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Why We Charge a Fee for Learning Spiritual Knowledge
As a meditation teacher and seminar organizer for world seer Aaravindha Himadra, I sometimes get asked, “Why do you charge money for seminars? Shouldn’t spiritual knowledge be freely available to all, especially in a world where it is needed more than ever?”
The people asking these questions come from various cultural and philosophical backgrounds. Some are afraid that the economically impoverished might miss out on important spiritual lessons. Other people wholeheartedly believe that spiritual knowledge should be passed on without reciprocation, or, at least, a minimum amount of reciprocation to cover the bare necessities for a frugal life.
Due to the various cultural and philosophical backgrounds of the enquirers, answers to these questions must also be complex and diverse in order to take into consideration both the general sentiment they engender, as well as the personal characteristics that led to such a question.
The subject of both abundance and lack is a central theme on the spiritual path. It‘s a great learning ground for almost every person because too much of something, as well as too little, can lead to problems. However, an even bigger problem is often the perceived feeling of lack that leads to obstacles in the natural flow of abundance. We have to face these issues if we want to wake up. We have to let go of beliefs that keep us limited. If we maintain a blockage in our divine flow, this single blockage prevents us from experiencing enlightenment.
The history of renunciation as a spiritual path
Both in the East and West, renunciation has a long tradition relative to our spiritual freedom or salvation. Sometimes to an extreme degree. In the West, especially in medieval Christianity, they considered it a monastic ideal to submit to self-mortification in various forms. Delight in sensual experiences was reprehensible. Once a monastic had succumbed to bodily pleasure, self-judgment and even physical self-torture were the accepted consequences. Abstinence from all sensual pleasures was a desirable sign of purity.
The East displayed similar tendencies. It was ideal to renounce all material possessions, sexuality, and other sensual temptations of the world, as well as to seek liberation in a final dissolution of existence.
How we can turn the experiences of the past into lessons learned
Human beings are divine consciousness having physical experiences. We are the one ultimate perceiver and creative force that creates universes, and we are, at the same time, that which intimately experiences this physical creation. We cannot deny or condemn either of these realities. Rather, we must learn to remain an open gateway between the Creator and the Created.
The mistake we have made throughout history was believing that in order to reach the divine, we must get rid of all things earthly. We did not realize that this wasn’t about letting go of all earthly things and sensual experiences, but about letting go of the illusion of separation that prevents us from realizing that we’re both divine and earthly simultaneously.
What we have to sacrifice is our attachments and our aversions to life. If these attachments and aversions possess us, then we’re not free and cannot experience our true power and abundance. We mistakenly struggle to follow a path of renunciation that ultimately only leads to non-existence, instead of using our divinity to create a joyous paradisiacal state. Renunciation leads to a life in lack with a final goal that gives us nothing. Abundance leads to bliss and everlasting diversity and creativity. What do you sense as the true path?
Many of our beliefs today about how spiritual teachers should live, or how much they might charge for their services, or how much wealth is acceptable, stems from these olden imprints of illusionary spiritual beliefs that impose on us the amount of abundance we may or may not have. We must recognize these patterns of conditioning and authentically feel for the deeper truth. As the patterns of lack arise within us, we must feel for the full extent of these fears and observe them unattached. This enables us to make a discriminative choice for the truth that then allows us to step beyond our common limitations into freedom. When we dissolve those limitations and move from poverty-consciousness to inner-abundance, we often concurrently create an outer-abundance as a natural side effect.
The illusion that spiritual knowledge is freely available
We are often under the illusion that certain communities, teachers, or religions freely pass on their knowledge. If we want to go to a Christian church, the door is open. The pastor or priest does not demand money for his or her advice. Buddhist monks pass on their knowledge on a donation basis, and Hindu masters teach free. But, is this true?
