THE PRICE OF
question of charging for the spiritual teachings
Can you please tell me a little about your background concerning Buddhism?
Are you a practicing Buddhist and how did you become interested in Buddhism?
Banks Findly: Well those are two different questions. Let me begin by how I
became interested in Buddhism. When I was quite young, I tried to understand
the theology of the Christian Church at around eleven and twelve. I began to
write little essays that I took to my Episcopalian minister and he was
completely unresponsive to anything that I had to say. Then I began to go to
the library and read books about various traditions and Hinduism was
immediately appealing to me visually. Buddhism and Taoism then became more
appealing to me at an early age but I wasnít quite sure. I was probably to
an early death of a dog that was hit by a car. My mother tells me that I was
overwhelmed by the idea of what happened at death; where we went and what it
meant and this sort of would reemerge again in various places. In Scotland
we went to churches where they would tell fire and brimstone. It became
clear the ministers in the church were unwilling to answer questions and
they actually told me that they did not want teenagers coming to their
catechism classes. I decided that this church was not interested in anything
that I wanted to do. So by the time I was in college, I was completely away
from the western tradition. I was looking at indigenous shamanic traditions,
which I have actually returned to now.
the end of my college transition I was enamored with Indian ritual and
wanted to learn Sanskrit. I began working with a monk from Sri lanka the
summer after my senior year in college and it was at that point that I
really decided that a life connected to the practice of Buddhism is what I
wanted. I had a very traumatic moment at the end of the second summer of
learning Pali where he told me that he had a treasure of something he wanted
to give, since he was returning to Sri lanka and now found the person that
he wanted to give it to. Immediately I knew that he knew he was talking
about me and what he was asking me to do was to go forth from the home and
into the homeless life and become at least a high level Buddhist lay
person. But I really think he knew I could not make this work out here, me
taking the robes, and I was overcome by fear and immediately stood up and
walked out very rudely and never went back again.
on to teach Hinduism and Buddhism for a long time until I got a divorce and
began dating somebody from school who had a Buddhist meditation group and
then began going to the group and realizing this was something I could do in
terms of Buddhist practice. And there was a strain of Tibetan Buddhism in
that things appeared to me in meditation which is not a story I would want
to go into. (Laughs)
to recognize the effects that a practice had on me and over the years I have
found that I no longer am angry; I was once a very angry person. Now I
respond fairly calmly and serenely to things and itís always because Iím
able to take things to the cushion. Itís been a life-long quest and Iím now
at a place, a very wonderful place, and the situation Iím in is that I teach
as a faculty member at Trinity College but I also run a meditation group
here. Iím not a dharma teacher so I really sort of facilitate conversation.
I donít want to have influence on peoplesí lives in terms of how they should
react to things so we just talk about options.
other question is a linguistic question. When students ask me if I am a
Buddhist, my response is if you were a Buddhist and you asked me if I were a
Buddhist if I said yes, you would know that I wasnít, because itís an
application of nomenclature to me that ascribes an identity to something
that might be a self and I donít want to have very many descriptors of a
self. But I am willing to say that I have a Buddhist practice. And that it
is really a very minor meditation practice. Primarily itís relating; itís
about being a faculty member, about being a teacher which I try to give and
I try to be open and to offer to my students and allow them to sort of come
to where they are coming to under the guidance that I give.
would say I have a Buddhist practice,
Can you please tell me what motivated you to write a book about Dana?
(ďDana, Giving and Getting in the Pali BuddhismĒ)
Banks Findly: Well I have been interested in the topic for a long time. This
was not the first thing that I wrote. I wrote a long paper when I was in
graduate school about it. I think that outside of Buddhism, I've always been
interested in giving and one of the big questions in the Buddhist trial
material, and that I think is very much open to discussion these days, is
whether we give to get results and I do want to come back to that as a
came to this because I donít give to give results but out of a belief that
the context of which I live is to be made better by doing these things and
because I love and care for the people that I give to and its not just
family and friends, but somebody who comes and has to rake the yard. So we
belong to a part of the community. I donít give to measure that community in
some measure or because I have to feel satisfied by some kind of results,
but I feel that it is related to the well being of the community that I give
and itís not an intellectual belief; itís a deeply held emotive sense that I
want to support this inter dependant community that I live in.
coming to the book, Iíve always been interested in the question of
economics. So let me come back to the other work that I have done before and
about how economic transactions are involved in the development of religion
and how larger things like trade and so forth have an effect on religion.
