March 7, 2016
Dear Venerable Geshe-la, and Gen-la Jampa,
I am writing to you to make some suggestions on the way we charge for classes in the NKT: first of all I want to say that I thank both of you very much for time, because I know you are busy, and also for your teachings, which are really priceless, and worth all the gold (or green papers with Presidents, in the case of the U.S.) that we have. I would like to say at the outset, that I am uncomfortable with the idea that we are charging for Dharma, though I know we do not actually use the money for any worldly purposes, but I am afraid it is not that skillful, because others who are new, may not understand, and may leave before they try us out. That said, of course we must get money to pay for the Centers to run, so here are some issues and some suggestions for helping it work better, at least for places like the U.S. where the wealth is very unevenly distributed.
Here are the current issues we have with the way we ask for money:
- We ask the same price of everyone regardless of the person’s income, and it is at the discretion of the Center in question whether to even respond to the person’s request; this puts at a great disadvantage for receiving teachings, anyone who is low income. I did not receive, for instance, any communication regarding either CADC’s Shakyamuni empowerment nor the TTP at Rigpa’s Center; I nearly missed the CADC because of it, being saved by a non-Buddhist sponsor at the last second; as for TTP, I have never heard a word in months; I can’t enroll in anything when I don’t have money and also don’t hear back. This can affect others the same exact way—but only the poor subset.
- We require no proof on the person’s part that they are actually in dire straits financially so we have the issue that some people may assume we are asking for a discount we don’t need. Non-profits ask for proof of income all the time— people who are on low income should not be discriminated against on that basis; asking for proof of income or hardship would be fine with me.
- There is an intense wealth gap forming in the U.S. with the classes being delineated into the uber wealthy, a shrinking middle class, moderate income, and poor people. Our current practices in the NKT of demanding money for a seat at teachings discriminates against the latter two groups. I am in the last group, according to the U.S. government (under poverty level for Americans— which of course does not mean that I do not have a place to live or access to food and clothing. Our poverty level though, does mean I do not have 70 or 40 dollars a month to give to Buddhist Centers; for a middle class person giving 40-70 dollars is like my giving only 1 or something dollars, though I am willing to pay more relative to my income, like as much as possible).
- You have made the Dharma very accessible to the west in converting its essence to be applied to our culture; one thing you will please understand is that our families etc. are mostly Christians. Christian churches NEVER charge for teachings, though they ask members to give 10 percent of their income— we do not have to be just like the churches! But I will say, for people in the west, when a religious organization demands money a person doesn’t have to be a member of the group that is one of the hallmark signs of and red flags for that organization’s being a cult. They may misunderstand us as one, if we do not change our policies.
- Some people, if unpopular for other reasons, such as myself for writing to you about lineage mixings, may never get a response if we have to keep asking for reduced fees for teachings. This is currently what is happening to me in regards to TTP at Gen Rigpa’s center, KMC CA, because if his AD or EPC will not, or are not allowed to write, then I am not allowed to even know if I can be part of the class. This helps get rid of people, but only works if the person is poor. Thus, this policy allows for politics against people but at the same time, it discriminates against only poor people.
- Daycourses, empowerments, etc.: I have only been to I believe 2 daycourses in 7 years of NKT Buddhism, and a lot of classes by correspondence. I have not been able to afford a babysitter and pay the daycourse fee, and there is no correspondence for daycourses. I do not leave my child with a sitter generally, as I cannot afford one; the only times I have happened to leave her with a sitter have been to go to occasional dayclasses (the two I mentioned) and a Nyune and a few FP/GP classes. I don’t go to the movies or out to dinner and leave my kid with a sitter; I can’t afford a sitter is the main reason, but I also can’t usually afford the dinner or movies either. So you see for me, going to a daycourse already requires expense, so that becomes an obstacle; other single parents are most likely affected similarly. When I think of it, the only time I have ever paid for sitting for my child has been to go to Buddha’s teachings. They are the most important thing in the world to me, but I just can’t get to them often because the course fees are so high, combined with the other expenses.
I think a reasonable solution would be to ask for suggested donations above the amount you need, and try to make it so that people understand to give; if that doesn’t work then membership fees etc. are fine, but we must have an easier way for people to automatically qualify for reasonable reduced rates, showing income like paystubs or letters stating what they get, and signing a form saying that we aren’t withholding information might be helpful. This is normal for non-profits in our society, so might be helpful to try.
I hope this was useful information, and maybe we can fix it so people can come to teachings and things even if we do not have the exact amount of green papers with Presidents available to give at the door. I very much understand that neither of you care about money, but I am only writing because the class fees have gotten out of hand for a lot of us.
Thank you for your consideration.