Thanks for the interesting feedback and ideas. Some of the comments remind me of the distinctions made by Payne in his article "Religion, Self-Help, Science: Three Economies of Western/ized Buddhism" (also in the latest issue of the Journal of Global Buddhism http://www.globalbuddhism.org/jgb/index ... ew/240/246
For example, the conversation here, given our (likely) shared economic system has shifted from any discussion how "merit" is presented in-group to how best to compensate a group or center for the services they render. For me this raises a lot of interesting questions that are likely outside the scope of this thread. I will tug on one string. This framework of viewing a center as providing services, like teachings, or meditation instruction then necessitates having an "expert" that provides those services. It becomes a lot like visiting a lawyer or doctor. This then turns a temple into an economic liability, overhead that needs to be covered in order for the expert to continue providing services to paying customers. I'm being a bit sloppy with how I reframe things, but the gist remains solid.
Contrary, if I understand Wilson and Payne's articles and remember enough of the basics, another way of viewing a temple and a priest/monastic/lama are as fields of merit. Places where monastics or priests/lamas have worked hard to create fertile soil for us to plant seeds**
and generate merit. Instead of a deduction/liability a temple is viewed as a fertile field where we can contribute and reap future benefits. The priest or Lama a skilled practitioner in converting our offering into merit through any number of ways, recitation of sutra, prayer, etc. They're both providing a "service" if you will but the underlying view of the economic system is completely different.
Wilson writes that in his research of a Western Zen center there is no mention of merit. The appeals for donations are largely a membership-model. Where joining allows for the continued support of teachings offered through podcasts, webinars, etc. Almost like a Netflix membership. In the end it proves unsustainable. The push to produce more podcasts, etc. costs more than people listening while jogging donate and the center has to lay off their instructor.
Miroku correctly mentions the economics of people involved in Buddhism. He's correct according to Wilson and Pew (table below). I suspect part of the issue depressing the household income is a confounding factor related to social class. But this only makes the point even more pressing. The centers that are doing comparatively well, according to Wilson and Payne, are the more traditional centers which focus on merit. e.g. the Vietnamese, Laotian, Chinese temples. The majority-Caucasian centers struggle, like the Zen center in Canada.
Wilson cites a Pew study, from his JGB article:
Wilson article wrote:Downwardly Mobile Buddhism
Buddhists in the United States on average earn less than the general American population at large,
according to a 2014 Pew survey of household income: 36% earn under $30,000 (U.S. average: 35%),
18% earn $30,000-$49,000 (U.S. average: 20%), 32% earn $50,000-$99,999 (U.S. average: 26%), and only
13% earn $100,000 or more (U.S. average: 19%). This puts them well behind Jews, Hindus,
Presbyterians, Episcopalians, atheists, Methodists, and many others—in terms of income, Buddhists’
closest compatriots are Southern Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Pentecostals (Masci 2016).
However, this does not mean that Buddhists as a whole lack significant financial resources, and some
lineages draw especially on members of the information, technology, and other privileged sectors of
contemporary society. Similar dynamics appear to exist in Canada.
My summary is obviously crude and lacks nuance. Pointing to obvious examples, like mountain tops, realizing almost everyone lives down in the valleys between these extremes. As I've aged I've grown more interested in the ideas of merit and giving to generate merit. I still struggle with these ideas though. Look forward to more of your excellent replies.
**I really hesitate to use the term 'seed' given its connotation and use in prosperity gospel