Tag Archives: coherence

MONEY IN THE TEMPLE

Money.  Other than, perhaps, a comparable craving for sex, is there anything in this world which has so enticed and beguiled, corrupted and confused, engendered as much envy and rage, or stoked the fires of creativity and advancement more than the ubiquitous human desire for money?  And, as is likewise the case with sex, are we not daily bombarded with continuous multiple and conflicting messages with regard to money and its proper place in our lives?  “(The love of) money is the root of all evil” is but one example of just such a message that shares the same literal and metaphorical space in the cultural consciousness as “A penny saved is a penny earned” or, as the quote attributed to businessman Ted Turner says, “Life is a game (and) money is how we keep score.”

No area of human endeavor has been successfully immunized from the effects, both good and bad, of money’s influence, not even (perhaps even especially) the institutions and individuals that purport to service the needs of humanity’s spiritual health and needs.  And churches, temples and the like are host to some of the most emphatic as well as ambivalent and contradictory messages concerning money; as such, they can be ripe targets for suspicion concerning their own motivation for its acquisition and use.  Perhaps it is the ferocity of the denouncement of worldly riches that itself causes a wary eye to be turned when, at the end of just such a sermon or teaching, the collection plate is passed around.

Interestingly, the more mainstream and firmly ensconced in the local community a religious organization is, the less likely, generally, it is to be a lightning rod for controversy about matters of a fiscal nature.  The church itself can be quite opulent (it does, after all, represent the glory of God, doesn’t it?…) and the pastor can dress nicely and drive a decent car (it wouldn’t do for the Man of God to go around representing the Almighty looking like a beggar, now would it?…), just so long as he’s not too demonstrative in his exhibition of the congregation’s largess.

While member organizations of the predominant mainline traditions and their leaders might on occasion be subjected to the scrutiny of a bothered parishioner or a concerned third party’s auditing eye, it is the more unconventional groups and those individuals who walk decidedly non-conformist spiritual paths that are the most likely to be on the receiving end of bluster and condemnation over their relationship to money.  Oddly enough, this noisy disapproval more often than not arises most vehemently from within their own ranks.

There have been many teachers and practitioners of meditative, yogic, pantheistic, and Earth-centered disciplines who have historically disparaged money as worthy only of loathing and contempt.  Their general stance is that one should be above such trivial and petty concerns.  Then there are those within the community who accuse certain other spiritual teachers of selling the Dharma, or of being plastic Medicine people, or of operating pay-to-pray schemes that prey upon the ignorance of people in a time of need or distress.  The farther one ventures from the prevailing winds of orthodox religion, it seems, the more apt is one to encounter the voices of resistance to what is perceived by the owners of those voices as the selling of spirit.

(As a momentary aside, it should not be necessary for me to acknowledge here that confidence men and women exist and operate in the world but, for the sake of due diligence, acknowledge their existence I shall.  The unscrupulous and the fraudulent can be found everywhere and in all arenas; crooks, however, are not the present topic of discussion.  As for those who have been or might yet be taken in by such scoundrels and their ilk, I will paraphrase and reword an old saw: “Let the seeker beware.”)

To substantiate their position that “real” spiritual teachers and/or healers would never require or accept payment for their services, detractors often point to examples of holy persons* of the past that seldom, if ever, traded in currency.  What these detractors fail to consider (or at least publicly acknowledge) is the age and culture in which these teachers of note lived.  One must ask, what was the coin of the realm at that time, in that place, and in that culture?

In many tribal societies and cultures of old it is very true that what we would recognize as money was never used, but that does not mean that a value-for-value exchange was never a part of the spiritual teacher/student (or healer/patient) equation in the past.  Food, drink, clothing, livestock, and other objects of value given in support of and as compensation for a holy person’s work were quite common and often far more practical (and of a greater real worth) than any transfer of gold, silver, or paper bank notes.  And as is frequently the case today, much of these materials were then summarily redistributed within the community as charity to those in need.  But that was then and this is now.  Today, money is the modern equivalent of the milk cow or the blanket.

