Once, many years ago when I was running my own youthful Puritanical number, my Root Guru told me that a true yogi should be comfortable anywhere, from a palatial mansion with golden spigots to a totally empty cave and everything in between. IMO, being critical of wealth and opulence is its own form of grasping.
Bob, it's not wealth and opulence for their own sake that I have a problem with: who doesn't love the beauty of an immaculately crafted and decorated Tibetan gompa? Who wouldn't love to practice there? I'm as comfortable practicing there as I am sitting on a boulder in a mountain forest, or in my shrine room at home, or in a tent in the middle of nowhere, or in my car on the way to school, or as comfortable as I am practicing pure perception while cleaning excrement and sputum and crusty stuff off my patients at the hospital, or helping them die peacefully when their time descends upon them. All these scenarios are perfect circumstances for practice in their own way. But the teachings, empowerments, and retreats are not held in the latter places... only in the gazillion dollar gompas or otherwise spendy venues. Or just a crap ton is charged even if they're held at a simple venue because some elaborate something somewhere has to be paid for.
What I was speaking against is the issue of access
that inherently comes with having created the debt and ongoing monetary drain that inevitably follows the option to indulge in such opulence... an indulgence which invariably results, to some degree or another, in making actual Dharma practice, teachings and empowerments--the very heart of Vajrayana Buddhist practice--largely limited to those of upper economic status. And it does not have to be that way. We can visualize and practice pure perception. And yes, some centers do offer work study and sliding fee scales, although I have never yet come across such a center where there isn't some element of passive aggressive condescension or judgment when the issue of taking advantage of those options comes up--especially if one pursues those options too often. And I've been to lots of centers. Most of the upper middle to upper-upper people--basically yuppies--who predominate at US Dharma centers just cannot relate to people or life on the lower economic rungs, and those more advantaged people are more often then not who is at the registration table. And I don't call them yuppies in a judgmental way, but just to point out a lifestyle they often take for granted and which they often have a hard time understanding is not available to many others. And not for lack of hard work and sacrifice.
Lastly, I wasn't solely targeting TM; I was criticizing this trend in the manifestation of the Tibetan tradition in general here, where the economic environment and circumstances are very different than in Asia. And I'm not suggesting any of the people running these centers are bad people, or that the lamas are bad people. I'm saying how about we be a little more frugal and practical instead of going the way of opulence at the expense of more people actually being able to participate more fully. I mean, I'm not calling for nothing but 4 walls and a roof; one can decorate a shrine and center/gompa pretty nicely without needing to go all top shelf. Our goal is to liberate as many beings as we can, with the commitment to liberating them all, right?