Humans often have the tendency to only register things that are in direct temporal relation to an experience. We think the churches are free, but people in Germany, and other European countries, have less salary in their account due to church tax. Germany for example charges 9% chruch tax on the income tax. In countries like the US, where the state and church are more constitutionally separated, the various Christian communities expect their members to tithe 10% of their monthly income.
In the East, that system operates slightly different. There are no fixed monetary donation amounts required by the church. People are more connected to their spirituality as an activity that gives purpose to their lives, and the search for enlightenment is more important than in the West. A respected spiritual teacher in India often has a much greater following of dedicated devotees. These devotees place a higher value on their spiritual development. Overall, these societies experience less skepticism and doubt, which often represents a spiritual obstacle for people in the West. Even though individuals in the East have fewer financial resources available, they donate what they can for their spiritual path as “dana,” or charitable giving. Temples and ashrams are built for their teachers, or sages. Devotees attempt to provide a good life for their spiritual teachers, all in gratitude for his or her service to humanity. Buddhist monks are usually paid to perform pujas and ceremonies, frequently receiving food or alms from the people. Even Gandhi had a full sponsor and Paramahamsa Yogananda and Sri Aurobindo, had sponsors who gifted them entire centers and ashrams.
Spiritual teachers, like most people in capitalist societies, need money if they want to pursue their calling full-time. If they have no income from sponsors, taxes, or tithing, they have to charge seminar fees in order to finance their lives and raise money for higher goals, such as building spiritual centers. The goal of spiritual work should not be to turn a profit, but to establish Dharma. Even so, finances are required to perform spiritual work, and good teachers are aware of this.
The reality of expenses, working as a global spiritual teacher
As a seminar organizer, I am confronted with the following complaint at least once a year: the amount of wealth generated through seminar sales is inappropriate for spiritual teachers.
In this short complaint, there are two mistakes. First, people rarely recognize the true costs of organizing and participating in seminars. Second, it contains a judgment about what is an “appropriate” standard of living.
As far as how much seminars truly cost, many participants do not pay the regular seminar price. For example, at Aaravindha’s seminars, single parents and students receive a 20% discount. Participants who have already completed teacher training receive a 70% discount. For many others who don’t qualify for these automatic discounts, we provide a limited number of individual discounts upon review. As an added precaution, to ensure that all participants can adequately afford these seminars, payment plans are possible for anyone.
Now, we must consider how much the seminar teacher actually receives from these events. The EU country in which a seminar takes place generally takes between 19 to 25% in sales tax, depending on the country. This VAT must be pre-paid by the seminar teachers, even if the bill has not yet been paid by the participants. Seminar organizers need accountants and CPAs in the US and Germany to file VAT, which creates constant monthly expenses.
Offering seminars abroad creates travel costs. Flights, hotels, rental cars, and food services are just a few of those costs that are required during travel. In certain cases, home, child, or pet care might be required while the seminar leader is away.
From my personal experience as a seminar leader, I can say that after several days of teaching a seminar, I am deeply fulfilled, but also quite exhausted. Aaravindha’s seminars often last for 9 or 10 days, from early in the morning to late in the evening. During breaks, he’s often besieged by students, even while eating, and after the seminar ends for the night, when everyone else gets to go to sleep, but he’s still looking for energetically suitable spiritual names, sometimes for as many as 50 people.
Aaravindha often works 7 days a week, 10-14 hours a day, all year long, to bring spiritual knowledge to the world, or to take care of all that needs attention.
Several people depend on the seminar fees for their entire income and livelihood. Even during the seminar, there’s a crew of people, ranging from sound engineers to translators, without whom a seminar would not be possible. All these people must receive some form of compensation. Furthermore, equipment such as audio engineering, photographic and video technology, lighting, candles, and other decorations must be purchased and maintained.
