Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

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Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Frank » Tue May 15, 2012 3:30 am

There are many Dharma teachers who are absurdly wealthy, drive fancy cars and live in mansions. Can we really accept that these people understand the Dharma enough to teach it to others?

It seems like someone who really gets it and is rich for whatever reason would take care of their own needs modestly, 200,000 dollar house, 20,000 dollar car, and so on. Certainly not living in poverty but far from over doing it. So they make 500,000 dollars a year and since they live well below their means, they can put everything left over into helping others and spreading the Dharma.

Some teachers are like this, then there are many who make 500,000 a year and live in a 5,000,000 dollar house and drive a 200,000 dollar car, and so on buying everything as expensive as possible, so nothing is left over. They spend every penny filling a hole in their ego that is bottomless. How could this person really understand the Dharma? Isn't it more likely that they just are intelligent and have read and learned from others how to talk Dharma but do not walk Dharma?

Buddhism is all about non-attachment and compassion, so I always wonder about the high living Dharma teachers. If such a person spends, spends, spends, all on themselves, all the time, getting better this, more expensive that, and so on, they are clearly very attached to all those things and lack the compassion which should prompt them to use all the money they can to help others.

Anyone else feel this way? Discovered any modern "masters" who are living it up rich person style? I have let go of a couple Dharma writers after discovering they had extravagant tastes.

The only Dharma writer exempt from this is the scholar writer. The writer who may simply be writing to inform others and share knowledge, a non-practitioner, or at any rate a person who doesn't claim to or imply that they have insight into the Dharma, but only shares information gleaned from other sources. Someone who writes a history of Buddhism, or collects and translates Buddhist texts would fit this category. If one of these writers is super rich and greedy it's irrelevant as they don't try to tell people how to live and practice the Dharma. It's the writers and teachers claiming to have insight or implying insight into the Dharma and giving advice to people on how to live and practice as if they come from a point of understanding through their own experience that are in question.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Josef » Tue May 15, 2012 3:32 am

Luxury and realization are not mutually exclusive.

Who are these insanely wealthy dharma teachers?
I don't know of any that drive 200K automobiles.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Frank » Tue May 15, 2012 3:38 am

Nangwa wrote:Luxury and realization are not mutually exclusive.



Ah, hi! Sorry for deleting this last night, I wrote it so strangely that it had to be deleted and I didn't have time to re-write it.

I think they definitely are mutually exclusive, unless you are referring to a different Dharma than me. Spending all of one's money to live in great luxury is lack of compassion and pure attachment, both opposite the Dharma.

According to the Dharma, people who cannot get enough of the finer things sometimes end up in the hungry ghost realm after death, regardless of good karma in life. If someone cannot control themselves and learn to stop clinging and being attached to material things, they are a bottomless pit of desire, which as we all know, is the cause of suffering.
Last edited by Frank on Tue May 15, 2012 3:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Frank » Tue May 15, 2012 3:46 am

Nangwa wrote:Luxury and realization are not mutually exclusive.

Who are these insanely wealthy dharma teachers?
I don't know of any that drive 200K automobiles.



Look around at some of the people writing Dharma books, plenty of them have a LOT of money and live very well. 200k is totally doable if you sell a lot of books, especially if they get a loan, I'm not saying they pay cash for everything, just that they live well above their means and are totally driven by desire and attachment and lack the compassion to live below their means and spend more money on others.

If 500,000 a year and a 200,000 car and 5,000,000 home is unreasonable for you then how about 200,000 a year and a 50,000 car and 1,000,000 home? I'm 100% positive there are Dharma writers/teachers out there making that much and spending every penny on themselves and yes, even some of them probably have great credit and get a loan and buy 200,000 cars when they could buy a 200,000 home and drive a 15,000 dollar car. It's all relative but it does happen regardless of whether or not I can give you a list of very specific names. It wouldn't make any sense if this weren't the case with some of these people, the odds are steeply against it. Some Dharma teachers/writers make a LOT of money, and some are very self centered and greedy. There is zero possibility that this is not the case with some teachers/writers.

And as I said above: this is fine for scholar type writers. But for the serious Dharma writers that are claiming or implying to understand the Dharma well enough to tell other people how to live their lives and practice, if they are doing that, they should live the Dharma, and living the Dharma is not going all hungry ghost and buying everything you possibly can and spending every penny on yourself when you make well over what the average person makes and you could easily live a little modestly and help others with the left over income.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Josef » Tue May 15, 2012 3:53 am

I worked in Dharma publishing for several years and never encountered a single person who was earning anything close to the figures you are talking about. Most dharma books sell a few thousand copies, the royalties from which arent even enough for the author to live off of. It is extremely rare for a dharma teacher or writer to become financially self-sufficient through their teaching and writing.
It's ok for a practitioner to drive a nice car, what's important is for the practitioner to make sure the car doesnt drive them.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Josef » Tue May 15, 2012 3:57 am

Frank wrote:
Nangwa wrote:Luxury and realization are not mutually exclusive.





