Dana Paramita – Generosity As Buddhist Practice

Robert TiltonFirst off, tomorrow, July 14, 2012 I will be hosting Dogen Sangha Los Angeles’ monthly day-long zazen thing. The location as 237 Hill St. Santa Monica, CA 90405 at the intersection of Hill and Second Streets. It starts at 9:50 AM (come at 9:30 if you need zazen instructions), ends at 3:30 PM and there’s a lot of sitting down and looking at a wall followed by a group discussion. The schedule is available at http://www.dogensanghalosangeles.org/dsla/schedule.html. Beginners are welcome and you can come for any part of the day as long as you enter and exit quietly. Those who show up late will miss the instructions. But if you know what to do already, just come and do it.

At the end of the last installment of this blog I put up a little plea for readers to take note of the donate button I’ve had on this blog and its forerunner for the past two years or so. This is one of only a few times I’ve called attention to that button. The response was very encouraging. Writing a blog is a lonely job. I really don’t know who’s reading it. For a while it felt like nobody was reading it at all. It almost seems like people were just using the comments section to create their own micro-blogs to tell the world how lame they think I am (then why were they reading?) as well as argue with each other.

Getting some donations makes me feel like maybe some of the effort I put into this thing isn’t being completely wasted. Thank you very much. It really helps.

The standard thing to do in the Zen world when you want some donations is to make a speech about dana paramita. Dana means generosity and paramita means perfection and is used to indicate cultivating certain values. The Lotus Sutra lists six paramitas that are considered to be the most important in Mahayana Buddhism. They are:

Dana – generosity

Sila – morality

Ksanti – patience

Virya – diligent effort

Dhyana – meditation

Prajna – wisdom

One could be cynical about this and say that dana is the first because Buddhist monks depend upon the support of lay people and so they want to ensure that support by putting generosity at the top of the list. I’ve always tended to be cynical about such things myself. Whenever I see some television evangelist in some gargantuan fancy-pants church soliciting contributions from the faithful it makes me cringe.

But then again, I can kind of understand that. The people who support those guys want to have a beautiful cathedral to go to. They want to listen to a preacher dressed in fine clothes. They want to be part of a massive gathering of like-minded people. And so they ought to pay for it. It’s like paying to see the New York Knicks. If you want the experience of seeing top athletes play in a huge arena, you pay for it. If you want to see a guy with a weekly hairspray bill that’s bigger than your monthly take-home pay harangue you about hell in a mega-church, you have to pay for that as well.

All of us, no matter what it is we do for a living, depend upon communal support for our livelihood. All of us are begging monks at some level. I used to work for a company that made superhero TV shows for children. During that time, my livelihood was supported by the people who watched those TV shows (thus providing the numbers necessary for advertisers to pay the networks who in turn paid us to make the shows) as well as by those who bought the many toys, games, DVDs, candy products, and other sundry items based on the characters we created. I was part of a kind of sangha whose efforts were directed at creating fantasies. No matter what you do for a living there is some kind of system you take advantage of in order that the larger society can support you.

In religious communities the lines of economic support are often more direct than is the norm. The wandering ascetics of Buddha’s time lived or died according to what was put in their bowls. Buddha created a community, which served to make things a little easier on individuals. If the more cheerful monks got more in their begging bowls than the sullen ones, they could all share. If you work for a company, that’s just a way of spreading the donations out more and hiding the lines between giver and receiver.

Like the guys who go to the mega-churches, those who are interested in keeping Buddhism available have got to support it. Generosity is an important part of making Buddhism happen.

So generosity supports the community. But it sometimes feels like it might weaken the individual. You give your money to the sangha or to a teacher you want to support. And they end up with your money while you end up with a little less in the bank. What kind of a deal is that? Sure you get to hear the teachings and join the meditations as well as enjoy the building you helped buy if there is one. But maybe you don’t think you need that stuff.

I tend to feel like money represents the circulation of vital energy within the body of society. It’s good for the body as a whole and for the organs individually when blood circulates everywhere. If one organ gets greedy and keeps all the blood to itself this does no good for the body or for the organ in question. Human society is messed up right now because this is pretty much what’s happening. The folks among us who have managed to amass too much may think they’ve won the game. But that’s only because they don’t understand what’s really going on. They’re actually damaging the larger community and thereby damaging themselves.

So on an individual level, it’s also important for our own spiritual health to give. There’s a line in the Zen meal chant that goes, “May we realize the emptiness of the three wheels, giver, receiver and gift.” Which is a cute sentiment. But it’s often hard to put that into practice, especially when the economy takes a downturn.

Still, one very easy way to realize emptiness is by giving. I wrote about getting rid of stuff in order to move out West. It’s not easy to give away things that mean a lot to you. And I just gave away a ton of things that meant a lot to me. It felt really hard sometimes to do that. Yet when that stuff was gone, it was just gone. It was no big thang. It made me feel better, lighter, happier. It made me see how empty that stuff was.

All of the paramitas are steps toward realizing the fundamental emptiness of everything. By emptiness I do not mean non-existence or unreality. I mean that the concepts we carry around about what things are, are entirely mistaken. Each of the paramitas is a way of understanding that.

By giving, we understand that our possessions are empty. By acting in a moral way we understand that our ideas about separation from others are empty. By being patient we understand that the urgency we feel to get what we want is empty. By making diligent effort we understand that our desire to be lazy is empty, and that doing work makes us happier than being idle. By meditating we understand that our so-called self is empty. By gaining wisdom we see that the fundamental ground of everything is empty.

