Tag: Goenka

Why Buddhists Don’t Give

One of the major complaints in the probably over-cited Buddhadharma article was that Buddhism is too expensive. Retreats cost so much that centers now offer scholarships. The Buddha Dharma is supposed to be a life-altering experience, so why aren’t Buddhists forking up enough to support their community through simple donations?

One might guess that Buddhist centers have excessive budgets and could use some fiscal restraint, but I doubt this. I’m more convinced by conclusions drawn in Nicholas Kristof’s recent piece, “Bleeding Heart Tightwads.” My favorite part is Kristof’s quote from Arthur Brooks:

“When I started doing research on charity,” Mr. Brooks wrote, “I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”

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What does it mean to not be Buddhist?

This past summer I visited my main spiritual teacher, and he naturally inquired how my practice has developed since we last met three years ago. When I first met my teacher, I told him that I was Buddhist, and he asked me what that meant. I was still active in a college Buddhist association, and for me that was the chief example of what it meant to be Buddhist. I was Buddhist because I was in a Buddhist club.

My perspective on Buddhism has almost entirely been framed by my American upbringing, whether I like it or not. I classify Buddhism as a religion, on par with Judaism and Christianity (among many others). I call myself “Buddhist”, and I wear a symbol of my faith around my neck and wrist. I even use it as an excuse to avoid drinking (“It’s against my religion”) or to justify my behavior (“I’m Buddhist, I don’t kill bugs”).

But I recently stumbled across an interview with SN Goenka, a famous teacher of vipassana meditation, where he says, “I don’t teach Buddhism. I am not a Buddhist.”

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