I think they definitely are mutually exclusive, unless you are referring to a different Dharma than me. Spending all of one's money to live in great luxury is lack of compassion and pure attachment, both opposite the Dharma.


The only person I can think of who has actually had the financial capacity to do this is Osho and he was never a dharma teacher.
I would love to see some other examples of who you think lives like this.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby greentara » Tue May 15, 2012 4:23 am

I understand where you're coming from. There's no need to mention how much the car cost etc....it's all to do with the ' 5 star lifestyle'
These Buddhist teachers and advaitic teachers proliferate the web, holding expensive satsangs at large corporate venues, flogging books, dvd's etc. Best to steer clear of these teachers who only want name and fame.
I saw a program a while back about a Buddhist retreat for executives only; 'plebs' need not apply! One has to laugh at the deterioration of the standard of these teachers and the hard core materialism they try to mask. Take heart as the teaching is still intact.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby practitioner » Tue May 15, 2012 4:36 am

Look at Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, New York Times bestselling author, traveled all over the world teaching dharma. Money was never an issue for Rinpoche. Yet he left his monastery with nothing but the clothes on his back to practice the pure dharma as a wandering yogi.
Don't focus on the bad apples, there are plenty of real genuine dharma teachers to learn from. Ignore the frauds.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue May 15, 2012 4:46 am

Are there Dharma teachers out there making over $500,000 a year off of the Dharma? Are they driving $200,000 cars? Who are they? I have not seen any either. I suppose it is possible, but I have never heard of any.

Osho had a fleet of Rolls Royces but he wasn't Buddhist and is long gone.

Deepak Chopra and Tolle might be living the high-life, but they aren't Buddhist; more New Age syncretism.

Thich Nhat Hanh has made about $2 million in book sales royalties but uses every penny to promote the Dharma, open new temples, monasteries, etc. I don't know of any famous or even semi-famous Dharma teachers living the lifestyle mentioned in the OP.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby ram peswani » Tue May 15, 2012 4:59 am

[quote="Frank"]There are many Dharma teachers who are absurdly wealthy, drive fancy cars and live in mansions. Can we really accept that these people understand the Dharma enough to teach it to others?


Once a choice of path of Buddhahood is selected, the luxuries will follow. Enjoying or rejecting these luxuries will be his choice.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Frank » Tue May 15, 2012 5:05 am

None of you nor I, nor anyone knows the income and spending habits of EVERY Dharma author/teacher. Not by a long shot. I'm talking odds here, odds are in favor that at least a few make lots of dough and spend it all on themselves when they could spare plenty for others and choose not to.

I've heard of a couple that make lots and lots of money and are extremely greedy, but I've got no 100% confirmations and even mentioning these teachers would get me fifty posts of people defending them and all the posters would forever hate me. So without the data, I'm not willing to start a big argument over hearsay. Not only that, I don't want to argue or defame anyone, or shatter anyone's confidence in someone they believe in. So even if I had the information confirmed I probably still wouldn't start some big thing over it.

Nonetheless, odds are in favor that there are some out there like I'm talking about.

If 500,000 a year and a 200,000 car and 5,000,000 home is unreasonable for you then how about 200,000 a year and a 50,000 car and 1,000,000 home? I'm 100% positive there are Dharma writers/teachers out there making that much and spending every penny on themselves and yes, even some of them probably have great credit and get a loan and buy 200,000 cars when they could buy a 200,000 home and drive a 15,000 dollar car. It's all relative but it does happen regardless of whether or not I can give you a list of very specific names. It wouldn't make any sense if this weren't the case with some of these people, the odds are steeply against it. Some Dharma teachers/writers make a LOT of money, and some are very self centered and greedy. There is zero possibility that this is not the case with some teachers/writers.

Really can't believe it? Fine, let's talk bare minimum requirements for what I'm talking about: A Dharma teacher/author making 100,000 a year who spends it all on themselves, that's totally likely and definitely is happening. 100,000 is not much but it's above average and if you make above average, give none back, and spend every penny on yourself, it fits the description.

A Dharma teacher/writer making 30,000 a year and barely scraping by anyway is not what i'm talking about obviously.

