Should spiritual teachers be paid?February 17, 2014 | 92 Comments
This past Valentine’s Day, I launched a program called the “21-Day Open Heart Immersion: Live in Love.” I received this message (from a stranger) via email:
With all due respect, I think that the global consciousness is in a state of a major shift and it has a lot to do with people like you helping to spread the world and enlighten people on a large scale.
I admire the spiritual community in helping humanity evolve into who we truly were meant to be, however I find that many “teachers” are taking advantage of peoples hunger for growth and spiritual enlightenment to make more than just a living with the substantial cost involved in either participating in a spiritual retreat or otherwise simply taking an e course such as yours. There are many people who simply cannot afford the $300 plus that it costs to take your course for example and so it seems that spiritual enlightenment is left mostly for those who have the means to afford it and leaves a substantial amount of humans behind which seems very contradictory to what most spiritual teachers are preaching about how we are all one and we need to open our hearts to love etc….. I often find myself seeking more and more information and find the cost of seminar or a course to be out of reach monetarily to many many people which defeats the very purpose these teachers are out to accomplish. I understand that there are costs involved in setting up and teachers need to be compensated for their time but on the other hand, sharing this information is almost a responsibility given from the divine to spread to humanity to make this world a better place and the excessive cost being charged seems contradictory to any and all spiritual principles.
I was just wondering what your take on this is.
Thank you, Blank
How would you have responded?
My initial response was to become enraged in a deeply un-spiritual manner. The following went through my mind: Why does she pretend to flatter me and then accuse me of being greedy and disingenuous? What is this “spiritual community?” Does this person know that I offer free meditation instruction to nearly 12000 people via video twice a week—and have been doing so for three years? When did I ever preach that “we are all one?” Why is she passing judgment on me? She has no idea who I am or what my life is like.
Anyone who blogs and teaches knows that this kind of judgment-bomb can land in your inbox at any time and we have several choices about how to respond:
2. Respond politely with appreciation for her comment but offer no real response
3. School (as in “She tried to school me. I tried to school her back”).
A sensible person would have chosen #1. A kind person would chosen #2. I chose #3.
I’m not sure if you are actually interested in my take on these points or if you want me to hear your ideas of what my responsibilities should be and the suggestion that perhaps I am taking advantage of others.
If the former, I need to earn an income and it is up to me how I choose to do so. If the latter, duly noted.
In either case, I wish you the best in finding the information you seek.
Thank you, Susan
Not exactly scathing, but not softly “spiritual” either, whatever that is.
Herein lies the dilemma. How does a “spiritual” person conduct herself in a world where dharma and commerce intermingle? Where anyone who has a judgment of you can share that judgment at a moment of his or her choosing? And anyway, aren’t spiritual people supposed to be peaceful zombies who are inured to anger and hurt feelings? If they aren’t, shouldn’t they at least pretend to be?
Blank-ess brought up a question that has been contested for millennia. Those of us who teach and write on spiritual matters will encounter it at some point in our lives: Should this be free? If so, how will I live? If not, what do I charge and how do I relate to money altogether?
Again, there are choices. Many choices. With great difficulty, I’ve narrowed it down to six.
1. I am a child of the universe and trust that I will be taken care of if I offer to support sentient beings.
2. What I have to offer is of inestimable value and I deserve to be paid handsomely because I know how life-changing it is. (And it is.) Plus, isn’t making money a sign of success and shouldn’t spiritual teachings be associated with power?
3. Hmmm. These teachings are very profound. Too profound, actually—no one will understand them. What harm is there in expressing them in a way that people can access easily (i.e. minus the difficult bits)? If I fit my message into the current conversation, I can probably make my mark as well as some money.
4. Actually, the teachings are simply too deep and sophisticated for most people to grasp and I’m not even going to try to offer them widely. I refuse to dumb anything down. I reserve my offerings for the intelligentsia and if they pay me, fine. If not, I’ll stick to my principles and figure something out.
5. What do I know about anything? Not very much, truth be told. I better charge as little as possible so no one can accuse me of being superior or even knowledgeable.
6. I have no earthly idea how to manage all of this, but I better figure it out because this (writing and teaching) is my calling. I have a mortgage and a need for health insurance. Plus, someday I will be truly old (hopefully) and I don’t want to have to live outside.
Catch my drift? It is complicated.
There are definitely those who think that so-called spiritual teachers should be saintly and poor. There are those who think that the more powerful and wealthy you are, the closer you are to divinity. Who knows, maybe one of those is true. All I can do with this issue is what I try to do with every issue I encounter: bring it to the path by not attaching to a fixed answer.
I could feel my conflicts and discomfort about money with gentleness and precision—but not as a basis for action.
Ride the waves of self-preservation-related fears, shame at not having enough, and contemplate my supposition that wealth will make me safe.
Examine over and over how this fear and shame might make me do stupid things that are harmful to self and other and avoid said stupidity.
Most important, see how both my confusion and my wisdom can be offered to benefit sentient beings. Watch it all cycle and cycle and in each and every case, let go and keep letting go. Commit again and again to the middle way.
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Susan, the bottom line, IMO, is what you said: “Does this person know I offer free meditation instruction to nearly 12000 people via video twice a week—and have been doing so for three years?”
There’s plenty of free spiritual teachings for those like “blank-ess” from you and others for those who can afford or don’t want to pay for additional, perhaps more intense offerings. Therefore, you have nothing to feel guilty about.
People like blank appear in all industries. I receive nearly the same exact email many times in my SEO business because I supposedly charged too much. But I felt no guilt or shame over it because I also provided everything anyone needed to know how to do it themselves for free.
Most of the time,my feeling is that the type of people who write such emails are hoping you’ll feel sorry for them and offer the services for free 🙂