It is a hard and cold fact that modern “civilized” societies would likely cease to function without some variant of capitalistic monetary exchange, and this fact does not suddenly become null and void when one crosses the threshold of a contemporary temple or church or meditation hall or other venue where activities of a spiritual nature take place.  Money is not a necessary evil because money is not evil at all.  Money is a tool.  Money is a symbol, a place holder for value and it is this latter truth that is a central theme of this missive.

The sensible person would never demand that a physician or teacher give of their talents, knowledge, wisdom and skills without remuneration, yet the “spirit doctor” is very often castigated if he or she requests compensation.  What follows here next is not a poorly disguised attempt at diversionary semantics, but a simple statement of fact: for the sincere and skilled spiritual teacher and healer, it is not the information or the healing proper which is being compensated.  It is compensation both for the time spent during the actual healing and/or instruction provided and (as it is most unlikely that any teacher or healer is born gifted with an expertise so fully matured that training or an investment of their own personal resources has never been required) in recognition of the diligent effort and expense (in all of its definitions) the holy person has put forth in the past to acquire their knowledge and sharpen their skills.  It is a value-for-value exchange.  Such reimbursement allows the recipient to continue their work and their ongoing assistance of others.  The same holds true if the direct recipient of the compensation through gifts or tithes or special event fees is a sponsoring body (a temple, zendo, etc.) for the reasonable upkeep of facilities, fixtures and support staff.  (Yes, “reasonable” is admittedly a moving target and a legitimate topic for debate.  Perhaps a good unwritten rule is, if you have to ask “is this reasonable?” then there is a very good chance the answer is self-evident.)  One thing is for certain: no sincere (there’s that word again) holy person will ever turn away someone in need solely on the basis of an inability to pay.

Even with all this, there are those who will persist and demand, “Is there really any good reason at all that so-called ‘holy people’ should profit from what they do?  If it’s their calling then is it not their sacred duty?”  As was just explained, yes, it is only right that there is a compensation for time and space and effort.  It says something very pointed, however, about the culture in which we live when people are willingly and without hesitation paid multiple millions of dollars to portray characters in a world of total fantasy but when organizations or individuals that endeavor to bring others to an unobscured awareness of the Real seek compensation or other support, they are as often as not castigated and vilified as greedy and perverters of the Way.

It is useful to now revisit in greater depth a concept contained in a previous passing comment.  If the point of contention one has is with the notion of being expected to “pay-in-order-to-pray,” then I am steadfastly in agreement with such a contention.  Stated bluntly, the day of the traditional religious institution and its self-appointed monopoly role as a place of worship and communion with Source is over.  As a Dharma Teacher I have expressed stridently in the past that it should be the function of every modern religious establishment to seek earnestly its own immediate demise.  I hold to the position that temples and the like should be centers of spiritual education and development, contemplation, and healing which long ago should have jettisoned their designation as sites for the worship of all makes and models of divinity, celestial or otherwise.  Likewise, the job title of priest or minister (as is generally practiced and commonly perceived) delineates an occupation that should have in antiquity gone the way of the lamplighter.  Giving monetary support to such as this is, in my view, a ridiculous and senseless waste of valuable resources.  Being expected to support and sustain something which, by all measured reason, should be as extinct as the pterodactyl is an affront to good sense.  This view does not in any way reject the Holy; it does, however, express a more sophisticated refinement of both the means to acknowledge and to commune with the Sacred.  This is a return to things as they once were.  No structure, physical or organizational, is required for one to engage in an act of worship, should one choose to worship.  The Divine is quite capable of receiving any reverence and oblations you might choose to offer anywhere and at any time without the need of priests or intercessors or regal structures of any sort.  All that being said, there will forever be a need for Educators and Healers.  So long as an organization remains focused on healing and teaching, then it is good for that organization to abide and be supported by those who benefit from the Medicines to be found therein.

Historically, I have wrestled both with giving and being on the receiving end of payment with regards to spiritual undertakings.  Looking back, I find that the times I was most concerned about paying were when I was adding to the coffers of those organizations or individuals which I came to suspect were not operating from the best of intentions, i.e. those I perceived as out of balance in their focus on the accumulation of money itself.  I also have felt disquiet regarding my own receipt of money; consequently, I strive earnestly to be certain that I give people a value greater than what might otherwise be expected for the services I perform.  A maxim I coined many years ago and have applied ever since concerning whatever fee I may ask is, “I’m not saying that this is all it’s worth; I’m saying that this is all I require.”