But it seems to me that in the Buddhist tradition, a great deal has been
written about dana. It is a critically important factor. The cultivation of
dana happens on so many different levels. It is sort of a part of the early
lay precepts dana, morality and then if we had King Ashokaís focus on non
violence that we need to do. It is there for Theravada lay people and itís
also there at the beginning of the paramita structure for bodhisattvas. I
think it is also part of the practice of monks. I want to say that if Iím a
layperson, itís dharma dana I have the duty of dana. If Iím a monk in
exchange for that and Iím not sure if itís really an exchange, but if I
respond to that then I have dharma dana. That means I give the gift of the
teachings so there is a reciprocal way that monks and lay people in the
traditional Theravada tradition have this contractual reciprocity. So I
came to this realizing out of my interest in economic lines, religion is
based on that and itís a very important practice and that Buddhism canít go
anywhere without dana. The founder would not survive without dana. The
actual practice and cultivation of certain mental (word missing here)
possible without the beginning of dana. So I came to it realizing it was a
much more complicated doctrine than simply to give food to monks or to give
money to a sangha.
When you give these meditation classes, do you do that on a dana basis, by
suggested donation, or some kind of a fee? Do you have to rent out a space
Banks Findly: No, the history of this is that my second husband died six and
a half years ago of a brain tumor. He was a practicing Buddhist at Trinity
and he was the man I started meditating with and he had pulled together this
group that was non-prepaying and which was really oriented towards sitting
and then having a potluck supper. After he died, I continued it and it
became a womanís group. It was really much more doctrinal and more
seriously Buddhist. I give this freely because my meditation is 100 times
better when itís in a group than when itís by itself.
because I feel that there arenít many opportunities in the Hartford area for
the people to do the practice that I do which is insight meditation. We do
something very simple. We sit for 45 minutes then we have a short break for
tea, then we read passages. So, no I do not ask dana; I donít want dana. If
people want to bring in something, they can do that but I do this because of
You mentioned something in your book about guru dakshina?
Banks Findly: Yes.
know in the Vedic tradition there is guru dakshina and thatís how it works.
But in the Buddhist tradition, there is also a mention of ďgift worthinessĒ
as you pointed out in your book. Do you feel that a layperson can actually
even be ďgift worthyĒ to even receive dana?
Banks Findly: I believe that the worthiness of a teacher is determined by
the people who have come to that person and have decided that they are
worthy. We have had for some time a woman who has become a nun. She is now
in full retreat in her home and was meditating with us for about three years
and she was saying that somebody who was gift worthy had to have
certification and had to go through training; that kind of thing. I donít
believe in that. I believe that there are auspicious friends and they decide
if they want to come here and be with me and they donít owe me anything.
They give to me their presence so I get a tremendous amount from their being
here. I do this in my home. If I would have to pay for something out of my
pocket for the meditation, that would be a different thing; if I had to buy
special cushions etc. As it is I can provide everything that they need with
everything that I have in my home. So in terms of my worthiness, (
word missing here)
decide if Iím worthy.
Today in the west there are many lay people who go to traditional teachers
and monastics for vipassana or jhana instruction. Then they come back to
the west and open up their own non profit organizations or ďmeditation
centersĒ. What is your view on that?
Banks Findly: I think a center has to have somebody. What can I say?
Iím sorry, can I just say one more thing?
Banks Findly: Sure.
And then they charge in their centers for the teachings; for these
meditation instructions which they attained from monastics for free. Itís a
100 percent markup so to speak.
