business of spirituality

July 1, 2007   |   Leave a reply

Wrote this for The Worst Horse, a great, excellent site where dharma meets pop and vice versa:

Skillfully Savvy:
Susan Piver’s 8 Points for Selling the Dharma Without Selling It Out
We who work in the world of spirituality (or want to bring spirituality into the world of work) often think that if you focus too much on the quality of materials and packaging you use, you’re a shallow cretin trying to sell out the dharma—and that if you don’t, it means you’re a serious student. We think the choices are: dumb it down or keep it real because only a select few can understand anyway. So forget about all those other people. I swear I’ve known people who really believe that these are the choices. But it’s really far more interesting and complex than this. In fact, if you want to appeal to the mainstream without dumbing anything down, you totally can. Here are some guidelines to contemplate.

1. Looks matter.
When offering a spiritual teaching, the first step is to create confidence in the mind of the listener/reader. High quality materials and production values are the opening salvo. Making certain that all the details are right—not in a snobby way, but out of respect—is the first step in instilling this confidence. Then people can relax and open up. So paying attention to packaging is important and kind.

2. Confidence is justifiable when something real is offered.
Something real is that which has been proven useful by millions of people over thousands of years—and/or that you yourself know to be true through your own experience.

3. Intention is the alpha and omega of strategy.
Once I was talking to my meditation teacher about whether to pursue a particular project. I didn’t really believe in it, but I needed the money. What was the right thing to do? “Examine your intention,” he said. “If your intention is good, then it doesn’t matter whether the result manifests in the heaven realm or the hell realm.” Well that sort of blew my mind. You mean that the whole chain of events will purify karma if the intention is good, but the purification may or may not look like “success?” I think so. Therefore right intention can be the ground, the path, and the fruition. At least this is my interpretation.

4. Discriminating Wisdom is good.
The other day I was talking with some people about a good way to promote a new book from an esteemed spiritual teacher. There was an opportunity to promote his work on a website that featured bestselling authors. Half the people in the group wanted to move forward; they thought that associating this teacher with bestselling authors was good. But these particular bestselling authors, it so happened, were quite cheesy.

There are bestsellers that are powerfully good and bestsellers that are powerfully manipulative. Usually we count on sales figures to tell us which is which. Big sales=manipulative, no sales= good. But it can just as easily work the other way around. Without a strong personal sense of what is helpful and what propagates confusion, you can’t tell. Discriminating wisdom is the key.

5. Don’t make bad business decisions for spiritual reasons.
Don’t think that just because it’s popular it’s no good. Look a little closer. Don’t think that success=sellout. In my mind, this view is actually an act of aggression. You’re trying to contain the teachings in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

6. Don’t make bad spiritual decisions for business reasons.
Don’t think that you have to pull back on your commitment to the teachings in order to make money, no matter what crazy justifications you come up with. My favorites are along the lines of “well if we start out by telling people they’re all going to die, they won’t by the book so I’ll bury that or disguise it.” Things along these lines lead to trouble.

7. When working with others, learn the difference between honesty and idiot honesty.
Just as idiot compassion (thinking you have to be nice all the time) obscures genuine compassion (acting to benefit others from a position of wakefulness), idiot honesty (saying whatever you think whenever you want) gets in the way of honesty as upaya, as skillful means.

8. When a project is in play, learn to read the signs; strategy doesn’t come from within, it forms around.
When your project moves out of the idea stage and into the manifestation stage, things change. The idea begins to magnetize people, coincidences, opportunities, reactions, and non-reactions. It’s important to take all these into account and modify the original idea, as needed. Not that you modify the message or content, but you tailor its presentation, sequencing, and timing. If the intention behind these modifications is to make the final product of better use (not purely to rake in more $$), it will be okay. The line of influence between form and content runs in two directions.

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