This emptiness isn’t darkness or bleak despair. It’s not lack or absence. It’s emptiness that is light, joyful and free. It’s emptiness as the true source of our being.

Or something like that. Anyway, you guys bought me a bit more time in California. So thank you.

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75 Responses

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  1. Mysterion
    Mysterion July 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm |

    Shit on a fucking stick.

  2. Khru
    Khru July 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm |


  3. Jinzang
    Jinzang July 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm |

    I was told generosity comes first because it’s the easiest of the perfections to practice. Anyway, one of the big obstacles to enlightenment is a subtle greed we hardly ever notice. Generosity creates a space which makes enlightenment possible.

    The best way to practice generosity in present day America is to find a Buddhist Center and offer to help out. Not with money (put your wallet back in your pocket) but by helping out with the many things that always need doing.

  4. mikeslominsky
    mikeslominsky July 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm |

    Mr. Warner,
    I hope you can AT LEAST get some good veggie burritos!
    It has been my experience (and I could be wrong), that you have a HARD TIME asking your students to help support you. Relax, guy. You “deserve it.” Whatever the fuck that means.
    I am SO thankful for the things you’ve written, and for the teachings you continue to give. And there are many more who feel the same way.

  5. mikeslominsky
    mikeslominsky July 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm |


    I agree that service is very important. But so are the lights, and the water, and garbage pick-up…

  6. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 14, 2012 at 12:21 am |

    I’m not sure if it’s my place to comment on this, but I think supporting a teacher or priest has to be a part of a general, sizable, local sangha, or it just doesn’t work.

    Part of Brad’s problem is that he travels and moves around a lot, and doesn’t seem to want to be tied down to a particular location and sangha. This makes it difficult for him to expect consistent support from his students. I’m not sure how many he even has. Judging by this blog, none of them seem to comment here, so I don’t know where they are.

    I’m generally against people charging for teaching, or even soliciting donations. But there’s certainly a place for teachers who actually give themselves over to their students’ welfare and build a following of people they genuinely serve. I’m just not sure if Brad has ever done that. I get more of the impression that Brad likes to play it a little fast and loose with his teaching duties, giving lectures here and there, doing seminars now and then, writing books as he desires, but not actually committing himself to his students in any long term sense. So I’m not sure how he can expect much in the way of long-term support in return.

    I guess I’d like to know what kind of relationship Brad actually has with his students, and why he expects them to support him. Seriously. It’s not like just because he has some kind of title and teaches Zen that he deserves to be supported. He’s a nice guy, and I like his writings and his viewpoint on a lot of things, but I hardly think that entitles him to financial support. There’s got to be some kind of surrender on his part to serving students in a very dedicated and self-renouncing manner to even begin to qualify for that kind of thing.

    Is that the case, or is this just someone who wants to make a living doing what he likes doing, and has some kind of expectation that the world should help him pay for it? Get in line, dude. Or, get a job, or write books that make enough money to live on, or really devote yourself to teaching others in a dedicated fashion that naturally inspires their support.

    There’s got to be some self-reflection here about what you are up to with your life, rather than just painting this picture of an ungrateful world out here that ought to give financial support to you because you’re a Buddhist teacher. That’s not really what Dana is all about. You have to give of yourself, and by that I mean more than just writing books and posting on your blog and doing the occasional lecture or teaching seminar. If you’re not getting what you need, it may be because you’re not giving what you need to give. You are probably looking at the wrong end of the stick for the shit.

  7. NellaLou
    NellaLou July 14, 2012 at 1:29 am |

    Well made points Broken Yogi.

  8. buddy
    buddy July 14, 2012 at 2:06 am |

    “It almost seems like people were just using the comments section to create their own micro-blogs to tell the world how lame they think I am (then why were they reading?) as well as argue with each other”. Or whose every post is longer than the host’s of this blog.

  9. anon 108
    anon 108 July 14, 2012 at 3:51 am |

    “Good day ungrateful fuckwits. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I don’t like most of what y’all have to say and vice-versa. But being a Buddhist and blogging about it ain’t easy. Hey! I do this shit for you. You really should be paying me. That’d be the Buddhist thing to do, right?”

    I don’t imagine you meant it to come across like that, Brad. But it did, to me.

  10. recurvata
    recurvata July 15, 2012 at 7:29 pm |

    I don’t understand the hostility, or maybe skepticism is a better word, to Brad’s post. I didn’t get the impression that he expects, or feels entitled, to donations. He says it would be helpful, there’s a tradition and reason for donating in a general sense, and he’s grateful for any help he receives. That’s all.

    I don’t see why the fact that he moves around and doesn’t have an ongoing, official or unofficial group of students, that he doesn’t have “…some kind of surrender on his part to serving students…”, etc., has any bearing on donating or not. If you want precedent, the Buddha himself wandered around, and his students followed him, not the other way around. Certainly, if you’re part of an organized sangha, have an ongoing relationship with a teacher, or something else along those lines, it’s a good thing to help support that organization or teacher to the extent you feel comfortable with, but that’s not the only valid form of Dana.

    Nowhere does Brad say you should support him, or that you have some sort of obligation to so, or that he expects you to. He does appreciate it when you do. Generosity is a Buddhist goal, or paramita. That’s what I read, anyway.

