Wednesday, September 10, 2014
The Dharma is Not a Product
The Dharma is not a product and students are not customers. I am very fortunate to teach in a location that does not charge rent because that means the Original Mind Zen Sangha does not need a substantial income. Therefore, we do not not to shop for students.
Bodhisattvas dedicate their lives to helping others awaken, but what does that necessarily entail? To what lengths should Dharma teachers go to in order to appeal to students?
In the American spiritual marketplace, Zen--with its rigorous meditation practice, bare-bones liturgy, and stoic character--is not the shiniest gem. Other traditions are far more attractive.
I enjoy leading a small sangha, for it frees us from the obligation of large expenses. We don't have a mortgage, rent, or even heating bills. And that's a blessing.
Still, there is the unstated pressure to grow, to bring in more members. But how much of that is the Bodhisattva vow, and how much is just ego? (My intuition says that the moment someone utters the question, "Why aren't more people coming?", ego has appeared.)
Do we really need a bright temple in order to draw in crowds, or exciting Dharma talks to impress students? When does change or accommodation (upaya or skillful means) become just plain old compromise? Should Zen sanghas be trying to encourage people to join?
These are important questions I find myself facing as the Original Mind Zen Sangha approaches its third year. I am very wary of any approaches that intentionally try to appeal to, entice, or attract students. If someone asks how to meditate or is curious about Buddhism, then by all means answer their questions. Give them literature. Point them to resources or invite them to attend a meditation class. We can even offer seminars at the library or yoga center. Advertise with paper pamphlets--make the Dharma available.
But marketing Zen sounds simply counter intuitive (or even hypocritical) to me. I don't think that Zen teachers should be in the Zen business. Period. That approach tends to reduce people to students, and students to human advantages or mere resources.
Thoughts or comments?