That The Dharma Should Be Given Freely Does Not Mean It Should Be Taken Freely

Buddha-money1First there will be no zazen tonight at Yogavidala and no zazen meeting on Saturday at Hill Street Center in Santa Monica.

This is because I will be leading a retreat this weekend at Mount Baldy. Amazingly, you can still sign up for it. But you’d better do it quick because as of tomorrow morning nobody will be available to register you.

Next up, I am trying to find places in the US, Canada and Europe to speak at and lead retreats and stuff at this Summer. I’ll be on the road promoting my forthcoming book There Is No God And He Is Always With You. I’d love to come to your town. So hit me up!

That being said, the US federal government defines “poverty” in terms of a single person household as those who make less than $11,490 in a year. In 2011 that’s just a little less than what I made before deductions like travel expenses to go give talks all over the place. After travel and other expenses I made well under half that amount. 2012 brought me just out of poverty range (before expenses) because I got a  little extra as an advance on my next book. That’s money I get early and means I don’t start earning anything at all on the book until that advance is met.

I’m managing because I worked for a decade at a job that paid well and I saved that money. I decided to invest that savings in my career as a teacher and writer. I’m starting to wonder if that was a good investment! My nest egg keeps getting smaller and smaller. But for now, I’m all right. I won’t be tossed out on the street any time soon. I was very lucky I had that job. I could not be doing what I do now if I hadn’t worked for Tsuburaya Productions. Ultraman is paying for the Buddhist teaching I do now. Seriously!

This raises a ton of issues. One of the biggest is the idea that Zen teaching (the Dharma) is to be given freely. That’s true. But just because the Dharma is to be given freely does not mean it is to be taken freely.

I have a lot of friends who teach Yoga and it’s interesting to note the differences in what happens with them compared to what happens with me and to others in the world of Buddhism and meditation teaching in general. Folks even in the rust belt of Ohio have no qualms with paying $10-$20 for a 60-90 minute Yoga class and much more for a retreat. Yet folks in Zen or other Buddhist centers often gripe at being asked to support the place. Nobody ever says out loud, “Hey! It’s supposed to be free!” But it’s obvious some of them are thinking that.

I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve been that guy who puts a dollar in the dana bowl. I’ve been that guy who takes the free books and food from the Hare Krishnas and doesn’t put anything in the bucket when he leaves. So maybe in a sense it’s my karma coming back to bite me on the ass. Still, maybe that karma is also driving me to try to put some things right for all of us out there attempting to teach this stuff.

So if you’d like me to come to your town, also please think about how that’s going to work out financially. I’m not looking to get rich here. But running around doing retreats and stuff is my job. If I choose to do this with my time it means I really can’t go get a “real job” somewhere else.

I know this sounds whiny. But it’s not really as much of a complaint as it sounds like. I love what I do. I am so happy with my life right now I could just pop! I am eternally grateful that I can do this stuff. I want to continue. Yet I’m starting to feel like once my nest-egg from working in the film business is exhausted, that’s gonna be pretty much it for my speaking/writing/retreat-running career.

Maybe that’s OK. Maybe that’s how it’s gotta be. If it is, then I’ll have to accept it. I could do translation work, maybe get back into some aspect of the film industry again, maybe return to Japan and see if they’ll have me back at Tsuburaya. It’ll be fine. I’ll still do my practice on the side just like I did before. There are other teachers out there with Zen centers and stuff. They’ll write books, run retreats and give talks. People can go to those instead. Everything will be groovy.

But I also feel like what I do is unique and valuable. I hate to sound like I’m bragging. I feel like I can say this objectively, or at least semi-objectively. I feel like I can look at “Brad Warner’s” books and talks and stuff almost as if they’re not really mine.

For example, I just got done recording the audiobook version of Sit Down And Shut Up. It’s been six years since I last read that book. I’d forgotten a lot of what’s inside. As I was reading I kept thinking, “This is pretty good. This is actually kind of deep. Not many people write books like this.” It was almost as if it was somebody else’s book and I liked it.

And my forthcoming book is even better. Far better. It makes Sit Down and Shut Up looks like kid’s stuff!

But maybe I’m one of those guys who doesn’t get noticed in his lifetime. Philip K Dick couldn’t even get his agent to return his calls until the last couple years of his life. And now his books have become the basis for a string of top-grossing movies. Amazing. Maybe that’ll be my story.

We’ll see.

For now I am happy, content and extremely grateful to be exactly where I am. It’s fun, even if it isn’t really paying the bills.

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This is where I usually mention my donation page. But instead I’ll just thank you kind people who do support it for your help. It really matters!

111 Responses

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  1. My_name_is_Daniel
    My_name_is_Daniel May 5, 2013 at 8:12 pm | |

    I may actually buy this book. Coming from a cereal downloader, consider it a testament to your character.

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence May 6, 2013 at 4:38 am | |

      Not sure we should trust someone who recklessly downloads cereal.

  2. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz May 11, 2013 at 1:20 pm | |

    You do nothing but tarnish the Dharma, Brad. You have “no place” to talk about whether or not the Dharma “should” be given freely or not. Shut up and sitting down isn’t good enough.

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