Retreats and Money

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Retreats and Money

Post by clw_uk » Sun Feb 01, 2009 10:08 pm

This comes from some postings i have read on another forum.

I know that you are expected to give dana when going on a retreat but I have noticed that for Mahayana it seems to "cost" more the Theravada retreats ive seen (mostly Thai Forest Tradition) seem to have a lower "cost".

My question is why does Mahayana seem to ask more money than Theravada? Or are there Theravada retreats that do the same as the Mahayana counterparts?

P.S. This is no way and attempt to make one tradition seem better than the other its just a general question comming from an observation I have made.

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Re: Retreats and Money

Post by Dhammanando » Mon Feb 02, 2009 3:10 am

Hi Craig,
clw_uk wrote:My question is why does Mahayana seem to ask more money than Theravada? Or are there Theravada retreats that do the same as the Mahayana counterparts?
My impression is that the real divide here is between Buddhist groups that are content with whatever size they happen to be vs. groups with strong expansionist ambitions. Since the former's priority in holding a retreat will be to teach the Dhamma, they will typically offer the retreat free of charge or at least at minimal charge. The latter, on the hand, will tend to view retreats as partly, or even primarily, an opportunity to make a profit, which will then be used to expand the scope of their activities.

This divide is not really the same as the Theravada/Mahayana one, for one will find some Theravada groups offering very pricey retreats (especially in the North American vipassana scene) and some Mahayana groups (e.g. that of the late Master Hsuan Hua) offering almost everything free of charge.

Another factor is whether the teacher leading the retreat is a high- or low-maintenance one. For example, if he happens to be one of these playboy Tibetan tulkus who travels everywhere with a large entourage and expects to be provided with first-class air tickets and a whopping great "donation" at the end of the retreat, then any group hosting him will have to charge an arm and a leg just to cover its expenses. But if it's a teacher who lives frugally and travels alone, then one should be able to safely finance the retreat just by relying on donations.

Best wishes,
Dhammanando Bhikkhu


Re: Retreats and Money

Post by Element » Mon Feb 02, 2009 3:44 am

My impression and understanding has always been the Buddha forbade charging money for teachings and this is upheld in the Theravada.

Theravada retreats try to cover their expenses, such as food and accomodation, but do not charge for teachings.

However, the advent of the Western lay teacher has changed much of this.

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Re: Retreats and Money

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Feb 02, 2009 5:34 am

I've hardly ever had to pay anything up front for Dhamma beyond a small fee to cover the cost of a boxed lunch or the cost of a venue. Actually, the only thing I've attending that was Mahayana was Thich Nhat Hahn and his entourage, and in that case they actually tried to to give back the small deposit that was requested, presumably to make sure people were serious about turning up (it was only enough to cover the lunch box in any case).

Sometimes people can be suspicious of things being cheap/free. In at least one talk I've listened to Ajahn Brahm related getting a phone call from someone who wanted to come to one of his Friday night talks. She was apparently convinced that there had to be some sort of hidden charge and his insistence that no-one would ask her for money got her so mad she hung up on him...

I've seen the same sort of thing in other spheres. People will pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for "training" that doesn't appear to be any more effective than what they could get relatively inexpensively by joining various community organisations.

As I think I said on another thread, there is a lot of advantage to the student when there is no up-front charge. No feeling that "I'm paying for this, I should get better service." And it's great to be able to return that gift.


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Re: Retreats and Money

Post by Cittasanto » Mon Feb 02, 2009 9:20 am

Where I go on retreat doesn't give any indication of how much it costs them to give retreats, I would like to know as they still have a Mortgage to pay off for the retreat house they bought to do them properly and enable women to become nuns.
It would be nice to at least know I am covering the personal cost for me. I know some retreat centres have a recomended donation but Don't know how much is average for a centre doing it not for profit.
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Re: Retreats and Money

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Feb 02, 2009 9:53 am

Hi Manapa,

If I had to have a rough guess I'd say about £15-20 per day... but it would obviously depend on the centre, their loans etc.

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Re: Retreats and Money

Post by Rui Sousa » Mon Feb 02, 2009 10:37 am

One of the reasons I don't attend a local group meditation (a non-sectarian group) sessions is the fact that they charge 20€ / month.

