In my heart of hearts, I believe that spiritual teaching should be offered, free of charge, to anyone who is interested. Period.
The reasons for this are many, the most fundamental being: to put a price on something – that isn’t a “thing” – that is, by nature and definition, priceless, and which I already possess – already have in its entirety within me – is (at best) absurd.
Yet we live in a time when this kind of thing – the “sale” of Immortality, Enlightenment, Nirvana, Salvation - appears to be going on, all the time. Or is it? Let’s explore …
Spiritual Teaching For Sale
For sure, there are many spiritual teachers – Qigong Masters, Buddhist Lamas, Sikh Gurus, Hindu Yogis, etc. – offering their services in exchange for dollars. This part is obvious. Yet what exactly is this “service” being offered? Some possibilities include:
1. Introduction To & Interpretation Of Scriptures. Countless are the lectures I’ve paid to attend, in which this has been the focus. Here, the service being offered is something akin to intellectual property: textual knowledge (with the added bonus, perhaps, of genuine wisdom). So here I would seem to be paying for the kind of conceptual “pointing to” that skillfully chosen words can offer. Or – if the teaching resonates at a deeper level - the words might act as energetic structures, affecting me in a way similar to a mantra. In this case, the service I’m paying for is more of an energetic transmission or attunement.
2. Energetic Attunement. Have you noticed that spiritual teachers often emanate an energy that is quite palpable? They can be quite “magnetic” is a way that is more than metaphoric. They’re vibrating at a frequency that is higher than ours, which is something that – at the level of our subtle body – we can perceive, and likely are very attracted to. Because of this, they’re able to act as “tuning forks” – affecting by their very presence those within their psychic or physical proximity. Paying to sit with a spiritual Master might then be equated to renting a tuning fork: the service being offered a kind of subtle-body recalibration.
3. Transfer of Lineage Blessings (aka “Empowerment”). This might simply be a specialized instance of “energetic attunement,” in which a particular quality of mind, or energetic frequency – associated with a specific practice lineage - is transmitted from teacher to student. So here I’m paying for entrance into a particular community, or a kind of spiritual credential – something necessary to progress along my chosen path. The entrance-fee to a Pure Land?
4. Shaktipat. Perhaps this is just another word for Lineage Blessing, though for me it evokes a kind of energetic transmission happening primarily at the level of the (physical and subtle) nervous system, rather than at the level of Mind. (The extent to which the two are connected is of course a matter of debate.) Here, I’m paying to be “juiced” – to be infused with a new quality or intensity of qi, prana, shakti, the Holy Spirit.
5. Master of Ceremonies. Though my own practice is focused largely on Inner Alchemy, I do attend at least a couple of Taoist/Buddhist rituals every year, and am always impressed by the knowledge and skill required – by the Taoist priest or Tibetan lama – to orchestrate these. In such cases, what I’m paying for is this kind of specialized knowledge.
6. Techniques, Pure & Simple. A new qigong form. Guidance in how to practice a new meditation technique. Countless are the techniques offered to support us in balancing, strengthening and purifying our physical, mental and emotional vehicles – and just as countless are the retreats and workshops we can pay to attend, to learn these countless techniques!
7. Love. Being in the Presence of a realized Master feels wonderful (even in moments when ego is resisting mightily) - as does spending time with like-minded beings. Perhaps I pay for a workshop or retreat less for the techniques to be learned, and more for the feelings of being part of a community, and being loved (in a most divine and sublime way) by my Teacher?
8. Immortality (aka Enlightenment). Even if it’s not explicitly stated as one of the “services offered,” this is, after all, the goal of our spiritual practice, yes? It is our deepest aspiration, and the implied promise of all so-called “spiritual technologies.” So is this what I am, ultimately, paying for?
Is it appropriate to charge money for any or all of these spiritual “services”? The offering of a “teaching gift” – something of value – to our Teacher is a practice to be found in traditional as well as contemporary contexts. Traditionally, these gifts were something other than money: a bundle of firewood, precious stones, a bolt of silken fabric, a single flower. They signified the kind of commitment, gratitude, sacrifice and surrender necessary to be a serious and successful student – and their monetary value was quite secondary to this symbolic meaning.
Today, at least in western cultures, monetary worth is pretty much hard-wired into our notions of “value” – spiritual or otherwise. I know of very few people whose sense of self-worth isn’t at least tangentially connected to their bank account. For this reason, it perhaps is very skillful for spiritual teachers to charge large amounts of money for their services – as a way of activating qualities like commitment and appreciation within the hearts of their students. In the face of the belief that “anything truly valuable costs a lot of money,” what better way to argue for the value of Enlightenment, than to charge a lot of money for the techniques and transmissions that might unveil it![continued on page 2]