Banks Findly: Well, Iím opposed to people setting themselves up as teachers
and saying come to my teachings and give me money. I think that the Buddha
arose out of what he ever arose out of and he gathered monks around him as
he taught because they wanted to hear what he had to say and that was not
necessarily what we have with these centers. I think that a center should
begin in a very organic way. And in the history of religion we always say
that things begin as a kind of cult and then become institutionalized into
some kind of space and structure and so forth and I do believe that if we
follow the Buddha, that the practice of Buddhism and that the grouping of
people that do that practice should begin organically. And to start from the
top down, to say that Iíve got certification, that Iíve got teachings and
Iím going to have this house and you guys can come and get these teachings
from me, itís really the kind of wrong way around it. You need to begin with
just get together and sit in my house and see how it works. You need to
begin from the ground up and build an organic community in that way is what
I really believe myself.
that we have these really large groups all the time that donít know each
other and sit in silence and meditate together. Itís probably very powerful.
I think itís even more powerful if these are people that you live with, or
that you know, who are part of a community and also do other kinds of things
together, that is my preference. That is how I want to practice. I donít
want to practice with people that I donít know.
not to say that these canít be effective or to say that something that has
grown up organically canít involve into some kind of gift giving
transaction. Boy I didnít imagine I was going to go down this road.
(Laughter) Itís sort of an indictment of all the dharma canters around.
(Laughs) Ok, after we can edit that part out if you donít feel comfortable
with this later on.
Banks Findly: Iím fine I just never thought I believed that until I started
(Laughs). Yes, that happens.
Banks Findly: Iíve never gone to any of these things and I guess thatís why
and Iíve been to Cambridge, Insight meditation, Iíve been to Barry, I used
to teach at Barry. I think these communities need to be organic and I think
thatís how I have lived my life.
What do you think of this Buddhist type entrepreneurial system, or modal of
teaching? Do you think itís going to affect the monastery sangha in terms
of donations? For example, if someone were to start up a modernized center
very close by to a monastery, then compete with this monastery by
advertising retreats, workshops, satsangs, meditations and so on?
Banks Findly: Well, dharma centers in terms of what was around. In the time
of the Buddha there were dharma centers. It was a monastery or nothing and
in South East Asia where I do my research itís the monastery or nothing. So
there are not dharma (Dhamma Pali) centers. Everything happens in the
monastery. And the monastery compound has teaching halls and libraries and
temples and stupors and all kinds of things, so the temple grounds are all
purpose so that the notion of being a dharma center as far as I can
understand is a western sort of development. I think it has to do with the
wrestling with the question of whether Buddhism can go ahead without the
moral rules for the monastic system. I once thought that once Buddhism came
to the United States, with the fourth turning of the wheel of the law, that
monasteries were really going to be defunct and thatís not the case. Thereís
a strong interest in ordination. There are many people that become monks
and nuns who are born westerners. So I think that itís a challenge to the
tradition in a kind of way for a monastery and a dharma center to exist side
by side. Now it seems to me that the monasticsí material support in the case
of the monastery is through donations. What Iím seeing now in terms of these
days in ethnic Buddhism is that we have a lot of large Vietnamese temples.
We have a lot of them around where I live. So a Vietnamese temple will have
donor day. And theyíll have volunteers bring food and then three or four
hundred people will come and will make donations so that seems to be a good
way in being able to raise money.
So in the case of the dharma center, that could be more
entrepreneurial if we are talking about different models where, like Barry,
would be a good example where you offer a series of courses and your people
pay for the courses. You are given a salary but then people who go to these
courses can also give dana. That would be an extra optional thing for the
think that they can exist side by side. Iím very happy to see that there are
Americans who become monks and nuns. There is certainly a place for that.
Itís a different kind of role we have for monastics that we have in the
Catholic and Episcopal churches. I donít know how itís going to end up. I
think that so many things in modern times are a part of a great revolution
thatís happening in Buddhism today. We are so lucky to be in these times.
And I think this is one of them. It will be interesting to see how the
dharma center and the monastery will grow together. I think they will both
survive, but they will have to have a more symbiotic relationship with one
I have one last question which has to do with the ultimate
intention of practicing Buddhism, which is attaining enlightenment or
becoming an Arahant. Is it possible to have those sorts of attainments just
by going to a dharma center and practicing vipassana and going on retreats
once or twice a year?
