Actually, you are asking two different questions.
The first is about why retreats and weekend teachings and so forth are not cheap (inexpensive)
and the second is about how you can afford them if you have a low income.
The answer to the first question is easy. In the west, it costs a lot of money to have a place where dharma is taught and practiced. If a teacher is flown in, the ticket is expensive. If the teacher has a translator, double that, plus they need to be fed.
The answer to the second question is, I don't know of any Tibetan Buddhist centers that won't allow you to make some kind of payment arrangement or do some work or something if you explain your situation, but you still have to contribute something.
I don't buy the argument that because Tibetan Buddhism attracts people with a higher income level, that the teachings cost more. That's just whining. I think it is more likely that westerners who are turned off by "living in the material world" think that the dharma should be a freebie. This is because many do not truly believe in the great wealth of the dharma. They see it as sort of a cross between philosophy, yoga and a self-help course. There is not the sense of appreciation that you find in Christian churches. Have you ever noticed how many christian churches there are in America? A LOT! Not all of their members are rich. But they believe in the power of God to such a degree that they are motivated to build and give money...10% of individual income is the "tithing" amount.
Likewise, Immigrant communities, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. are able to build temples and house teachers, even though it sometimes takes many years to do. They are not all rich. many came here very poor, but they are motivated by their belief in the value of Dharma.
A lot of people are really hard up for cash these days. I am too, although my situation is better than it used to be. I lived for years, way below the poverty level , but I was very active with the local dharma group and when teachers came, I helped clean and cook, and I came up with fundraising activities (for everyone to participate in) so that even though I personally could not contribute very much (although I would donate some) it was possible to generate funds, and this also allowed others the opportunity to practice generosity. The economy has forced me to cut back on my grocery budget and this has helped me to lose some weight, walk more, and so forth. But i still save money for dharma purposes.
(I am working on another fundraiser, and will notify this group when the time comes. So please, everyone, save your pennies.)
But here is something that may help. Here is what I do now. I have a small coin bank next to my "shrine", and I keep a few quarters next to it. Every day, when I do my morning dharma stuff (incense, meditation, blah blah blah) I put a quarter into the bank as a monetary offering. This allows me to save up about $90 a year to spend on dharma teachings. It is quite painless to do it this way, because there is not a lot of attachment to 25 cents, even on a daily basis. Still, this may be too much. So, save a little bit. If you donate even a few cents a day to your dharma expenses, explain that this is all you can afford, and offer to help, you will have enough for teachings.
I once knew a young woman who asked everybody she knew to give her all of their pennies every day. Since most people are happy to get rid of pennies, this was not a problem. She told them that she was saving up for a trip to New York, and so this generated a lot of peoples enthusiasm. Then every night, she rolled up the pennies and in a year she took them to the bank, got paper money, bought her ticket and went to new York. this is a true story and is what inspired me to keep a bank next to the Buddha in my house.
Last edited by PadmaVonSamba
on Sat Aug 27, 2011 2:30 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Profile Picture: "The Foaming Monk"
The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth. Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.