  11. Tattoozen
    Tattoozen July 15, 2012 at 10:23 pm |

    Sometimes people who don’t have freedom resent those who do. The hostile response to this innocuous post makes me think that some folks feel “my life is no fun, and neither should yours be!” I have one of those “fun” jobs and over the last 16 years I still get asked if its my “real” job or if I have a different, presumably less fun, one.

    I like that Brad is wandering around, i like that he doesn’t have a slew of “students” wearing uniforms and debating who is most senior, I like that he writes blogs that I susually like, but when i don’t I just skip over to boingboing.net and find something I do like instead of getting a sandy mangina over what some person I don’t personally know is doing with their blog.

    regular media outlets don’t ask for your money, they take advertisers loot and allow said advertisers to bang you over the head with ads. Public media occasionally asks you directly for some money to help them keep going. im constantly surprised when people gripe about this but blithely let themselves by doused in ads with nary a complaint.

    Frankly I prefer the direct method (i.e. “hey this thing costs me money, if you are ‘using’ it, why not help out a little?”) to the banner ads, sneaky pop ups, and annoying as fuck “hey you once googled shoes online so here are 400 zappos ad”s that most websites use to generate money.

    as for “He’s a nice guy, and I like his writings and his viewpoint on a lot of things, but I hardly think that entitles him to financial support.” i disagree, I dont read any of his blogs as demonstrating feeling “entitled” and being a nice guy who writes interesting things is the perfect reason to support someone in my opinion. If you want to talk about feeling entitled then perhaps reading a free blog and then complaining about its content smacks more of said entitlement then the rare, reasonable, and polite solicitation to support said site.

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 16, 2012 at 1:08 am |

    I do feel a concern that being associated with a particular sangha and zendo may cause Brad to do more weddings, funerals, and bar mitzvahs (ok, well maybe not that) and that he will gradually become numb in his nuts and write regurgitated Sotoshu literature. Let’s see, do I have any more concerns?

    Oh yes. “Getting some donations makes me feel like maybe some of the effort I put into this thing isn’t being completely wasted.” Hmmm. Well, I’ve wasted about 40 years of my life and effort, as I only got a handful of beans for the cow and no one will believe me that they are magic beans; however, I know they are magic beans, and one guy in New York knows they are magic beans. A couple of other people said, “oh yeah, magic beans, sure, I knew about them and they work, thanks”.

    Emptiness means cutting through the thicket of thorns and escaping the diamond cage, without effort.

  13. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 16, 2012 at 4:03 am |

    Brad, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fine for people to donate to you if they like your blog and feel moved to. I just don’t think that’s a viable way to make a living, even within the Buddhist tradition. I assume you have some students somewhere who appreciate you, and if so, it would be good if they could help support you. But let’s face it, unless you are wildly popular, you just aren’t going to get much money soliciting donations this way.

    As you’ve said before, the internet isn’t a viable way to teach spirituality. You are simply not going to form the kinds of relationships by blogging that you would by in person instruction. If the whole effort behind this blog is to provide you with some kind of stable financial support, I gotta say that’s delusional. Is there anyone out there doing that? I mean, there are tons of people blogging, and unless they do so for some major media outlet that pays them a salary or a cut of ad revenue, it just doesn’t happen.

    Most people blog out of some weird love for the medium, however you cut it. Most everyone does it for free, in other words, without any expectation of getting something in return. And most bloggers are just plain happy to be read, they don’t expect people to pay them for it. If you want to be paid for writing, there’s the whole world of publishing out there. You’ve done it. Most writers blog just for the word of mouth publicity, and because they like to gab.

    And, honestly, given my own personal finances, I don’t go to pay websites. There’s plenty of free stuff out there. I’ve enjoyed hanging out here when I can for the interesting exchanges, but if this were a pay site, I wouldn’t bother. I wish you all the best and hope you can find a way to make a living, but this isn’t going to do it. I have nothing against Dana, it’s a great practice, but the traditional form of Dana is the support of a relationship people have to a local center and local teacher that is a real part of their lives. A website can’t possibly fill that role. You can certainly fulfill that role if you settle down and develop long-term intimate teaching relationships with people. That’s how most Zen teachers support themselves. It’s an honorable way to live. I’m not sure why some here seem to think that would corrupt you.

    The wandering monk’s life is a hard one. But it’s also traditionally a renunciate way, with relatively strict rules of celibacy and poverty. And most importantly, it only really works in regions that are predominantly Buddhist, so that one can at least expect to get fed wherever one goes. Here in the US, that’s just untenable, as hardly anyone is a Buddhist. The only way supported Buddhism can work here is for people to move to some established center, just to be around their teacher, and establish a local community of some sort. That makes a traveling lifestyle difficult, but so what? Buddhism isn’t supposed to be easy. And teaching Buddhism requires a renunciate disposition, even if what you have to renounce is a free-wheeling, unattached traveling style.

    As I’ve said before, I think you need to recognize the futility of expecting to be able to make a living going about your teaching work as you have done. It really doesn’t matter if people back in Asia have been able to make a go of it. Here it just isn’t going to work. It certainly isn’t working. It doesn’t matter if your expectation is completely justified or ethical or whatever. People can get offended all they want, but reality is still reality, and being offended by reality is a total waste of time. You can feel superior to Genpo and Deepak and all the others who make a financial go of it, but they at least recognize that one has to put in the work in a fashion that can inspire people putting their money out there. They are perhaps better businessmen than spiritual teachers, but if you don’t recognize that you are running a business, you simply should stop expecting any monetary renumeration for your work. Whether you are selling lectures or seminars or books, or just selling donations, you are still selling, and you have to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t.