Or do you think that you would actually have to become a
monastic, a renunciate, and live the life 24/7 - 365 days of the year to
actually attain something like that?
Ellison Banks Findly:
It is the belief of monastics in the United States, American
monastics, that the only way they can experience enlightenment or become an
arhat is by renouncing the world.
I can just tell you this story about my friend and Iím not
going to name her. She is the one who became a Zen monk. She has now gone on
full retreat in her home. She has given up all of her duties at the temple
and she has dropped out of everything. I need her for something but Iím
afraid to ask her for it. I feel Iím not angry at her because I canít feel
angry, but I really feel that what sheís doing is betraying her tradition.
She doesnít go to sangha, she doesnít have any interaction with people, and
she lives entirely on the gifts of her ex-husband. So she has no sangha and
she is basically living off somebody and not giving anything back.
So I think that thereís a role for the relationship between
the monastics and society. I lost my train of thought.
The other part of the question is that do you think itís
possible to become an arahant outside of the monastery?
Ellison Banks Findly:
Well I think that people believe that. I think monastics
today in this country who are not Asian born Buddhists but who are converts
I believe though that many people who do what I do, which is
to practice a meditation that is oriented towards developing a sort of
cultivation of the mind, and practice in the world. The notion of
enlightenment is not preeminent. With their spiritual development and for me
spiritual development is about becoming more even minded, becoming more open
hearted, becoming more generous with my time and energy and material things
when I can. But being enlightened, I can give back to the world without
being enlightened and I can have peace, be without anger, be serene without
being enlightened. It is not a goal for me. Itís not a goal for the people
that I work with so it may be that would be a marker of the difference
between monasteries and dharma centers. That in monasteries people are
actively on the path that has as its end nibbanna. Although all notion of
there being a goal that you are holding onto is antithetical to what Budhsim
is all about. (Laughs) In terms of being attached to things.
How about overcoming the fetters, the 10 fetters, like the
last section of the fetters? Do you think that itís possible in a lay
system? The difficult one that I see people having problems with, if you are
not a monastic or a celibate for example is the sensual desires. Thatís the
one that seems to snag people the most, the celibacy issue.
Ellison Banks Findly:
Well when you are a layperson, you are traveling the dusty
path. It becomes clear. If you think about the precept, the lay precept, it
is sexual misconduct, so there is sexual behavior which is not problematic
and sexual behavior that is problematic. And if you are going to be
layperson, marriage is obviously an option for you. Buddhism was taken from
Hinduism, where marriage is not just for reproduction, marriage is also for
pleasure. Those are the two rati (pleasure) and praja (progeny). Two objects
of marriage. And for a layperson, there is no problem with that. But the
misconduct is where the focus is.
I guess Iím sort of bordering on, although I feel like Iím
working the Theravada tradition, I feel more like the householder
bodhisattva is much more where I am. So I donít know actually about
celibacy. Itís not a possibility for me. Itís not something that I want,
but I certainly want to be careful about how I behave in the world.
Hereís another story, do you mind if I tell you another
Please go ahead.
Ellison Banks Findly:
This couple lost their children and then became Buddhists as
a result of that, because the loss of their children was their fault. And
they now are the dharma teachers at a center in Thailand called Insitthani
(not sure of correct spelling). And they are a lay couple who tried as a
part of their relationship to become celibate. But that was not possible and
so they run this center and people come from all over Europe and from
America and they have a number of Thai devotees there. I think they are
still lay so I think they can give very high qualities and are worthy of
being teachers. I actually wrote an article on this ďWorthy to be my
teacherĒ, for women teachers in the early Buddhist tradition.
So I donít know about Celina. The problem about celibacy is
that itís related to pleasure and it is related to desire and the degree to
which those are problems towards equanimity. The answer is probably yes,
celibacy is a requirement for reaching the final goal I guess I would have
to say that.
It depends on how you want to live your life. Thatís the
choice you make.
Ok, because I spoke to a Bhikhu yesterday about this and
asked him this same question. He answered that if somebody did become
enlightened and they were a layperson, then they would probably renounce
their life as a layperson and become a monk and live
as a celibate.