But what about those numerous occasions when I have paid (and many times paid handsomely) for teaching and/or healing of a spiritual nature and left feeling satisfied and contented that I had been enriched by the experience?  Those were the times when I recognized a palpable benefit from the exchange between myself and the holy person in question.  Those were the times when I invested in myself and received in return, at the very least, as much as I had given.  More often than not, in cases such as those, I was the recipient of tools and insights, methods and mirrors of a value far exceeding what I had expected to encounter.  And at those magical moments, had I been able, I would have gladly paid a hundred times more for the information, wisdom, and training I received.  If the information you are seeking is not worth that then, perhaps, you might consider whether you are seeking the right thing in the right place with the right adept.  This is a most excellent standard by which to judge the merit of a teaching or a teacher.

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Regarding this pecuniary quandary, it is doubtful that any uniform consensus will ever be reached between all the divergent camps.  The best that can be hoped for may well be the agreement to respectfully disagree.  It is incumbent upon the spiritual seeker to never let their judgement be clouded by unbridled emotion or bedazzled by assertions or promises that don’t align with ones goals or needs.  What is right for others may not be equally as right for you.  Due diligence, self-honesty, and personal responsibility should always be the compass that guides our choices in matters of spirit.  Only you can with any certainty determine if the nourishment you receive is worth the price you pay.  No one else can make that assessment for you.  Even if they could, no one else should have that kind of power over you.

A final point worth considering: there is a saying among the Tzutujil Maya of Guatemala- “never trust a skinny shaman.”  That such a shaman is “malnourished” is often viewed as compelling evidence that the shaman in question is lacking in skill or is otherwise not well regarded (and consequently not well rewarded) by the community for the quality of their work.  This perspective certainly shines a very different light on the merits of reward for a job well done.

*Variants of the term “holy person” are used in this essay to signify those sincere and skilled spiritual counselors, educators, and/or healers whose bailiwick falls outside the boundaries of contemporary orthodox religion or healing arts.  The adjective “holy” as used here should not be interpreted to imply any status of divinity or infallibility.

©Billy Red Horse

THE BUTTON

No one of sound mind can with a straight face dispute the fact that the times in which we presently find ourSelves living are nothing if not remarkable.  In recent years all of the difficulties, conflicts, and disagreements of the past have taken on a new immediacy and increasingly frenetic tenor.  Differences in political and philosophical ideologies have been amplified and multiplied, and “coming to blows” has become much more than just a colorful saying.

In a world where battle lines have been drawn and “us-versus-them” is the order of the day, it is beguiling to think of a scenario where animosity has somehow been sidelined and strife permanently transcended.

Everyone has a position, everyone holds an opinion.  Just imagine, though, of how peaceful and harmonious things might be if only we all could agree.  If only there were some way to engender such a change immediately, without harm, and without resistance…

I have for several years given much consideration to a button.  The imaginary button of which I speak has a single function: to change the world’s mind.  Though the mechanics of this change are unimportant, the results would be far-reaching and absolute: whoever encounters the button and chooses to push it will instantaneously and irreversibly transform every single member of every society on the planet into a traveler of like mind, like attitudes, like persuasions, like philosophies, like outlooks.  This miraculous change would occur without any violence or harm wrought upon anyone.  The world and the button-pusher are in total accord.

If offered the opportunity to push such a button, to have every other person on this Earth agree with me, I would refuse.

Though the factional enmity I presently observe saddens me, despite the persistent violence of word and of deed, regardless of my mistrust for long-established institutions and the machinations of unseen powers and principalities, I still would not push the button.  I simply could not do it.  I hold the position that the forceful imposition of my will on another, no matter how painless or even pleasant such a conversion might be for them, would still amount to an implicit act of coercion.  I would not wish to be converted by another.  I can only consider others through the same lens.  My teachers and their teachers before them have held as sacrosanct and unassailable the Self and the free will present in every Human born.  This respect for the Choice of others is no less sacred to me.

Though the button could reasonably be regarded an elegant solution to a perennial problem, I would judge such a solution to be at least as corrupted as the havoc it could in a single moment replace.