I have no objection on helping to pay a rent, help cleaning a room, buy incense or whatever costs there are, but a fixed price for a one hour of hearing and practicing the Dhamma makes me very uncomfortable.

Maybe it is just a matter of phrasing, but it is very important to me. What would make me feel comfortable would be something like "each session costs 100 €, this cost will be divided by those who attend".
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Re: Retreats and Money

Post by genkaku » Mon Feb 02, 2009 12:27 pm

Yesterday, a man I had never met came to sit in the backyard zendo/meditation place with me. He had been to another center he didn't name and didn't like, so he was sniffing the wind here. The fact that he had decided to try a second place said to me that he found something attractive in practice. After our formal morning drew to a close, he asked me about giving money and I told him what I tell anyone who asks: "After you come three times, we can think about it."

Money/dana. What a wonderfully touchy subject. One of the earlier teachers in the lineage in which I 'grew up,' Yasutani Roshi, was once quoted as saying, "Yes! Charge them a lot of money. That way they will think the Dharma is worth something." And you can see his point: When you give people something for free, often they think it is not worth much ... or perhaps they strike a virtuous pose and pretend they think it is worth a lot, but they don't feel the matter as personally as if a cat bit them on the butt. Money is personal -- the sweat off your brow -- so people do pay some attention.

And there are all sorts of approaches: Yes, the center needs to turn on the lights and fix the roof. And yes, for the most part centers that charge money will make room for those who don't have a lot... although those without a lot may be pretty resentful that they might have to ask for assistance and will complain, "But the Dharma should be for free!"

I don't know of a single rule that fits all circumstances, but I do know that money is a touchy subject and as such is pretty useful. I do think that there is something to be said for the fact that a donor might feel a bit of gratitude that s/he might be allowed to give ... but maybe that position is further down the line in practice.

The whole matter -- to prattle on too long -- reminds me of a time when my youngest son -- then eight or nine -- asked to be taken to a nearby peace pagoda. Why he wanted to go, I had no clue -- certainly I never shoved Buddhism in his face. But I wanted to go too, since I had never seen the place. So off we went.

When we reached the mountain where the pagoda was located, it wasn't clear where we should go. Near the parking lot, there appeared to be a temple and so, although it didn't look much like a pagoda I had expected to see, we went there. The place was much more ornate than the Zen settings I was used to -- lots of paintings on the wall depicting Gautama's adventures, very colorful zafus and zabutons, and an enormous altar covered with more stuff than could be taken in at a glance -- plastic flowers, fruit, small statues ... all of it stacked on a stepped pyramid on top of which was a goldy-glitzy Buddha statue. It was a little much in my eye, but obviously someone liked it, so I lit the incense and offed that. I took the place to be Therevada in leaning, but I didn't much care one way or the other.

Afterwards, as my son and I were ambling around, alone, a very elderly monk appeared. I later heard that he was the oldest Buddhist monk in Cambodia. He greeted us and began telling us in accented English about the pictures on the wall -- the travels of the Buddha. And when he was finished, he reached in the sleeve of his robe and brought out an apple, which he offered to my son. My son took it, said thank you, handed the apple to me, and, without any explanation, ran outside into the parking lot. I thought perhaps the monk had scared him somehow, but this wasn't the case. In a minute or so, he returned, pressed up against my side and handed over a rock he had taken from the parking lot. He thought it was beautiful and he wanted me to give it to the monk. I told him to give it himself, but he was too shy. So I took the rock and gave it to the monk ... who immediately took the rock and placed it with great care in some small cranny on the altar. Then he bowed.

The pagoda we had hoped to see turned out to be on the top of a nearby mountain, so my son an I walked up there and saw it. It was wonderful to see something so carefully crafted out in the middle of the woods. Then we walked back down the hill and got into the car to drive home. In a nearby town, we stopped at the bookstore where a woman had given us directions to the pagoda. We said thank you again for her help and, together with the story, we gave her the apple the monk had given to my son.

I suppose this small recollection could be told from a dana-day point of view, but I think maybe it's simpler than that... less virtuous or disciplined or whatever and much more along the lines of what just happens in life: "Giving," "receiving" ... nonsense!


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Re: Retreats and Money

Post by teacup_bo » Tue Feb 03, 2009 12:58 pm

Nice. Thanks, genkaku.

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