for example, as well as from other sources. But personalized instruction can add efficiency, support, and power to one's efforts.

Other options for instruction and practice continue to exist. Retreats. Workshops. Group courses. Teleconferences. The suggested donations for each of these options might vary. And independent practice is of course free.

I applaud you, Kenneth, for attempting to approach this with a spirit of transparency and inclusiveness.
  • NigelThompson
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 02:46 #59250


"If they are old, broke, and resentful after a lifetime of practice, then perhaps their dharma wasn't worth much to begin with." -- msj123

Do you actually know who Vince Horn was talking about? I suspect the names of those teachers, the ones who couldn't make a fair living following their heart, might surprise you.

Nigel, every time you post something I find myself wishing you would post more.

  • cmarti
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 05:35 #59251

"
"If they are old, broke, and resentful after a lifetime of practice, then perhaps their dharma wasn't worth much to begin with." -- msj123


"

At the risk of making my divergence/alienation from the majority on this subject complete, I have to say I am with msj123 here though maybe from a slightly different perspective -- but maybe not.
If we are talking about people who expected to make a middle class living from teaching vipassana or zen or whatever and who are now resentful because it didn't come true maybe I wouldn't doubt their "dharma" but I'd certainly doubt their basic common sense and level of maturity.
The world of money and livlihoods isn't carved out of thin air to please the hearts, aspirations and dreams of each individual. Each mature adult has to always be taking a realistic look at themselves, their needs, and the job/business market as it actually is and be willing and able to make adjustments. Sometimes that will mean that you'll be broke all the time but you'll be doingwhat you want or something close to it, sometimes that will mean that you'll make a good living and be able to feed and shelter and keep yourself and your family in good health but you'll be spending your days doing something you don't really like. The possibilities are endless and are changing constantly (a little dharma). But these realities are the same for everyone, even dharma teachers. To think otherwise -- especially from middle-age on -- is odd to me.
I think it would be great for anyone to be able to make $70,000 a year doing exactly what they want (especially Kenneth) but do I think there is some logical reason why they should just because they want to or just because they are a dharma teacher and I like the dharma - no way.
cont.
  • telecaster
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 05:44 #59252

I used to hang out with this very talented singer who had a following but a following that was limited to her genre -- acoustic folk music. We had a falling out when she started asking her friends with more normal jobs to help her organize "fund raisers" to help her be able to go on tour across the country -- I had the gall to suggest that she become her own fund raiser by gettng a job that actually paid her money.
Now I believe I am simply expressing a very blunt opinion here. but If it is seen as unkind I'd definitely disagree but I'd certainly be willing to keep my mouth shut about it from this point on.
And possibly Kenneth would be better served with realistic ideas and suggestions and schemes to turn his aspiration into a reality than by debating (from either point of view) whether or not there is something wrong with the system because making a living as a dharma teacher is much more complicated than getting a teaching credential and then applying for a job at a public school.
I don't know much about him but my impression is this Shinzen Young guy has spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how to "market" himself in a way that is effective without being creepy. I think it's a shame if that means he has to spent a large part of his time doing "marketing" rather than "dharma" but that's the way it goes.
And, okay, maybe he has a publicist :) as long as he isn't lying to people to keep them coming back and consuming his teaching then I guess it's all right.
  • telecaster
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 06:34 #59253

I think this thread is interesting and valuable to all those who have not renounced the 'householders' way of life (all of us?) which involves using and earning money. This is relevant to us when we wake up and drink our water or coffee, eat breakfast, and until we go to sleep on the bed we have purchased for ourselves.
Thanks to everyone who have written here, it really got me thinking.
  • yadidb
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 07:13 #59254


Yeah, this topic makes me think, too. This is what I tell the vendors that I hire:

"I need you around so I'll pay you a good, market based fee. You make me successful, so I have a vested interest in your success, too."

My perception, after reading all this, is that personalized dharma instruction isn't considered to be very valuable by most of us. We may spend hours every month sitting and working toward something we consider to be nebulous and ill defined, yet we resist paying an expert $35 for a half hour of personalized instruction to make our efforts more efficient or effective.

But immature? Lacking in common sense? I dunno, that's brutal stuff.

  • cmarti
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 07:28 #59255

I value it.
I don't resist paying for it.
I haven't seen much from this thread from anyone who actually said that for them personalized dharma instruction wasn't valuable.
I've been to Spirit Rock and various zen day long retreats and the "dana box" is always full of cash and checks so there definitely are people out there who value it, maybe just not enough to cover all the aspiring teachers out there.
My gripe is bemoaning society because it isn't stacking up the way one would like it to.
I think you've misunderstood who I'm calling immature and why, but either way do you really think I'm "brutal?" That doesn't ring true for me, but if that's how my opinion is taken, then I really should stop. Now.
  • telecaster
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 07:43 #59256

...
  • AugustLeo
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 07:47 #59257


I'm inferring from the comments I read here that many participants believe Kenneth's preferred rate per hour is too high. I could be wrong .I'm wrong very often. But, I have yet to hear Kenneth bemoan society and I believe it's quite natural for human beings to want to be compensated fairly for the value they provide. It's very clear, at least to this foolish mind, that there is a disconnect over the value of one-to-one personalized instruction... and that's just not the same thing as those cash and check stuffed boxes at Spirit Rock and other similar places.

  • cmarti
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 07:48 #59258


AugustLeo slipped in and with a great comment, too.

  • cmarti
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 10:58 #59259

"The world of money and livlihoods isn't carved out of thin air to please the hearts, aspirations and dreams of each individual."-telecaster

Hi Mike,

I see you going through your process with this, and I feel great about it. That's the whole point of this discussion; for each of us (and all of us together) to get a better look at what goes on in our own minds whenever dharma and money are mentioned in the same sentence.

I don't think the parallels you've given (for example, your musician friend who asked you to help with a fundraiser) apply very well to this situation. It seems that you are building straw men just in order to knock them down. You don't even need help knocking them down; you're doing a great job of it yourself as you work through your feelings and thoughts about this.

"I'm inferring from the comments I read here that many participants believe Kenneth's preferred rate per hour is too high."-cmarti

Actually, that's not the impression I'm getting. What I'm hearing is that some people simply can't afford the suggested donation. Fine! That's the problem the system is designed to solve. There are some people here (including cmarti, if you'll excuse me for saying so,) who regularly give more than the suggested donation so that others can give what they can afford and I can still be compensated for my time in a way that is commensurate with my training, experience, and ability. It's actually working out fine. I haven't yet met my goal of a middle-class income, but someday I hope to; that's what goals are for.

Meanwhile, we are working through our preconceptions about money and dharma, some of which may not be so useful anymore. As AugustLeo points out, that's why this thread is called "Learning about money."
  • kennethfolk
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RE: Learning about money 13 May 2010 13:21 #59260

This has been a surprisingly thought provoking discussion. Work deadline prevents more than a quick response right now. I'm finding Kenneth's instruction toward the priceless range (the karma of getting personalized skillful means from arahats seems statistically impressive). Sure wish I could pay the sustaining rate and better. Just want to express appreciation to those who contribute more, making it possible for Kenneth to spend some time with people like me! Have to admit I'm uncomfortable with this, but getting too old to keep totally skipping out on involvement with teachers and retreats etc because of money. Unless, of course, I have to. I wish there were more volunteer options in the online world.
  • mpavoreal
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