Furthermore, the question could simply be viewed as a hypothetical. So forget the fact that there are people like this. We'll just say there's not and never has been a rich Dharma teacher/author even though odds are steeply against that considering how many Dharma teachers there have been and how long the Dharma has been around (switch "car" for "carriage and horses" :) ). Hypothetically think about my post and answer it from that perspective.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue May 15, 2012 5:23 am

Frank wrote:Hypothetically think about my post and answer it from that perspective.


Fair enough. How about not having any paid Dharma teachers, just monks and nuns? That would be okay by me. There could be volunteer lay teachers / assistants at temples and monasteries, but without pay.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby theeffortlessbeauty » Tue May 15, 2012 6:20 am

Hi (this is my first post ever on this forum!)

This is a very interesting discussion - I think people get very concerned about the issue of money within Dharma organisations. However, I think it is important to differentiate between (1) the actual wealth and (2) what is done with the wealth. Wealth - as with anything else - is not something that is inherently good or bad; what we do with it, and our motivations for what we do with it are what determines whether that object (wealth) is good or bad - does it create more harm? Or does it benefit someone?

In some cases, not having wealth and the appearance of simplicity / modesty is what the people of that area will need and will be attracted to. It is the best way for that society and those peoples to connect to Dharma - by conforming to their expectations, wants and interests, it becomes "easier" to relate to them and bring them spirituality and the teachings in that way.

In other places though, it could be that the people there are very materialistic. They are attracted by wealth, think in terms of wealth and like things that look wealthy. People there may operate out of a mindset that if you are wealthy and look wealthy, you are successful in what you are doing. So in that case, a teacher may manifest rich looking surroundings and have many things around him; he may give away many gifts, to appeal to these people's materialistic tendencies. Again, this conforms to people's expectations of wealth / success, and their own wants and interests for wealth. It is merely a method to bring people into the Dharma, according to what they like and want.

A true teacher will be able to teach and love his students whatever his surroundings. There is a beautiful story in the book "Devotion" by Sherry Marshall about a student who is travelling with his teacher. In one instance, his teacher stays in a 5 star hotel, and the student immediately has doubts, questioning why his Guru needs such extravagance. A while later though, while travelling somewhere else, the teacher decides to just pitch a tent somewhere, to stay overnight in the most rudimentary of circumstances. The student expresses then, that he understood that the surroundings the Guru chose were never about his own comfort or wants, but what was suited and necessary for the time and place he was in.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Josef » Tue May 15, 2012 6:28 am

theeffortlessbeauty wrote:A true teacher will be able to teach and love his students whatever his surroundings.

Absolutely!

Good first post by the way.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Frank » Tue May 15, 2012 7:08 am

David N. Snyder wrote:
Frank wrote:Hypothetically think about my post and answer it from that perspective.


Fair enough. How about not having any paid Dharma teachers, just monks and nuns? That would be okay by me. There could be volunteer lay teachers / assistants at temples and monasteries, but without pay.

:good: Yes, good point. I guess i was being a little short sighted. Everyone has to make money somehow, even Dharma teachers. So indeed I suppose someone could make money and still have a true understanding of the Dharma.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Thrasymachus » Tue May 15, 2012 7:54 am

I think it really matters to know someone, how they live and act when they are not on guard compared to when they have on their possibly false teacher mask, before you can really trust them.

There is also an aspect to having alot of wealth which distorts your perception of the world:
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky wrote:Always and in all times there have been such men, absolutely pleased with their situation in society and therefore absolutely satisfied with the condition of that society.
-- The Final Circle of Paradise.

As long as your rich and have high social station, it is hard to find any fault with the social hierarchy that places you up high.

@theeffortlessbeauty:
Sorry that is just woo woo bs to justify bad behavior from lamas/teachers. Tomorrow if I have a million dollars and participate in conspicuous consumption to broadcast it socially, everyone will want to know me, be nice, act like they are my friend. But that is only because they want something: my money and social status -- not me. If I become poor again those fans would disappear. People are not gonna be genuinely compassionate or attracted to dharma just because a lama stays at a five star hotel. It only has the potential to attract the wrong type of people who should be avoided in the first instance.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby theeffortlessbeauty » Tue May 15, 2012 8:15 am

@Thrasymachus Well let's face it, I think that while we all like the idea of people coming into Dharma with completely pure, unadulterated motivations of compassion and kindness and wisdom, the reality is that many people AREN'T coming in for that. They're looking for some sort of solution to some sort of problem, or looking for something to better their lives as it stands then. A genuine teacher will be able to relate on any level using whatever means necessary to work with the students as they are.