    Now, if you don’t want to teach in that fashion, you are going to have to find some other source of income. And don’t tell me that donations are the way around that, because soliciting and getting steady donations is just another job, another business, that you have to attend to and cater to your customers. If you are depending on donations, you are just selling a different kind of product, using a different business model. Some of those models work, and some don’t. Yours isn’t working, so you have to change it. Either that, or just get a job, or write science-fiction books, or do something that will bring in money and allow you to teach on the side.

    Personally, I think that all charging for spiritual teaching is corrupting. So let’s not pretend you aren’t already corrupted in some way. Even Dana isn’t really a solution to that. The best examples of modern teachers I know of never solicited donations. Poojna Swami worked like a dog most of his life, managing mining companies in central India, sending most of his money home to support his extended family, and who didn’t begin teaching full-time until he had retired with a pension he could live on. Even so, he refused all donations except those to pay for his travel to visit devotees. He never charged a dime for anything. He refused every offer to buy him an ashram, because he felt it would be too corrupting. And Nisargadatta also worked all his life, running a bidi shop in Bombay, suffering all the usual miseries of Indian poverty, and refusing all donations. Westerners used to offer him money to buy land and build an ashram, and he too refused them all. And these were fully enlightened people, not just guys with some teaching cred. They had no problem at all with working to support themselves. They considered it a simple obligation not to let money corrupt their spiritual teachings.

    Now, maybe you aren’t in their league, Buddhist or Hindu. Not many are. So maybe it’s no big deal to solicit donations or be supported. But if that’s no big deal, then neither is doing what is necessary to actually inspire the support you need to keep teaching. You don’t have to be as corrupt as Genpo, but let’s face it, you do have to be corrupt in some way. Best to do it in a way that actually works and minimizes the corruption, such as settling down and building a local Zen community, and not relying on the internet. I’m sure you’re a fine Zen teacher and could make it work if you dedicated yourself to it. If you already have students, that’s a base you could work with.

    And being in LA already, that’s probably one of the best places you could start building this kind of thing. There’s already a lot of people in that area who already interested in Zen or related forms of alternative spirituality, who could end up helping you out. So maybe it’s a blessing that you have ended up where you are. Being known as the punk-Zen hardcore teacher is probably a good marketing strategy for the LA scene. Better than Akron, at least. Make some connections, spend some real time there, give regular lectures, do seminars, cultivate relationships and students, build a base of support. That sounds like you best bet. Get some punk-minded celebrities to show up and lend some cool to your scene. It can grow from there. Give them your Dana lecture, and watch the money start to roll in.

    I wish you luck with it, I really do. If you think you’re worth being supported, you should think you’re worth putting in the work to build up a viable business model to inspire and garner that support. It ain’t going to happen otherwise. It ain’t going to happen online, that’s for sure. This blog is just for fun, not for profit.

    Anyway, I see I’ve written quite a lot here, and you know what, I’m not even going to charge you for it! It’s free advice. Though if you feel inspired, you could send a donation to Tatoozen to support her commenting work, which surely qualifies for Dana.

  14. Senjo
    Senjo July 16, 2012 at 4:29 am |

    I don’t understand the hostility here (especially as it seemed to come from people who comment an awful lot and who would therefore seem to be some of the most voracious users of this blog).

    Brad isn’t asking to be supported full time. He just said would people consider donating for something that takes him time, effort and money to produce. It’s no different from the pavement artists who create beautiful chalk masterpieces on the pavement (or sidewalk if you’re american). You are entitled to look for free but the artist invites you to make a donation if you appreciate what they’ve done. You don’t have to do so. It’s entirely up to you. You don’t start criticisng the pavement artist because they move around to different streets or don’t have students. You are rewarding the piece of art you looked at, not sponsoring their entire life.

    I am no follower or fan of Gurdjieff but he made an interesting comment to Ouspensky – which I haven’t managed to quickly find in order to quote here but will paraphrase – about how when you give someone something of value for free, they will always initially praise you but ultimately down the line will end up blaming and slagging you off. Gurdjieff says that is because once you give things for free, people start to feel you somehow ‘owe’ them. I always thought that was an interesting point and one that often seems to be born out in reality

  15. anon 108
    anon 108 July 16, 2012 at 6:25 am |

    To those who don’t understand the “hostility”.

    It’s the way Brad kicked of the post that got my goat:

    ” Writing a blog is a lonely job. I really don’t know who’s reading it. For a while it felt like nobody was reading it at all. It almost seems like people were just using the comments section to create their own micro-blogs to tell the world how lame they think I am (then why were they reading?) as well as argue with each other. Getting some donations makes me feel like maybe some of the effort I put into this thing isn’t being completely wasted.”

    That’s you and me he’s talking about, commenters. Brad’s said stuff like this before, more than once. We – all of us, apparently – are self-indulgent ingrates and haters who don’t appreciate Brad or his writing. To me, that’s further evidence that Brad doesn’t understand what brings such a diverse ragbag of readers to his blog (this one and the old one) and stimulates some of them to comment the way they do – to moan, to argue, to be spiteful, to be supportive, to crack jokes, and to share what Buddhism means to them. It’s YOU, Brad! It’s the things you value – the irreverence, the honesty, the humour – that encourage those people to comment the way they do.

    You made a request for donations (you did) by linking your positive thoughts about generosity to your negative thoughts about the commenters on your blog. And I didn’t like it.

