THE PRICE OF
question of charging for the spiritual teachings
Richard Shankman lives
in Oakland, CA. He has been a meditator since 1970 and teaches at dharma
centers and groups nationally and internationally. Richard is co-founder
of the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies and of Mindful Schools. He has
sat many silent, intensive meditation retreats for periods up to eleven
meditation practice in a Hindu oriented yoga tradition, and spent
several years living in an ashram engaged in concentration-based
meditation practices. He transitioned to Buddhist practice in the mid
1970ís and has been a vipassana meditator ever since.
Richard has been active in bringing
dharma and meditation practice into prisons, jails and drug
rehabilitation programs in California. In the 1970ís he taught
meditation in San Quentin State Prison, the Marin County jail and a San
Francisco drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Although no longer
actively teaching in the prisons, programs that he started are
continuing in both the Salinas Valley State Prison and the Menís
Correctional Training Facility, both near Soledad, California.
Richard is the author
of ďThe Experience of Samadhi: An In-Depth Investigation of Buddhist
Richard holds a BS degree in Electrical
Engineering and an MA degree in Philosophy and Religion, with an
emphasis in Buddhist Studies.
you please tell me what dāna means in the Theravada Buddhist tradition?
Richard Shankman: Dāna means giving, offering, or
traditionally meant giving of any of the four requisites to the monastic order.
More generally, dāna refers to giving without expecting any form of repayment
from the recipient. Though the term has traditionally meant giving, it is also
sometimes translated as 'generosity'. This is probably because giving must come
from a generous attitude to be dāna.
So how does this dana
apply out side the monastery. With a lay Theravada teacher for example? Does
this work the same way?
Shankman: Outside the monastic setting there are no rules, so people, of course,
are free to do whatever they wish. Most teachers and groups that I know of are
trying to retain the spirit of dana, the best they can, within the context of
living a lay life, not being supported by the laity as the monastics are. There
is a wide range of what people and groups are doing.
In our organization, as with many others, everything is offered freely. People
are educated on how we operate and that we depend solely on financial
contributions in order to function. Participants then contribute or not, as
they choose. Other organizations - I'm thinking of some of the larger ones with
a number of paid staff positions - charge fees to participate in activities,
though even in these cases they generally do not pay the teachers, whose
incomes, then, depend on dana.
Similar to the variety of how organizations work in relation to dana, there is a
range of how teachers operate. I do everything on a dana basis, meaning I offer
everything freely and students who wish can offer dana to me in return. In this
way, my entire income is dana based. Other teachers charge fees for their
The whole financial system is evolving as teachers and groups try to figure out
how to be financially viable and retain the spirit of dana, freely giving, as
much as possible.
on how your organization does this but when you say that there are no rules
outside the monastery. Did not Buddha set up a system of rules for his
teachings? How they should be given?
Do you know if
in any scripture, he said its ok for lay people to teach the Dharma and
Richard Shankman: I am not aware of any place in the Pali suttas that address the issue of
lay people teaching. The sangha at the time of the Buddha was heavily monastic
oriented. There are records of lay people becoming arahants, but nothing about
them teaching, one way or another. The Pali sutta offer no guidance that I am
aware of that apply to this question in modern times and cultures.
What if a lay teacher
holder who has a full time job, already has their clothing, shelter, food
and medicinal needs met and are living a relatively luxurious life style.
Should they even ask for dana? Are they even dana worthy if they are not a
Shankman: They are to be measure by the quality of the hearts, minds, thoughts,
words and deeds, just as we should judge monastics. Bhikku Bodhi has publicly
stated that there are many lay practitioners who are more spiritually advanced
than many monks. People like Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon
Salzberg, and others, were authorized, given direct "transmission", to teach by
the great Burmese master Mahasi Sayadaw. There plenty of other cases of lay
people being authorized by other recognized teachers in various traditions to
teach and carry on a tradition.
should they have any credibility at all if they cant even take all the precepts
and live the celibate life of a monk? What kind of example are they setting
or teaching by? How are they to be measured?
Richard Shankman: The example they are setting is that lay people can apply the
dharma in the contexts of their lives, rather than in the traditional Asian
model in which lay people do not practice, but make offerings to support the
monastic sangha and acquire merit, in the hope of attaining enough merit to
become monks is a future life.
When you say, "The whole financial system is evolving as teachers and groups
try to figure out how to be financially viable and retain the spirit of dana,
freely giving, as much as possible."
Why is anything
evolving? Whatís wrong with the old tradition of monasticism. What are
the reasons to even create a new system of lay teachers or interfere with
this 2.500 year old system?
Richard Shankman: I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the
tradition. No one is interfering with the tradition. It is carrying on as
it always has. That is a great fits for some. But many people find that
the monastic forms are not the best to support their spiritual progress.
Many people who had been in robes for years came to feel that the monastic
form no longer served them well, while others remain as monks or nuns.
There is no "one-size-fits-all" best form.
While I have great respect for some of the monastics who have attained great
depths of realization and liberation, I also have tremendous respect for
people who are sincerely striving to actualize dharma in their lives in the
midst of families, jobs, etc.
END OF INTERVIEW