THE PRICE OF
question of charging for the spiritual teachings
Zen and Chan
Chuan Zhi was born in Lafayette Indiana in the United States in 1960,
attended elementary school in Southern Illinois, and high school in
Eastern Pennsylvania. In 1980 he attended Reed College in Portland
Oregon where he graduated with an undergraduate degree in Physics in
1983. During his time at Reed he found the works of Robert M. Persig,
D.T. Suzuki and Mircea Eliade which “planted the seeds” for his future
foray into Zen. Following graduate studies in Nuclear Physics at Purdue
University, he worked as an experimental physicist for a decade and
later as a Computer Programmer for a variety of organizations. He
continues working in this field for a division of the United Nations.
Beginning in the late 1980’s, he began attending sesshins (intensive
meditation retreats) and studying under a variety of Zen teachers in the
Mountain West and East Coast of the United States. In 1997 he met Jy Din
Shakya, then Abbot and founder of Hsu Yun temple in Honolulu Hawaii, and
one of Hsu Yun’s direct Dharma Heirs. He was ordained and given the name
Zhi that year at Hsu Yun temple. He was also named the head of a
new Chan order with the objective to disseminate the teachings of Chan
Buddhism to the West. The order was named the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu
Yun, after Jy Din’s master, whom he also had named his own temple after
nearly forty years prior. In 1998 Jy Din escorted Chuan Zhi to China
where he received full ordination at Hong Fa temple, along with 500
others. Following the month-long ceremony he became recognized by the
Buddhist Association of China as an official lineage holder in the Linji
(Rinzai) tradition and Abbot of the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun.
Since then, Chuan Zhi has continued to work to spread the teachings of
Chan to other interested persons. As of the writing of this biography,
the Order of Hsu Yun (hsuyun.org) has grown to include local sanghas in
Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Canada, Great Britain, France, Greece,
Sweden, China and, of course, the United States.
Chuan Zhi writes essays on topics related to Zen for the order, and continues to
enjoy studying String Theory and Quantum Mechanics and relating these fields to
the science of neurology and, more generally, to the nature of the Mind and the
connection between perception and Reality.
Can you please tell me about your teacher and did he ever charge you for
meditation classes or the Dharma in any way?
I have had many teachers. None of them charged for the Dharma. At times, I
was asked to donate something to pay for food and lodging, but it was always a
very small amount, and it was never required. I always gave much more than was
asked to give. I never attended a meditation class where there was a fee. How
ridiculous would that be? And charging for the Dharma? That's an oxymoron.
What is your view on charging for the spiritual teachings, meditation,
workshops, meetings and so on?
Never charge for spiritual teachings, meditation, etc. If one asks for
donations, let people know what the money goes to: facility rental, power,
water, etc. Religion is often viewed as a business enterprise, but there's no
spirituality in that; Just greed and power.
Do you think that dana can work in the west and does it have a downside?
Chuan Zhi: There is no downside to Dana. Dana means giving - we give the Dharma
freely to people who are ready to receive it. They, in turn, give us their
attention, and their desire to receive the Dharma. Dana is not about money, if
that is where this question is coming from.
you see Buddhism taking on more of a business model or going back to its roots
or something else?
Where do you think this is going in the
You always throw out the hard questions after warming up with the easy ones
don't you? I, of course, can't read the future. Buddhism is already as
mixed up as it can possibly be. Well, maybe it can become more mixed up. There
is no Buddhist "Gospel" as there is in other religions. We have just a bunch of
stories to go by. And those stories are different depending on which society's
version of Buddhism we choose to go with. There's no way to return to the
"roots" of Buddhism, because those roots are way in the past and we live in the
present. The Dharma however is unchanging and here with us in everything.
There's no escaping it. One only needs to see it, to discover it.
I got into a conversation yesterday with this woman who said that after her "satori
experience" two years ago she didn't want to work at her old job anymore. She
wanted to help others to "awaken" and give people pointers to do this. She said
she found her old job meaningless. What would you suggest to someone like this?
Should she start teaching others about "non duality"?
The enlightenment experience is truly earth-shattering. The reason is that one's
perspective shifts from the ego to the "true" self, or our "Buddha Nature" as we
often say. Things that used to seem important are no longer important, largely
because the reason they were important was because they served to fuel our ego.
The risk for people going through this is that they may think they no longer
feel obliged to fulfill their obligations: family, employment, etc. Sudden
changes in life are not prudent until one has lived a year or two under the "new
guidelines". It takes a good amount of time to adapt to the new architecture of
At the same time, one can't dismiss this huge turn in one's life. Teaching
others is a way to embrace the new awareness gained. But my feeling is that such
activities need to complement the existing life, not replace it.
So rushing out there to spread the good news and give pointers may not always be
the right way to go, especially if one is also going to now use this as a method
to bring home the bacon; pay their mortgage, car payments, credit card debt and
put their 6 kids through college?
Yes, for sure. It's prudent to not suddenly jump into another kind of life. It
takes time to integrate the new awareness into being. There's a book called
Snapping, by Flo Conway and Jum Siegelman that discusses in depth the process
that some people can go through at various stages of their spiritual journey -
highlighting the dangers.
So is becoming a spiritual teacher and setting up shop listed as one of these
Chuan Zhi: Not
specifically. A solid spiritual teacher is someone who has gone through the
"awakening moment" and has moved on to go beyond that. He or she understands the
event from their own experience and can guide another through it. The danger, at
any point along the spiritual journey, is getting stuck. And "stuckness" can
happen pretty much anywhere on the ride.
END OF INTERVIEW