  16. King Kong
    King Kong July 16, 2012 at 8:34 am |

    ROAR !!!

  17. Kman
    Kman July 16, 2012 at 9:12 am |

    “I tend to feel like money represents the circulation of vital energy within the body of society. It’s good for the body as a whole and for the organs individually when blood circulates everywhere. If one organ gets greedy and keeps all the blood to itself this does no good for the body or for the organ in question.”

    To work with that analogy, the brain gets 20-25% of blood flow, whereas the little toe gets far, far less. No doubt, the little toe is important – your balance will suffer greatly if you lose it – but it’s hardly unfair or damaging to the body if the brain claims as much oxygenated blood as it does. Blood is shunted away from organs and tissues which are resting, towards those which are metabolically active according to the body’s needs. I.e. in a healthy body, the parts that get the most blood are the ones that work the hardest.

    I’m just pulling your leg, Brad. For better or for worse, Hardcore Zen brought me to this whole Buddhism nonsense, and the blog never fails to entertain, so I’ll see what I can do about pitching in for a couple of boxes of cereal.

  18. Fred
    Fred July 16, 2012 at 10:53 am |

    “I.e. in a healthy body, the parts that get the most blood are the ones that work the hardest.”

    So that would be the penis and vocal chords, in that order.

  19. Kman
    Kman July 16, 2012 at 11:33 am |

    @Fred: if the analogy is being applied to American society, then yes, I suspect that would be the distribution.

  20. Fred
    Fred July 16, 2012 at 11:37 am |

    Broken Yogi,
    I don’t know what you do for a living, but you write extremely well.

    Ken Wilber thought that Adi Da was the most highly realized person on the

    I’m mostly interested in the real story, like, what does Michael Roach know.
    It doesn’t seem like much.

    A book about the positives and negatives of Adi Da’s life would be interesting.
    I would buy that book if you wrote it, and it penetrated to the deepest level.

  21. King Kong
    King Kong July 16, 2012 at 12:23 pm |

    ROAR !!!

    Hey Fred, in France, wasn’t he known as L’Adi Da?

  22. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm |


    For what it’s worth, I’m not really understanding your hostility to people writing comments here. As I see it, Brad does offer his writing for free, and in return, the commenters here offer their own writings back to him, and everyone else, for free. And you’re right, we don’t seem to be appreciated for that. So maybe people should start donating money to us, to support our commenting work. There’s a lot of people out there reading these comments of ours for free, and not appreciating the time and art it requires of us. Maybe it’s time they all start poneying up.

    And I gotta be honest, I started reading this blog more for the comments, than for Brad’s original posts. The comments section was certainly crazy and oddball, but it was interesting as hell some of the time. At least as interesting as Brad’s original posts. I felt drawn to participate in making comments by some of those commentators. I still am. I’m not putting Brad down, I hope you realize, but praising a lot of the commentators here. I think the comments draw a lot of traffic. Without them, I’m willing to bet the traffic at this blog would go down quite a lot.

  23. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm |


    Thanks. A lot of people have suggested I write that book. And I bet you someday I will. Not sure when, but it’s probably a book that needs to be written. I’m not sure how much of an audience there is for it, but it would probably be good for me to write it, just to get all that history out of my system and onto the page.

    I’m still trying to overcome my own emotional issues with writing and publishing (and maybe some emotional remnants of my long time in Adidam). I’m starting out by trying to write a series of novels with spiritual themes that I hope I can make a living within a few years. It takes time, however. I’m sort of between careers right now, and writing is actually starting to look like a feasible way for me to make a go of it, given the electronic self-publishing revolution going on out there. We’ll see how it goes. I sympathize with Brad’s career crisis because I’m going through one of my own, but I’m not about to start soliciting donations, my tongue in cheek post above not withstanding.

  24. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm |

    My good friend Steve says that Kobun was terrible at managing things, and just let the zendos that his students established drift. I will be at the memorial sitting for Kobun in about a week, and I’m looking forward to it.

    I agree with BY, that the comments are a big part of what I enjoy about this site. I do miss john e. mumbles, and Mysterion.

    Sometimes I wonder if some of the former regulars weren’t also the source of many of the wry and acid anonymous posts.

    A good friend of mine told me that a person should not make money from the dharma. I have mixed feelings about that statement, since I owe a lot to Kobun and others who were only able to be here through the support and donations of a community. My plan is to teach people something they already know how to do, connect the dots for them and get outta town. Walk before they make me run.

    I think things didn’t go the way Kobun was hoping they would go for him, he was there when people needed him but I’m not sure that the community that developed around him was really sufficient for him in the end. I don’t know.

  25. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm |


    I have no problem with writers expecting to get paid for their work. I’d like to get paid for my writing also. But I accept the fact that there’s various models that work to pay writers, and setting up a personal blog just isn’t one of them. You certainly can get paid by a publication to write, but it’s not the readers who pay you, it’s the publication. If you set up your own publication, which is what you are doing by starting your own blog, you have to either charge for the blog, or sell advertising, which is how short-form writers get paid. Expecting donations is just plain silly. If you get some, fine, but it’s a terrible business model.

    If you think your blog writings are worth getting paid for, then by all means charge for them! But I gotta say, couching all this in some spiritual mumbo-jumbo about the obligations of Buddhists to financially support teachers is improper. Which is it? If you are a writer who wants to get paid, then charge money for your writings. If you are a spiritual teacher who wants donations in order to teach, go right ahead and solicit those. But you admit that your writings on this blog are not spiritual teachings, they are just your writings. So you shouldn’t be asking for Dana for them. You can certainly ask for people to pay for services rendered, but that’s just business.