Often people only see those 9 or 10 days of a seminar and consider that to be the entire service. However, for these 9 or 10 days to take place, Aaravindha and other spiritual teachers prepare for several months ahead. They need this time to bring forth knowledge and translate it into a structured form that the linear mind can grasp. Aaravindha does this in the form of writing, which often leads to books, many of which he makes available for his seminars. Other seminar documents must be developed, translated, and creatively produced, as well. The seminar fee must cover these months of work. The associated yearly costs for a pleasant living space, healthy food, workspaces for several people, health insurance, etc. must also be covered.
Most of these costs are not tax deductible. This means that the IRS first takes out at least 30% and then the remaining amount must cover the rest. These costs are far more complex than most people recognize.
We all are allowed to decide for ourselves what we need
Aaravindha and Ashayrah have created a very inspiring environment through their own work and creativity. They have built two houses in their lives with their own hands and labor. When I stand in front of their house, I find myself puzzled over how to create something like that. The garden is lovingly planted and taken care of, and animals, such as deer, hummingbirds, raccoons, and squirrels, are fed by Aaravindha and Ashayrah. The animals are allowed to live there in this natural sanctuary.
A few years ago Aaravindha and Ashayrah built a separate studio for Aaravindha so he can write undisturbed. To produce this kind of supreme spiritual knowledge constantly, the environment must also be nourishing and supportive for the body and brain. 3G, 4G, 5G or WLAN radiation, or other toxins, would be disturbing. Mastery also means taking care of yourself so you have the right conditions you need to do your work in an inspired way, while eliminating negative influences as much as possible.
What Aaravindha requires to create a fulfilling spiritual environment is entirely up to him. In fact, only he can make that decision. We all have to decide for ourselves what’s appropriate, what we need, and what would be wasteful. All of us, including Aaravindha, have hobbies and interests that don’t relate directly to their jobs, and should be allowed to indulge in those.
No one can know how Aaravindha is planning to use any savings his work might bring. I’m sure he’ll invest it in something that helps to ensure the continuity of the Amartya tradition, but we too are called to contribute something. All of us, those who see themselves as part of this tradition, should make sure we get our priorities straight before critiquing others.
Entitlement is a disease of our time
Feeling entitled to receive spiritual knowledge for a discount or for free is an illusion produced by the modern Western world. This illusion has become a disorder.
In ancient times, students often had to walk hundreds of miles under severe conditions to reach a place where they could hear spiritual teachings or receive blessings. There are countless stories of aspirants left out of the doors of a temple or monastery to test their spiritual resolve. Today, everything is too easy, and we need barriers to ensure that the highest spiritual knowledge a teacher can give does not degenerate into a spiritual fast food devoured by spiritual junkies in passing. You have to prove that you can recognize the value of high knowledge by willingly giving an appropriate value to it.
It is not spiritual to reject honest work because we do not consider it spiritual enough, or because we expect others to take care of us. It is not spiritual to demand a gift without returning anything of appropriate value. Entitlement is a mixture of arrogance, lack of generosity, and lack of appreciation.
Gaining the highest spiritual knowledge, without being ready to give anything to enable the teaching of this knowledge creates an unnatural imbalance that keeps us trapped in limitation. Often our judgmental opinions of what price should be put on spiritual teachings blinds us from seeing the true value of what is given. If someone wants a seminar discount, yet has the money to go on vacation, then their priorities in relation to the seminar knowledge are not in order.
Many alleged financial bottlenecks are an opportunity to look at where you may not be focused enough, or where you are spending money for things you do not need. Some of these things may even be bad for you. Consider cigarettes and alcohol, for example. Maybe the time spent on Facebook, Instagram, or just watching TV can be used to create something that expands your own possibilities and strengthens your personal power.
When the voice of resistance comes to say, “But I’m already doing everything I can!”, ask yourself if that’s really true, or if you’re just limiting your creative freedom. And if so, why is that? When you are born, the entire world is open for you. You have endless possibilities to create your life. Every moment is an opportunity.
