In Karma We Trust: Buddhist Organizations Offer Classes, Retreats, Without Fees

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Wildmind, a non-profit organization that has been offering online meditation and Buddhism classes since 2000, has scrapped charges for its services, relying instead on asking for donations from students to cover the cost of supporting teachers.

Wildmind, a non-profit organization that has been offering online meditation and Buddhism classes since 2000, has scrapped charges for its services, relying instead on asking for donations from students to cover the cost of supporting teachers. The suggested amount—typically $90 for a four-week online meditation course that includes personal coaching—is only a guideline and students are not turned away if they cannot pay.

“We’re taking a risk,” says Bodhipaksa, director of Wildmind, “but we feel uneasy with making meditation into a commodity. And it’s important for these classes to be available to anyone, regardless of how much money they have.” Wildmind’s online courses offer instruction in meditation and Buddhism, and include online readings, MP3 guided meditations, a discussion forum, and individual feedback from an experienced meditation instructor.

Wildmind is not the only Buddhist organization offering courses by donation, or dana, as it’s known in Buddhism. The worldwide network of Vipassana Meditation Centers, established by retired Burmese businessman, S. N. Goenka, relies solely on donations from students who have completed their ten-day courses. Barry Lapping, an assistant teacher at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne, Massachusetts, explains: “Our center opened in 1982 and has never charged for a retreat. This is how all of our centers operate.”

Dhanakosa, a Buddhist retreat centre in Scotland, has only “suggested donations” rather than fixed charges. Amoghavira, Dhanakosa’s chairman, says the main reason for operating this way is accessibility. “Fixed rates make it difficult for those on low incomes to come on retreat,” he explains. “What we have to offer is available to everyone, not just those who can afford it.”

But does trusting in karma in this way work in today’s cynical world? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is “yes.” The Vipassana centers’ reliance on donations has not only covered their running costs but has allowed for the opening of new centers all over the world. And Dhanakosa’s chairman believes that because retreatants respond so positively to being trusted the centre earns more than if charges were fixed.

Wildmind is finding that asking for donations works on the web as well; income from classes is higher than ever. “We do get some students giving as little as a dollar for a month of personal coaching,” says Bodhipaksa. “But some people give more than the suggested amount, and we find that those who give very little don’t participate and so don’t take up the teacher’s time, anyway.”

Bodhipaksa hopes that good karma will help the organization to continue thriving. “If what we’re giving is of real benefit,” he says, “we’re confident that there will be a generous response.” So far, that seems to be the case. Shanna Gutierrez, a professional flautist from Evanston, Illinois, was attracted to take a course because of Wildmind’s donations policy: “This policy of classes by donation gave me a sense that I was valued as a person rather than as a source of income.” She also says that the experience of learning online was more meaningful than if she had simply “purchased” something.

An Associate Professor at Wesleyan University, who wished to remain anonymous in order “to avoid any negative mental states associated with giving for the wrong reasons,” was impressed by Wildmind’s not having fixed charges. “The message of accepting donations rather than having a course fee is very clear: the point of Wildmind’s courses is not to make money, it is to help people help themselves.”

Details of Wildmind’s courses are available online at http://www.wildmind.org.

Contact:

Stephen Cardwell

Wildmind Meditation Services

177 Main Street

Newmarket, NH 03857

603-659-3800

http://www.wildmind.org

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