    So I think your writing career falls into the second category, of business. Now, maybe your personality reacts to the realities of the business world. Understandable. But even Zen on a practical level means accepting reality as it is. And the reality of making a living as a writer means you have to write in ways that actually have some reasonable expectation of getting paid. Writing a blog isn’t one of them. I don’t know of a single writer who has a blog, who expects to get paid for blogging. Virtually all of them blog to build an audience, to market their paid publications, to build relationships with readers, and to just have some fun.

    As a published writer, you should know how this works. The only way to get paid directly by readers is to write books and self-publish them. That’s becoming a very sound business model for a lot of people. Otherwise, write books and publish them traditionally, in which case you get paid indirectly by publishers. Or write for a publication, online or print, which also pays you independently. But writing for donations, is just never going to work. It’s just going to leave you feeling frustrated and unappreciated. And it introduces a tension with your readers that is just plain inappropriate. If you don’t charge for your writing, you shouldn’t make people feel obligated to pay for it. That’s a strange kind of guilt trip, based on your own insecurity about charging in the first place.

    Personally, I think you’re a good writer, but I don’t think your blog is worth paying for. About the only blogger I ever felt was worth paying for was Andrew Sullivan back in the early days of blogging, when he worked full time and put out just tons of posts every day of very high quality. I sent him a donation back then because I was just very impressed with his hard work and output and commitment to making blogging a full-time journalistic enterprise. And all that hard work paid off for him, and he was hired by various publication that hosted his blog, and he makes great money now at it. That’s pretty much the model you have to follow if you want to make it as a blogger. And almost no one even tries to do it that way. You don’t seem at all interested in that kind of dedication or commitment to blogging. So let’s face it, your blogging is never going to become a serious source of income. If you do it for that reason, you are wasting your time. If you do it because you like doing it, then it’s not a waste of time.

    I understand how painful it is to write a book. I’m trying myself right now, and it really hurts. But at least I know that writing books is a proven way to make money from writing. Charging money for books works. I’m not wasting my time doing that kind of writing. I would indeed be wasting my time writing comments on your blog, if I thought that’s going to bring in any bucks. I do it for fun, for conversation, and to distract me from the writing I really ought to be doing right now. Probably a lot like you.

    It’s funny you mention you always wanted to write science-fiction novels. Somehow I picked up on that just from the way you write. Now, that’s a real possibility also. It’s a proven model for making money from writing. Unlike personal blogging. If you write science-fiction novels, I am willing to bet they would be unique and interesting and well-written, and probably successful to boot. If you epublished them on Amazon, I bet you could make good money. There’s a lot of crap out there that makes good money already, and you would probably not be writing crap. It’s something to think about directing your writing time towards, rather than this blog. Sure, we’d miss you, but we’d also probably rather be reading your Buddhist science-fiction novels anyway. That’s one genre that hasn’t been written to death yet. Or you can just post here briefly to update us on your progress with things.

    Glad to hear you’re already working on setting up a local LA center of some kind. Maybe that will take up all your time. But if you still need to write, and want to get paid for it, try writing more books, and self-pubbing. You will probably make more money that way than you did through traditional publishing. It could be a good supplemental income while you are trying to make a living teaching. It might even end up completely supporting it. One never knows.

  26. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 16, 2012 at 2:57 pm |

    And btw, I think it’s a very good idea to have spiritual group leaders who are terrible leaders of groups. We need more of those, because spiritual teachers who make great leaders of groups tend to be terrible spiritual teachers. There’s some kind of inverse-square law at work there. It takes less organization than one thinks, but it’s something best minimized, which is almost guaranteed if you’re not very good at that sort of thing.

  27. Ted
    Ted July 16, 2012 at 5:32 pm |

    I find this discussion somewhat puzzling in a Buddhist context. First of all, if you understand the emptiness of the three wheels (interesting translation—in our sangha it’s the “three spheres,” which is equally weird), you don’t base your giving on whether someone deserves it, because you understand that giving doesn’t produce getting, nor is me getting something the result of someone else giving it to me. The someone else who gives the thing to me is merely a happy participant in the production of my good karma, and when I give something I am creating the causes for a future good result. Whether the act of giving helps the recipient is not up to me.

    In the Tibetan lineage there is a whole set of vows that talk about how to and how not to approach sponsors and treat sponsors. It’s quite strict; I won’t belabor you with it here. But Brad seems to me to be behaving properly. When a bhikku in the Buddha’s time put forth a begging bowl, did the bikkhu deserve to receive food? No. Did the bikkhu receive food? Maybe. The choice to rely on the begging bowl is an act of truth: you are saying “I believe in karma; may my past generosity be the only thing that supports me at present.”

    And when Brad asks for money, all you really need ask yourself is this:

    (1) Do I want to give him money?
    (2) Will it harm him if I give him money?
    (3) Is there something I should be doing with the money instead?

    If the answer to (1) is yes and to (2) and (3) is no, then give him the money, and don’t worry about whether or not he deserves it.

    One of the kindest things my own lama ever did for me was to relieve me of the burden of trying to avoid being a sucker.

  28. Fred
    Fred July 17, 2012 at 10:40 am |

    There is no ” karma ” because there is no one to have karma. Karma itself is an

    The work is dropping the ” I “. Descriptions of future possibilities such as
    being reborn or suffering consequences from current activity, merely
    solidify a position in duality.