However, it is a completely different situation when a person is doing everything to make ends meet and recognizes the value of spiritual teachings, but simply cannot generate enough financial resources. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as severe physical illness, old age, or exceptional hardship. For these cases, we have provided an opportunity for additional discounts.
Generosity is a spiritual act, but we also have to make sure we are not just supporting patterns.
How to get into the flow of abundance
We need to be clear about our priorities and be ready to give everything for our spiritual freedom. If this change is actualized, then you will be given. The path will be paved before your feet, and you will get what you are ready for. You need to trust in divine intelligence, but first, you have to purify your mind, be grateful for what life brings, be ready to dive into your creativity, and be active in giving gifts for the altar of the divine. You need to infuse your work with your divine inspiration and love, whether that is as a full-time worker, in a part-time job, or in a creative business idea that you can work on. Working as a healer is not more spiritual than working as a garbage truck driver. It all depends on whether you embody the divine qualities, and whether you are an inspiration and healing force wherever you are in daily life. If you can’t meet ends working as a yoga teacher or healer, then look for other opportunities and jobs, bringing your wisdom and love to that place. This might not be in alignment with what you want, but it is an opportunity to reevaluate what really matters.
If you do that and overcome your expectations and beliefs about what is spiritual and what isn’t, something wonderful begins. You no longer create financial means solely through your dedication and commitment on a physical level. The flow of the divine recognizes you as a healing cell, and supports your path. When this happens, new doors open, which may have been previously closed.
What will not work is to tell the universe that you are ready. The realization of your priorities is not enough. Your entire life must be permeated with your willingness to manifest what is necessary for your spiritual development. That does not mean manifesting a “spiritual profession.” Your everyday life must be steeped in gratitude for even the littlest opportunities that show themselves. What if something doesn’t work out? Then let it go, and be grateful just for the experience. You must accept that everything is for you, even the failures.
The key is to being effortless, but not idle or lazy, is to let go when you have to, but still be dedicated and steady enough to make a harvest that supports your spiritual path in the linear world.
A spiritual teacher should be generous to those who are sick or old and destitute and help those who are temporarily closed off from other possibilities. However, the spiritual teacher needs to be careful to not strengthen debilitating patterns, create karmic debts, or give knowledge to people who do not recognize its value. If someone cannot see the value in spiritual teachings, they cannot put the knowledge into action. This energy would then have been wasted and better invested with another student.
A final recommendation
The time a teacher takes, and the strain he or she goes through to come to us and give us knowledge, must be appreciated. Not only in the form of gratitude, but also in the form of material return that enables these teachings to be brought forth and made available to the world.
Through the seminar fees, Aaravindha is able to write books. These books will be available to all interested people in the world for generations to come at nearly no cost. More free wisdom pearls are passed on through articles and inspirations, as well as through soon-to-be webinars and videos.
Even if you cannot attend seminars with Aaravindha, enlightenment is possible. The free meditations you can learn from Sambodha teachers are powerful techniques that you will find nowhere else. You can also take shorter, cost-effective courses from trained Sambodha teachers, where you can acquire knowledge of the tradition that will allow you to develop efficiently.
Every sentence in Aaravindha’s book, “The Immortal Self,” is a pearl containing many layers of knowledge that unfold over years as deepening insights. More books will follow. Cultivate and live with gratitude, generosity, acceptance, peace, truthfulness, compassion, and other qualities of divine beingness. Learn and refine the basic principles of meditation and nirodhyama over the years. Your devotion to your awakening, your focus, your letting go, and your love will carry you into your awakening. Nobody is excluded. The keys are in your hands. When you‘ve reached a certain point in your development, the knowledge will find you, so you can develop further. There are even deeper layers and stages of development that can only be taught by a teacher who knows the way. Maybe divine grace is knocking at your door right now. Will you open the door?
Being able to attend seminars with Aaravindha is an extraordinary blessing that is not possible for everyone in the world. But, if you can do it, you are extremely blessed.