On the subject of class in “western Buddhism”
Here’s something I’ve been thinking about: class divisions in western Buddhism. Even when retreats are made affordable, those with bills and student loans can’t take off big chunks of time.
Consequently, those becoming teachers are those who can afford to do that, and consequently I’ve noticed that their dharma talks reflect their class status. I rarely hear talks that mention not knowing how you’re going to make the rent, or assuming that you’ll spend the rest of your life under student loans. I’m not griping, just pondering.
Thank you, and in reply … I can concur though I may not have a particularly satisfactory answer. I’m not going to lie, I actually have a big problem with the commercialization of the Dharma. It’s an unfortunate consequence of a Buddhist model that does not have monasticism (and certainly not generosity) at its core.
Though my focus was ostensibly the lack of parity when it comes to gender among teachers and guides in Buddhism, I spoke about the broader challenges to living a contemplative life in some detail, and believe it begins to address some of your concerns and may be of interest to you. (While you’re over there, you might also like -isms and the need to belong.)
Thanissaro Bhikkhu in No Strings Attached: The Buddha’s Culture of Generosity criticizes the teachings-for-pay model that is so predominant here in the US and says:
[T]he best way to repay a teacher is to take the Dhamma to heart and to practice it in a way that fulfills his or her compassionate purpose in teaching it.
How many teachers actually embody this wish, when offering the Dharma? And how many students have this intention in their practice and live it?
I agree with you that Buddhism in the West will continue to mirror the inequities of the larger society as long as we continue to offer the teachings in a way that caters to a particular demographic and that makes intensive practice cost prohibitive to most people. So what’s the solution?