The Price We Pay For Everything

Dear James Ford on and in his Monkey Mind has raised the issue of money and dharma in his recent post, Fee for Service Buddhism: A Small Meditation on Money and the Dharma. James cites several blogs that also wrangle with this issue and I have spent time browsing in that varied field.

And, dang, the way some people talk to each other on the web. Good lord buddha. Can’t we all just get along?

Unlike the monk in the photo, most of us ain’t in Kansas anymore. Nor Japan.

Money and dharma is an important issue and deserves an intelligent and balanced work-through, so thanks to James for again rising through the fray.

This post is a short reflection on my experience as a teacher who has used a variety of money models over the years and is now one of those infidels who’ve adopted a fee-for-service model, primarily for my online work, Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training (which is now open for a couple three more students, by the way, so click here for more information).

The reason for this is simple. Back in February when I was considering rolling out the Vine, I also had to consider my financial responsibilities and limited time. If I were to devote a big chunk of time to make this a quality program, I knew that it was necessary for the income from it to be sustainable and predictable. Now, of course, I offer scholarships to those who cannot afford the fee and reserved several seats in the Vine cyber zendo for scholarship students.

I also knew from years of experience that the dana (aka, donation) model is often translated “discount” by Western students and is often (but not always) neither sustainable or predictable. For example, I know a number of Zen teachers who live on less than $5,000 a year (plus housing). Although I think it noble to live such a life, it isn’t possible for me at this time and I wonder if it is truly sustainable for anyone.

That said, it isn’t always the case that the dana model is the unsustainable, discount model. I know of one local community in the vipassana tradition, Common Ground Meditation, that has thrived with the dana model. Led by an old friend, Mark Nunberg, they’ve used it exclusively over a twenty-year period and gradually developed a group norm such that it works.

But the facts on the ground seem to be that this isn’t often the case, as James also reports. In my teacher support group, we talk about money quite often, and agree that there is a relationship between students who are reluctant to offer a fair amount of dana for “services rendered” and who are reluctant to do the dharma work.

Might be the “how we do one thing is how we do everything” principle. This is also often the case with students on scholarship (not always, especially you current students on scholarship in the Vine!).

So how about letting the 10,000 flowers bloom, you bloggers. How about trusting in the intelligence of students to make a choice? There are lots of places to practice, the spiritual market place is booming and blooming, so I encourage people to look around a find a teacher, practice and community – and money model – that seems to fit close enough and jump in.

It takes years of practice to really know each other and to really settle into being who we are. Waiting for being dumb-struck by the perfect teacher, practice, and community is … well, unlikely and probably a fantasy so don’t wait for that. “Ring the bell that still can ring, forget your perfect offering,” singeth Leonard.

And as my mother often said, “There is no free lunch.”

Or as Eliza Gilkyson sings, “The price we pay – willing.”

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  • 無門 Mumon7

    Dosho,

    Thanks for your post. It seems, as you and James say, that some providers go to this model because they are frustrated not getting money with other models. Is that correct?

    You also say, “How about trusting some in the intelligence of students to make a choice?”

    Well, that, I would submit depends on the students involved being fully informed as to what choices there are and what potential consequence of their choice might be. Don’t you agree?

    You also state, “There are lots of places to practice, the spiritual market place is booming and blooming, so I encourage people to look around a find a teacher, practice and community that seems to fit close enough and jump in.”

    “Seems to fit close enough” might not necessarily be in the best interest of the student, (see “Teacher groupies”), but I’ll let that pass. “Spiritual market place?”

    Does that connote right livelihood? In a market place there is a buyer and seller. Are we buying and selling here? How much of this buying and selling might depend on the Greater Fool Theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_fool_theory ) for its consummation?

    And apropos of all the above, and since you are a guy who has used this fee for service model, and seeing as Mr. Kenneth folk hasn’t yet responded to my questions to him (http://mumonno.blogspot.com/2013/09/some-questions-for-kenneth-folk.html ), how would you answer those questions? I presume you don’t offer discounted coupons, but I think quite a few folks in the Western Buddhist community would benefit from knowing not just answers to those questions, but also to have the full amount of information needed to make a decision on whether to make a purchase of a service in a “fee for service Buddhist” model.

    Wouldn’t you agree?

