A Thought or Two on Purity’s Dualistic Traps

Over at one of the blogs I like to read there’s some reflecting going on about whether to move to a host that will provide some support but who also have advertising. Sort of like what you see to the right of this posting…

The writers of that blog solicited comments from readers.

Of those who chose to respond it appears the majority are disdainful of going with advertising.

The premise seems to be that there should be no connection between the Dharma and money.

Reminds me of something I read a few years back where this perennial theme was once again being hashed out. The thing I recall was how one commentator said his teacher never took money for teaching. And then added how he had no idea how his teacher supported himself. The writer seemed to be suggesting this not knowing was a good thing. Pure.

Personally I found it creepy.

I think it important to make sure everyone has access to the Dharma.

I think there is nothing inherently unclean or unhealthy or impure about money.

In fact if one has any obligations in this world, family, paying attention to making a living is an obligation.

These are not contradictions. Nor even involving particularly difficult distinctions.

St Francis, a wonderful teacher in a tradition marred by purity rather more than Buddhism, pointed through the morass, I feel, when he said “preach the good news at all times. If necessary, use words.”

The good news I’ve heard and found in my being is that we’re products of cause and effect, a great play of events, each of us without substance but at the same time within our passingness, precious. Precious because we are also all one thing, all part of the great Boundless family.

Wisdom, healing, the good news, is that we need be tangled in neither our moments or our spaciousness.

Both and. Now this. Now that.

Our lives are a dance.

A dance with possible missteps. One confusing the great empty with a concept like purity.

Sometimes its small potatoes, like not wearing one’s rakusu (small Buddhist vestment) into the toilet. It can be seen as a discipline. But thinking the Dharma can be violated by being in proximity to shit, well, no…

Other times obsessions with purity can be particularly compromising, say like when drawing hard lines between making a living and living the Dharma.

Are there limits to how one should make a living in connection to one’s relationship to the Dharma?


Do these limitations have anything to do with running advertising on a blog?

Precious little.

Instead, perhaps we’d be better off assuming that there is nothing inherently wrong with money.

Just a thing that must dealt with, like eating, and clothing and shelter.

As with everything else the problem lies not with the thing but how we use it, how it uses us.

What is a full life, an honorable life, that doesn’t disdain this world look like?

Instead of purity, why not try respect?

How about a life without turning away?

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  • http://mettai.blogspot.com Cherry Zimmer

    Thanks for this post. This is a critical question for American Buddhism to be able to survive, and I can’t see that anyone has solved it successfully yet (other than perhaps you being a UU minister as your day job). In any case it needs to come out in the open and get solved. And not by the Vinaya, but by good judgment for the 21st century.

  • Christina J.

    A thought: that in the traditions from which Buddhism comes, there is that strong monastic tradition with cultural support. Material support, i.e. of food & clothing & medicine. … in the West, where the history of this support doesn’t in the same way exist, monks (or Buddhist laypeople etc.) still have to find a mode of daily sustenance…

    So, while the pursuit of *right* livelihood is an important consideration, let’s make sure not to forget that livelihood, period, is necessary.

    An anecdote- another Zen teacher once told a story about a student who came to him and said, can I both practice Zen and be a marathon runner? The answer, of course, was yes. And in this case, I think the analogous answer – to, can I both practice Zen (even as a teacher) and make a sustainable living – can (and even should) be also, yes.

  • MM

    I like Cherry’s comment and agree. I’m deepening my Zen practice and working towards eventual dharma teacher-dom. I’m also a lawyer, and will have to stay one (or mediator, counselor, something like that) to pay the bills – no chance of being a dharma teacher for hire.

  • desiree

    I remember seeing the first picture (screenshot here from toon network) on Disney channel 40 (in my area) in the early 90′s. I was around 7 or 8. That duck dived straight through the muck! (If i’m recalling the same episode.)

    I graduated with a dual-degree in Epistemological psych & Integrated Marketing Comm many years later. I had a class in advertising with a brilliant grad student who had worked in the admissions office for a long time. One of our texts books was “Lovemarks: the future beyond brands”. I find the actualization of the concepts contained endlessly invigorating.


    The three main nouns explored are Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy. I might have explored them in reverse order.

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    Probably my input to this conversation isn’t exactly in line with anything I’ve seen on this yet, and I probably disagree with everyone about at least something in this regard, but then again, it’s probably better than saying nothing.

  • Justin Whitaker

    “As with everything else the problem lies not with the thing but how we use it, how it uses us.” – Agreed. Blogging at patheos may not be for everyone, but it has been fine for me.