If what you're saying is true, then all teachers should only project a poor and simple lifestyle. But wouldn't that be limiting? It would mean only people who are attracted to that would find some connection to Dharma. All the other people out there in the world who are interested in that would be excluded and never have the chance to meet any teachers or teachings.

Some people are attracted to simplicity; some are attracted to wealth. Different strokes for different folks. You cannot just say that a teacher must be this way or that way, and that that is the only way for them to reach out to people. In that case, there must be ONE SINGULAR teacher and one singular method that should apply to every single person in the world. Of course, we know that this is not true. Some teachers use fun as a means to connect with students; some are more serious; some use more academic means; some display a very kindly manner; some are austere; some display a very wealthy outward appearance; some live in a 4 x 4 retreat hut in the forest. Different people will relate to different things - it doesn't mean that one deserves Dharma more than another. Yes, we all come into the Dharma with tainted motivations, personal agendas. I highly doubt that every single person in a Dharma center is there because they want to be enlightened tomorrow; many may not even know what that means. But it doesn't mean they don't deserve Dharma. A genuine teacher would work with whatever entry level a student is coming in - whether they're angersome, or attached to material things, or jealous, or obsessed with relationships - and help them to overcome their weaknesses, transforming into more sincere practice. Everyone starts at a different place, requiring different things.

I think it is incorrect to simply pooh pooh away one method as being too excessive, or not engaging enough or whatever. More important is to look at the results of what the teacher accomplishes using whatever methods he uses - do more people begin practice? Do people around him transform, become kinder people, more tolerant, more giving, more patient etc Do the people around him become less angersome? Develop more concern for others. Surely the end results are more important than the methods used to achieve those results.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Thrasymachus » Tue May 15, 2012 8:24 am

I don't see how conspicuous consumption has anything to do with higher ideals or any type of realization in life. Greed attracts selfish people. And if the trappings of money ever leave that type of people leave too.

You just elaborate justifications for bad behavior. There are barely any societies that lack plenty of poor people and real pressing problems. Thus there are better causes to spend money in a doctrine that allegedly produces bodhisattvas rather than luxuries to allegedly attract somehow followers.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby theeffortlessbeauty » Tue May 15, 2012 9:21 am

Having wealth doesn't necessarily equate to mindless consumerism you know. Having wealth could also mean you have more funds and resources to be able to help more people. It's not just about spending for the sake of spending.

Also, what you are saying assumes that a wealthy center doesn't help the poor people, which isn't true of course. Also, it assumes that people who are not poor don't suffer, which we know is not the case. Why does one group of people deserve Dharma and help more than another? We all have our individual karmas, and therefore our individual sufferings - every one is just as deserving as the next person. So if someone IS a rich materialistic person, do we just allow them to stay out there and continue being rich and materialistic? Or perhaps try to connect with them through Dharma and help them to LESSEN their materialism and attachments?

If you expect a center to remain poor and "simple" forever, then wouldn't their outreach and what they are able to do be correspondingly limited? Surely, the more funds you have, the more you can do to help people directly - the more poor people you could feed, or support financially to help them get out of their poverty.

You cannot just outright say that it is good or bad to have wealth. It depends on what you do with it.
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Re: Can someone living in great luxury truly understand Dharma?

Postby Thrasymachus » Tue May 15, 2012 10:01 am

You are all over the place. You argued that it is okay for dharma teachers to stay at five star hotels and appear to have lots of wealth to attract people, which is "spending for the sake of spending". This just sounds like an excuse for a personally greedy teacher to live lavishly off his naive followers. Now you argue: "the more funds you have, the more you can do to help people directly," but I doubt a teacher who justifies living the high life under such guises can be trusted in good faith. Those who are deep into the game of materialism and external trappings, will not be serious about anything but appearing wealthy, powerful or famous. They will be as earnest as Tulku Seagal.

Also most people are mindless consumers and producers all around me, including me. That is why the West is so messed up. No one can do anything but consume to survive, it is almost illegal to put your hands in the dirt or otherwise survive via subsistence. Wealth implies concentrated money which deprives others, since money is finite and concentrating implies an unfair distribution. A poor man can labor his whole life and still be in debt, but the rich man labors one hour and makes several dozen to several thousand times the poor man. This essentially saying you are only worth the value of your labor and some men are worth much more than others. As a relatively poor person, unless the wealthy decide to deal with the structure of society that creates this dichotomy based on social position -- I could care less for the few of them who recycle a little of their too much as charity mostly for their vanity and ego.

You are under the delusion that more money = more earnest practitioners. Or that more money increases the general good in the world.
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