  29. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer July 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm |

    I am curious if anyone here knows how Shunryu Susuki earned his living?

    I read Crooked Cucumber at one point but I don’t remember if David Chadwick ever wrote about that.


  30. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm |

    Ted, you make some interesting points, but using the Tibetans as a model for financing a religion is very problematic. There’s a huge amount of corruption in the Tibetan tradition, past and present. Buddhism became a huge industry in Tibet, “employing” over 10% of the population. A lot of that in my view was just plain exploitation of the religious naivete of much of Tibet, and a corruption of the principle of dana.

    People in cults (and boy do I have a lot of direct experience of that), will gladly and enthusiastically answer “yes” to your question #1, and “no” to 2 and 3. So it’s hardly a foolproof method. And even suggesting that being relieved of the burden of avoiding being a sucker is a good thing, is highly suspect. It’s exactly what cults say in order to exploit suckers. It’s a self-interested teaching for a Tibetan lama to say such a thing, when his very livelihood depends on his students not asking themselves whether they are being suckers or not. And it frames the issue in a way that makes a person feel spiritually “wrong” for even daring to question the motives of those soliciting donations and living off of the laity.

    This is a pretty dangerous mode of thinking to fall into, in my view. The idea that one should shed all one’s critical intelligence when it comes to dana, and not worry about being exploited or manipulated financially, is almost a guarantee that one will be exploited and manipulated financially. One shouldn’t worry excessively or inappropriately, but one should certainly attend to the responsibility one has to give handle one’s finances appropriately, and not allow one’s critical intelligence to be disarmed unilaterally.

    Like every other religion, Buddhism has more than its share of people looking for a free ride. Saying it’s not a matter of whether someone “deserves” dana is just bs. Of course it’s important whether the person deserves dana, especially when the person is not actually and literally going around with no possessions with a begging bowl looking for a simple meal. One of the traditional requirements for dana is that the person be a genuine renunciate who is truly devoted to the practice. It’s not as if one has to investigate each begging sadhu to see if they are keeping their vows, but one has to at least know that they are a genuine renunciate. And the additional problem is that a even a lot of renunciates in the traditional societies were just people wanting to eat without working.

    In the modern west, the situation is even more complictated. Obviously we have a lot of religious folks living pretty well on their “dana”. And a lot of them don’t deserve it. Are you saying we should give money to them anyway? That it doesn’t matter whether they deserve it or not, if we just happen to like something about them, the way they write or talk on the stage, we should just give money? What has that got to do with dana? That’s just religious consumerism, the business of attracting customers and maximizing revenue. Dana is something else entirely.

  31. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm |

    An example of Tibetan “dana” in the modern west:


    Is this what you mean?

  32. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm |

    I think the Suzuki example is a good one of how Zen priests or teachers traditionally made their living. They didn’t get direct, personal donations to themselves. They were associated with a Temple, or here in the US, with a Zen Center. People donated to the Temple or Center, to support their local Buddhist community. The Temple or Center then paid a worthy priest/teacher to serve that community. It’s a model that creates accountability, and makes sure the teacher has real duties and responsibilities they have to live up to. And most importantly, real relationships within the community that grow throughout a lifetime. It’s an honorable example of how dana is supposed to work.

  33. Khru
    Khru July 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |

    Yogi, I’ve had experience with a cult too in the past. Just curious, did the one you’re referring to have an “International” as part of the name?

  34. Ted
    Ted July 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm |

    BY, the vows in the Tibetan tradition actually come from India, and IMHO aren’t well followed by Tibetans. They involve lots of things you aren’t supposed to do that I see done all the time, the most obvious being guilt-tripping.

    I wondered after I posted that whether someone would misinterpret what I meant by “sucker.” I’m not talking about this in a religious context. I’m talking about it in the context of everyday life. I was raised to be suspicious and stingy, to try to get the best out of every deal, to expect that people will try to cheat me and never trust their word.

    Living this way is exhausting. What was nice about what GMR taught me was that I just stopped doing that. It doesn’t mean that I am not careful about money, but I stop worrying about what how I will look if I make a mistake. I stop worrying about whether the other person will feel like they put one over on me. Who cares? I stop trying to force people to treat me well, and start working with people who actually treat me well.

    As a result, in building our house recently, we’ve done a lot of time and materials work, which is a huge no-no. We’ve fired subs who low-balled us and hired people who just charge us hourly. They are immensely easier to work with, because they aren’t looking for ways to cut corners and get away with it. There are no histrionics when something takes longer than they expected. And we are probably spending 10% more than we would have on labor.

    But we can afford it, and they can use the money. Karmically speaking, that’s a win for everyone. You don’t get poor by being generous.

  35. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm |


    I was involved with Adidam for a long time, not the group you’re thinking of.


    It’s good to find the middle way between stinginess and naive generosity, but that doesn’t really settle the issues raised here. And we’re not talking about the contracting business, but the religion business, where “performance” is much more subjective and prone to exploitation and cultivated naivete.

    For example, do you think the nice, naive, bliss-bunny Sherpa lady who gave her life savings for this ceremony really got much in return? Do you think it was moral of the monks to accept this money, given the source? Who’s the materialists here, the skeptics like me, or the monks themselves?

    I have no problem with generosity. I tend to come from the opposite side of street on that matter. And I’ve seen a whole lot of exploitation in the religion business that takes advantage of people’s natural generosity and kindness. Not just in Adidam, but all over the place. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went on in MR’s group as well.