    • doshoport

      Hi Mumon7,
      Many questions! This is probably my longest response to a comment ever!
      You write:
      “Thanks for your post. It seems, as you and James say, that some providers go to this model because they are frustrated not getting money with other models. Is that correct?”
      Yes. A coarse way to put it, perhaps, but if those who have trained for many years to be providers, as you say, are going to be supported at a basic level, then, clients need to contribute/pay a fair amount for the services provided.
      Imv, $150 for a 45-minute session – the fee for the teacher you mention (I don’t know the man nor had I heard of him) may not be a great deal, depending on his training and teaching experience. Many therapists, for example, with many fewer years of training than most teachers I know, charge the same or more.
      That said, I don’t charge that much ($100 for two 30-minute sessions a month; $65 for one 30-minute session and both groups get equal access to the Vine Moodle with lots of resources for practice, study, and community interactions).
      Imv the dharma community does need to attend to the whole dharma ecology to create a healthy system – including students, teachers, communities, and the facilities. Of course, I’m interested in how can we best develop the dharma ecosystem in this global culture and my teacher friends, students and I talk about this a lot. We don’t know. There isn’t one answer.
      You write,
      “You also say, ‘How about trusting some in the intelligence of students to make a choice?’ Well, that, I would submit depends on the students involved being fully informed as to what choices there are and what potential consequence of their choice might be. Don’t you agree?”
      Yes, I agree. And we’re never fully informed about anything, of course, like when we buy a house, there are lots of things we don’t know. Nevertheless, students do have the right to be as informed as possible.
      Personally, and this goes for 99% of the teachers I know, I am not doing this to build a Zen empire or get rich. Vine of Obstacles has about 30 students now and that’s about right to be able to offer a quality program, given that I still have a day job.
      I ask students to complete an application because I’m interested in developing a strong practice group and so bring people on that appear to be capable, mature and have time to do the work.
      I’m considering an additional question inspired by your thoughts – something like “Have you considered other options? If so, which ones? Why did you choose this?”
      We do often talk about his in the initial consultation and I do from time to time refer students to someone else or to stay with their present teacher when that seems like a better fit.
      You write,
      “You also state, ‘There are lots of places to practice, the spiritual market place is booming and blooming, so I encourage people to look around a find a teacher, practice and community that seems to fit close enough and jump in.’
      ‘Seems to fit close enough’ might not necessarily be in the best interest of the student, (see “Teacher groupies”), but I’ll let that pass.”
      I’ll address it anyway. Yes, it could be used for the self-interest of teachers, “This place isn’t perfect and no place is so shut the f— up and serve me.”
      Students serving the purposes/needs of the teacher or institution is a problem, a shadow side of dharma that I’ve blogged about here somewhere. The purpose of Zen is to be free, not to be a slave to a teacher’s or institution’s needs.
      You write,
      “’Spiritual market place?’ Does that connote right livelihood? In a market place there is a buyer and seller. Are we buying and selling here? How much of this buying and selling might depend on the Greater Fool Theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G… ) for its consummation?”
      The Greater Fool Theory is funny! Almost all of the teachers I know are sincerely devoted to the dharma, having been profoundly impacted by it and are not out to sell bull shit to someone because they bought horse shit.
      Like many services, we’re not buying and selling here. It’s about giving and receiving.
      And yes to “spiritual marketplace” too – the metaphor has some value. Katagiri Roshi liked it a lot. Like a local farmer’s market and not corporate socialism (which granted may be the downfall of us all).
      By spiritual marketplace, I mean spiritual teachers openly displaying their practice and teaching so that people can choose this one or that one.
      And like in other fields but admittedly more so in this one, there are charlatans – like the farmer who puts a few nice green beans on top but the beans on the bottom are rotten. So consumer beware.
      You write,
      “And apropos of all the above, and since you are a guy who has used this fee for service model, and seeing as Mr. Kenneth folk hasn’t yet responded to my questions to him (http://mumonno.blogspot.com/20… ), how would you answer those questions? I presume you don’t offer discounted coupons, but I think quite a few folks in the Western Buddhist community would benefit from knowing not just answers to those questions, but also to have the full amount of information needed to make a decision on whether to make a purchase of a service in a ‘fee for service Buddhist’ model. Wouldn’t you agree?”
      Yes, I agree. I don’t offer coupons and yes I will respond to your questions. Actually sat down to blog this morning and was going to address them but then got distracted…. So here goes.
