These tours I do are a lot more like a punk rock band going around to whatever hole-in-the-wall bar will have them than they are like the anything the Dalai Lama or Thich Naht Hanh or Ekhart Tolle or whoever do. I travel alone because I don’t earn enough from the stuff I do to bring an assistant along, much less an entourage.
I get paid mostly in what they call dana, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “generosity.” I am fully dependent on the generosity of my hosts. There are no guarantees. For those of you not familiar with musician-talk, a “guarantee” in rock-n-roll tour terms is what we call it when the hole-in-the-wall club you’re going to makes a written promise to pay you in gas money and baloney sandwiches or whatever. I don’t get those. I can sometimes wrangle a vague promise, but about half the time I get far less than I was promised along with a heartfelt apology. Have you ever tried to pay for falafel in Vladivostok with a heartfelt apology?
I’ve heard that Ekhart Tolle charges $50,000 for a single speaking appearance. I don’t think I’ve made that much from every talk and retreat I’ve led over the past five years all added together. The other guys whose faces grace every other issue of the meditation magazines at your local New Age bookshop and healing crystal dealer get paid about the same. That’s probably why they look so radiant and beatific.
There’s not a whole lot of difference between the worlds of touring rock and roll bands and touring spiritual masters. The people everyone knows about rake in the money and the groupies. The rest of us make do with whatever we can get. It’s just another part of the entertainment business. The only difference is the rock stars get to enjoy their groupies. When spiritual teachers do that it’s a big scandal.
I did not attend the Dalai Lama’s Birthday Bash or any of the Rolling Stones’ recent shows at whatever Mega Dome they play at these days. Not because I hate the Dalai Lama or the Stones, but because it really doesn’t matter if I go or not.
If you see a small band in a little theater or bar, you’re supporting someone who actually needs your support. You’ll be part of an intimate audience who will experience a real connection with the people on stage. You might even be able to buy them a beer after the show and ask them how they got that guitar sound.
When you go see a big band, all you really get is spectacle. The only big band I’ve ever been very interested in seeing is KISS because at least the spectacle they offer is usually worth the ridiculous ticket price. I saw The Who a few years ago. I have loved The Who since I was 14. The show was as good as it could have been, I guess. But it was really nothing at all in terms of really being there with a band to whom your presence actually means something. I did not matter to Pete Townshend.
It’s the same deal with spiritual teachers. When you go see the Dalai Lama or whoever, all you can expect is a big spectacle, a massive incense scented party where everyone pats themselves on the back for being so spiritual. If you want to participate in that, fine with me. I’ll stay home. When you go to a smaller gathering with someone less fashionable you’ll have a chance for some real connection, some genuine learning and growth. I cherish every moment I’ve had in every musty little former donut shop I’ve sat in with Tim McCarthy. I could not care less if I ever get to sit 400 feet away from the Dalai Lama in a stadium filled to capacity with bleary-eyed devotees and Richard Gere.
I don’t hate the Dalai Lama any more than I hate The Who or KISS. But if I’d rather support someone to whom my support actually matters.
I hope that doesn’t sound bitter or jealous. The Dalai Lama et al have their karma and I have mine. I’m happy with the way things are going. I wouldn’t want to have to try and lead a retreat attended by the kinds of numbers that flock to meditate with Thich Naht Hanh. That sounds like a nightmare to me. I’d probably give up the business if it ever came to that.
I do, however, enjoy pointing this stuff out every few months (or whenever I do, I know I seem to write this same article a few times each year). It always gets lots of people hot under the collar. I think it’s important for at least one of us in this business to tell the people what it’s actually like.
I hope to see some of you at the places I stop in Europe over the next two months. Know that if you do decide to go, your attendance will really mean something to me. It might mean the difference between paying for my falafel with a few Euros or trying to pay for it with yet another heartfelt apology.
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany SCREENING OF HARDCORE ZEN MOVIE WITH TALK
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP
September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED
September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT
October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova
November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
All of these events will still happen each week while I’m away.
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!
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