    Also, whether Tibetans had vows of support or not, a whole lot of religion business financing went on that exploited people’s good faith and generosity. And still does. When people preach non-materialism with one hand, and expect donations from the other, you can see that something is amiss. Especially on the scale one found in Tibet. According to the Tibetan Oracle, the whole downfall of Tibet and the Chinese Invasion was the result of the corruption of the system. One could call that karma.

  36. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer July 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm |


    Thanks for the speculation. It sounds most possible. It’s what I speculated also, minus the Soto-shu connection.

    Incidentally, my question had no ulterior motive.

    It’s just with all this babble about money I realized that I had no idea how Suzuki made a living. I knew from reading Shoes Outside the Mr. Baker was a fundraising powerhouse.

    But Suzuki…..


  37. Ted
    Ted July 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm |

    BY, you completely missed my point. If Brad asks you for money, and you want to give it to him, give it to him, and stop worrying about whether it has some self-nature of being okay or not. If you don’t want to give him money, don’t give him money, and stop worrying about whether we will judge you, because it doesn’t matter whether we judge you (full disclosure—I didn’t give Brad any money, largely out of laziness).

    It’s not your job to figure out some grand over-arching rule about how religious ought to operate. It’s just like any other aspect of Buddhist practice: you are responsible, and nobody else is. Figure out what you want to do, and do it, and stop worrying about the big picture.

  38. Ted
    Ted July 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm |

    Argh, religions, not religious.

  39. Fred
    Fred July 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm |

    Alan, did you say Richard Baker?

    “In this light Richard Baker presented a disturbingly anomalous model for his flock. He maintained three residences, spent large sums from the general coffers on remodeling, surrounded himself with unpaid student clerks and servants, collected exquisite and expensive works of religious art, traveled widely, and kept company with millionaires and celebrities whose interest in Buddhism was casual at best”

    And he was fornicating with every woman in his flock without promising that
    the penetration would lead to a deeper enlightment.

  40. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 17, 2012 at 8:06 pm |

    Ted, I think you should let me decide what criteria I use in determining whether I want to give someone any money or not. The word “want” usually includes a host of factors that are worth delving into and figuring out what we really mean by that word. There’s a lot of things I want, that after inspection, I realize wouldn’t be very good for me or others.

    It’s also not your job to tell me what my job is. I think it’s pretty darned important to understand how religion operates, and what I think about that, and whether it’s ethical and moral or not. Why does that offend you? Maybe, coming from DM, you have things you’d rather not examine?

    I first found this blog doing searches on Genpo, and I liked a lot of what Brad had to say about the ethics of money and how Genpo was violating a lot of principles. So it’s hardly out of line for me to be bringing up such issues when it comes to Brad himself, or the general matter of how money fits in to religion and giving and so on. Why are you trying to get me to stop talking about it? Why does it upset your so much? Why insist that I just keep it all to myself, and just do what I want?

    Nothing in spiritual practice, Buddhist or otherwise, is just your own responsibility. “You” don’t exist as some independent separate being. “You” are an entirely interdependent function of all your relationships. All of that must be taken into account, not just your own private subjective sense of what you want. I am sensing some unfortunate and unsound influences in your approach, perhaps coming from MR?

  41. King Kong
    King Kong July 17, 2012 at 8:35 pm |

    ted, tibet was punctured because the king was impatient and went to see padmasambhava before he finished swallowing the dragon.

    ROAR !!!

  42. King Kong
    King Kong July 17, 2012 at 8:42 pm |

    oops, that was for broken yogi

    if i passed brad on the street and he asked me for some money I’d give him a dollar.

    ROAR !!!

  43. Ted
    Ted July 17, 2012 at 8:53 pm |

    Wow, BY. I guess I hit a nerve. Sorry about that.

    But as far as being responsible goes, sure, you’re also responsible for everyone else. But you have no control over what they do, so what it boils down to is that you are responsible for what you do. It doesn’t mean we don’t think about what ought to happen, but since we only control our aspect of what happens (and, indeed, really don’t directly control that either!), if we focus entirely on controlling group action, and forget about our responsibility for our own actions, we wind up flailing. If we focus on our own actions, and think about the context in which we undertake them, then sure, taking responsibility for everybody makes sense, but the practice is the same: taking responsibility for what we do.

  44. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 17, 2012 at 9:28 pm |

    Yes, Ted, telling me what I should think and what my job is, does strike a nerve. It doesn’t with you? For someone claiming that I am the only one who can take responsibility for myself, you sure seem to want really badly to tell me how I should do that. Seems completely contradictory, in a way that’s hard to see making sense except in some kind of cult setting.

    And further, I don’t really get your problem with my approach, in that I’m just thinking out loud about what it means for me, and others, to take responsibility for things like money and giving and so on. For my part, I’m not trying to control anyone or any group’s action. I’m just pointing out what I think are some important issues to consider, especially where the ethics of money and spiritual teaching are concerned. Everyone can decide for themselves what to make of them, as long as that doesn’t involve trying to get me to shut up about it all and stop embarrassing their pet tradition or teacher.

    And KK, if I met Brad on the street, I wouldn’t give him a dollar. That would be insulting. I’d probably offer to take him out for lunch, however, and have a good conversation about just these kinds of issues. And try not to talk too much.

  45. King Kong
    King Kong July 17, 2012 at 9:35 pm |

    Mighty kind of you BY. You have good things to say!

    p.s. I’d give him a banana too 🙂

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