      • What code of ethics would you adhere to? Is it published? If someone has a dispute with the services you rendered, how is redress effected?
      I follow the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts with additional considerations for practical situations and power imbalances. It is “on file” with the SZBA. I’m redrafting it now and have sent it out for feedback and will soon post it on the Vine. Anybody who’d like to see it can – email me (wildfoxzen@gmail.com) and I’ll send it to you. And yes there’s a process for a dispute or ethics violation process, simply put, each party is represented by another person who together selects a third person and they all hear the issue. My ethics statement is based on the SZBA template.
      • How does the client know when he no longer needs your services?
      That’s an important question – unfortunately, too often people in dharma groups just slink away. As a present student said to me about a past dharma community, “I went out for cigarettes and didn’t come back to Zen for twenty years. I didn’t even smoke.”
      The ideal is to celebrate the practice of people who decide to move on, recognize them for what they’ve done, and open the door for them to return. Or give them a referral to a teacher that’d be more fitting. Graduate them and normalize the process of coming and going.
      How do they know? That’s something that each person can determine at any time. I don’t try to persuade people who want to move on to stay, including during a sesshin. If a student finds themselves unchallenged and/or unsupported and/or not doing the work, it may well be time to move on. Or if a line of dharma inquiry has arisen that the present teacher isn’t interested in or doesn’t appear able to collaborate on with the student – again, it may be time to move on.
      To complete the training formally is another way of graduating. Only a few do that, including completing the course of zazen training (koan and/or shikantaza), dharma study, and leading a mature life.
      • From a Buddhist perspective, are you concerned with the ethical quandaries of teaching meditation without the corresponding instruction in right conduct? If you feel it is not necessary, why is that so, and why or why not, from your perspective, is that a Buddhist right livelihood?
      Yes … and that wasn’t how I was trained nor is it how I teach. We focus on zazen, study, and engagement – and that last category is, of course, hugely important. I also am concerned when an aspect of the tradition like meditation or mindfulness is extracted from the mosaic of practices, especially when there’s no effort to provide for the whole training.
      • Aside from time constraints, under what circumstances would you refuse services to a client?
      As I said above, I’m interested in working with capable and mature students who are at a place in their lives where they can devote some time to their practice. I might choose not to work with someone if I had questions about any of these areas – and have in the past few months in several cases.
      • Do you offer pro bono services to those who cannot meet your fees?
      Yes, I offer scholarships and don’t refuse people on financial grounds.
      • How does the client have assurance that your claims of enlightenment are genuine? How can you ensure that these claims have no bearing on any potential exploitation of the relationship between you and your clients?
      I have received dharma transmission from Katagiri Roshi and am in the end-game of koan introspection – how enlightenment is operationalized in the koan tradition. I’m certainly not completely enlightened; still a ½ baked potato after all these years and lack any magic powers to induce enlightenment or any special states in others. I see myself as a player/coach and still have work to do.
      • Regarding your fees, are you aware that the motivation for certain pricing schemes and business transaction methods are structured precisely to encourage a sale? For example Publisher’s Clearing House makes people go through a lot of effort to enter into their contests because they have found that it makes one more likely to subscribe to a magazine if one goes through a lot of effort to register for a “free, no obligation” contest. Then there is the well-known pricing with prices ending in “9,” and there’s more recent results on the use of numbers in context with other things to encourage certain behaviors. Are you aware of how your “coupon code” discount might be construed?
      I don’t want to play those games so keep it straightforward and simple. As I’ve said, I’m not interested in a Zen empire. I see Zen as best practiced in pretty small groups. I aspire to live a simple life myself and students who practice with me in the flesh can see that I’m living a simple life.
      • How were your fees set at the levels they are? What factors, such as cost-structure and retirement planning were considered in setting them?
      I looked at what my expenses were and if it was reasonable ask for what would make it possible to do the Vine. Talking with my teachers, friends, students, and colleagues, I decided to give it a try and it seems to be working very well. I didn’t think about retirement planning as a part of this, although I am planning to retire next year and focus my efforts on dharma teaching … but maybe not as fee-for-service. Not sure yet.