Banks Findly: He is assuming that someone can become enlightened as a
Yes as a layperson. He said well if they did, they would probably want to
become a monk.
Banks Findly: Ok, so hereís another example; I have worked with a lot of
Tibetan monks who come to the US. There was one man (name or not here) who
did the first (could not make out word) at Trinity and he was a fairly high
ranking monk in the tradition. When he came here, he was a very charismatic
guy and women were attracted to him and I have no idea if he ever responded
to him. I think he felt that the way in which women greeted him by putting
their arms around him and the fact that he was this object of affection and
desire, he could not do his work in the US to pass on the Tibetan dharma
here. He couldnít do it as a monk, but he could do it as a high-ranking
layperson in the Tibetan tradition so he asked the Dalai Lama to release his
vows. So that would support the answer which the Bhikkhu gave which is that
you have to be celibate to retain a higher status.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Banks Findly: Well Iím torn about this. I guess itís because I donít hold on
to the notion of enlightenment that much. I think that, which is a Hindu
idea, that whatís important is to experience all possible things that you
can experience in this world.
that is what gives you knowledge. Once you have experienced all of those
things and of course there is rebirth, then you have full knowledge of the
human condition. And thatís suffering as well as the pleasures and so. Iím
just going to stop there; there are just too many historical things to add
Ok, getting back to dana, is there anything else you would like to add?
Banks Findly: Yes, there are two issues. One is when you give, whatís
important is intention as it is in action (chaitana). Thatís certainly with
dana. The question is if whether you give only because you have an intention
for the person, for the wellbeing of the being that you are giving. Or
whether, letís say the merit of the act is also affected by the result. The
standard in that view is that itís only the intention in fact when you look
at the Buddhaís text there is more merit when the result is good. So if I
intend to give a meat soup to the monk, that happens a lot in the canon, and
I intend not only for their well being but I intend in part for some kind of
healing that happens. The merit is sometimes seen to be greater if in fact a
healing does happen. This is not a cut and dry issue if itís just based on
intent; that the canon supports some consideration that comes about as a
result from an act or donation.
second issue that is very important in the United Sates that has to do with
the idea that people here accumulate wealth. So I would like to talk a
little bit about the relationship between dana and wealth.
is not looked down upon in any way. You can become as rich as you want to
become except that the means by which you gather wealth has to be
appropriate and that means involved in that is concern for others. Or,
non-violence a practice of non- violence, so that you use that wealth in a
certain kind of way. So that dana from a rich person is fine. Dana from a
middle class or a poor person is also fine. Itís really how you acquire what
you have to give and how it is you use it and that is you give with good
intent for the well being of others. So I think that in the American
context, itís a very important thing to think about dana. That it assumes
that wealth is ok and this is one of the things that makes Buddhism such a
great option for Americans.
practice of dana Buddhistically. So why is it that it becomes at the
beginning of lay practice with dana shila and also ashoka with non violence
and the beginning of the paramitas and so forth.
said dana is important as a practice because it does a couple of things.
First, it begins to cultivate the notion of non attachment. Second, it
begins to cultivate a sense that we are interconnected, that other peoplesí
well being depends upon things that I do, and that they do has an effect on
me. So there is an interconnection, also an interdependence that is sort of
a part and parcel that dana is a part of our training. That the cultivation
of dana is a part of Buddhist training.
then down the road, the whole question of metta that I translate as empathy
and karuna is compassion and an early version of karuna is called anukampa,
which is in the book is a kind of a subtle feeling which involves an
appreciation for an act done for others. So I think dana is involved in all
those kinds of things and I think itís the fabric of the recognition of
transitory-ness and the fragility of human beings in the transitory world.
And of our ability to respond to and come to terms with change as a cause
of our suffering, and our attachments to these things that we want to be
permanent. That dana is based on the resonation of importance and suffering
and that it is in part the basic Buddhist response to that which then leads
to a recognition of the wisdom, not just the knowledge of Buddhist doctrine
that goes beyond dana. Ok Iím done.
Ok, thank you very