      • 無門 Mumon7

        Dosho-

        Thanks for your reply. This is indeed one of the longer comment segments I’ve seen; in particular I appreciate the pointing to a statement of ethcs. I deeply appreciate your honest and forthright efforts at answering the questions I’d posted on my blog.

        In general, I think we agree on some basic things, though I’m still not sure about the term “spiritual marketplace,” and although I’m perfectly happy with the fee-for-sesshin model, there are, I think still issues in the fee-for-service area…here are two quick responses:

        •I realized some of the answers you’d give to my questions would be answered the way you did (e.g., re: right conduct, most Zen centers have something like that in place, even my tiny one.) Obviously because I’m in the Zen school I don’t disagree with them. However, I think there is a difference of emphasis in Soto versus Rinzai here: I can’t imagine (nor would I expect) my oshō to do what you seem to intimate is more of what westerners might understand as a teaching model. That could lead to a whole new area of inquiry in what the role of Zen is in the West, among other things. However, it could just be a difference of style; in the course of working with other Ph.D. graduates I’ve found there’s a wide variety of behaviors exhibited by thesis advisors. Sometimes the advisors’ styles are effective, sometimes they’re not, and it often depends critically on the student.

        •Re: claims of enlightenment: While I’m not in the end-game of a kōan curriculum, I do have enough work in that area to behind me to know that if one has an awakening, indeed nothing changes. Just because you have been formally recognized by Katagiri-roshi doesn’t mean anything except, I would say, an ability to midwife another’s understanding in the way of Katagiri-roshi’s style, and if that day ever comes for myself, a similar thing.

        Ultimately the teaching of Katagiri-roshi, or my teacher’s teaching, is borne in how we’re comporting ourselves in day to day life, which, I think is the core of what some critics were pointing to in regard to communication styles on the ‘net. Though after seeing some of what I’ve read from others, especially from some outside the Zen school, it does lead someone like me to question the quality of practice in the West, which probably isn’t a bad thing; it underscores the fact that I have to be more committed in my own area. Ultimately, I guess Bodhidharma is indeed the teacher: one’s practice should be pushed beyond the boundaries of one’s mentor.

        Of course, as you know, the experience accompanied by the seeing into a kōan does not, in and of itself result in behavioral changes. In addition, as I can assure you from my experience in supervising others, the mere fact of being in the position gives you a megaphone that others can hear, even if you don’t which you often won’t. And even someone like me has issues with telling a teacher to adjust his teaching style if he’s got 40+ years of teaching experience, but some aspects of his method fall short of what is well known in behavioral science. This is especially true if the teacher is very highly qualified, as you might expect.

        I’m sure you’re aware of the above, and I’d be surprised if you’d disagree with the substance of what I’m writing here.

        Thanks again for your reply.

        • doshoport

          Mumon7,
          I do agree with what you write. There are limits imv to the online method but it is especially well suited to dharma study, a key component of the Zen the I received from Katagiri Roshi.
          Thanks,
          Dosho

        • Jeanne Desy

          Mumon7,
          I also have a distaste for the term, “spiritual marketplace.” One thinks of the huge stores, not the Farmer’s Market. Thinking about this. Maybe “Dharma Buffet”?

          Also, my understanding is that Teachers don’t give dharma transmission to people because they’ve had kensho, that it is considered a sign to buckle down and really work that path. There have been mistakes, in my opinion, when a Teacher, maybe because s/he’s dying, gives transmission to a Richard Baker, but not too many. The three Teachers I’ve worked with have an unmistakable presence and quality of kindness that testifies to long, deep practice.

          With a bow,
          Jeanne

  • Cherry Zimmer

    It’s also difficult for students to know how much is expected/needed to give in dana, especially for retreats. I’ve heard a lot of “Dana Talks” and all that is ever mentioned is “Give from the heart”, but that would be blood and I’m pretty sure that’s not what is needed. We need a western model for keeping teachers alive and well that squares properly with not “Selling the Dharma”.

    We need either the protestant model lay preachers (or deacons) who are unpaid, combined with paid ministers or the catholic model of priests who have taken a vow of poverty and are taken care of by the organization (which determines how much is needed). Our current model may have worked in Asia, but culturally just doesn’t here.


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