Not surprisingly, I know several people personally who would without consideration or even a moment’s hesitation press the button if given the opportunity.  They would do so from the perspective of it eliminating conflict and being for the greater good.  And, to my way of thinking, they could not be more wrong.

For me, the only viable and acceptable remedy is found in civilized discourse, rational Self-interest, critical thinking, unflinching Self-honesty, and mutual respect for the agency of others.

We don’t need a button.  We just need to employ those tools which we already have.

©Billy Red Horse

AN APOLOGY FOR THE OLD WAYS

“The good old days.”

This phrase has been known to send eyes rolling and elicit sighs of quiet exasperation for decades.  Are the “good old days” really all they are cracked up to be?  In my estimation, maybe.

Probably, even.

When I allude to the good old days, what I speak of is not based on a nostalgia for the world in which I grew up.  Trust me, the ‘80s, ‘70s, and even ‘60s of my own youth were really not all that worthy of being pined for again.  No, what I am speaking of are the Times before I was even born.  I remember seeing the photographs in history books.  I remember as a child hearing stories from those older than me who spoke of the much simpler days of an earlier era: the ‘50s, ‘40s, and even earlier.  As an adult I have often watched movies from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s, seeing a world in many ways markedly different from today.  (Be advised: I labor under no delusion that the silver screen representation of any given moment in Time is ever a complete or even remotely accurate depiction; such representations do, however, leave clues.)  Those bygone eras had a certain innocence and character which I find most appealing.

Though they are but evanescent memories from my past, I want to say some of the Old Ones of my youth were 80 and 90 years of age and, thus, had personal recollections of Life as far back as the late 1800s.  Times then were different and, in many ways, better.

Manners, decorum, accountability, dignity, and resilience seemed to be far more in evidence and in vogue.  The importance of the family structure was still recognized and fostered, and hard work was seen as both a responsibility and a reward.  In short, values were valued.  Yet even more than these things, there was something which was a defining characteristic of those bygone days: an unflagging sense of optimism and genuine hope for the future.

Despite two world wars and a massive long-term economic depression, there seemed to be a pervasive expectation that the bad was going to eventually become good and the good would only get better.  I know I haven’t observed such an expectant and genuine positivity in the world around me in decades.  This is what has been missing for so long and what we must reclaim if we are to extract ourSelves from the current myriad of predicaments which we have created.

It could be argued that our grandfathers and great-grandmothers were, in their youth, simply naive and ignorant.  I would argue pointedly to the contrary; I say it is WE who are betrayed by our naiveté.  Our ancestors understood and accepted things which are perilously close to being discarded absolutely and lost in perpetuity by we who live today.

Present-day society has an unfortunate tendency to wait for an outside influence to “fix stuff” and set things right.  Instead of looking to politicians or some other messianic enterprise to put conditions in order, it is well within our capacity to cast an investigative glance rearwards and rediscover what it is we have lost that can make the Present the “good old days” once again.

I will close this short apology by stating that I am not a Luddite.  I have no desire to be without climate controlled buildings any more than I wish automobiles, computers, telephones, or air travel to vanish.  I don’t at all support a homogeneous culture nor do I advocate for a compelled monolithic form of religious expression.  I say we must cast off the Life-negating aspects of culture, regardless of their vintage, and nurture the Life-affirming aspects to give rise to something truly better.

An admirable goal of a transcendent humanity is to seek to continually refine and positively develop the Self (and consequently the community) while cleaving to the traditions and conventions which have been Time-tested and shown demonstrably effectual.  A forward looking optimism should never go out of style.

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*I will assume that readers of this blog are possessed of an above average intelligence and a commensurate ability to discern intent; even so, considering the present zeitgeist of pervasive social outrage and engineered melodrama, I will state explicitly the following:  I do not for one moment suggest that Jim Crow laws, unsanitary living conditions, monopolistic robber barons, or any of the unpleasant human relational dynamics of Times past should in any way be applauded or pursued as worthy of reclamation.

That this disclaimer needed to be included is a sad commentary on our present Times and an ironic reinforcement of the general thesis of this essay.

©Billy Red Horse

Coherence Of Message

If your goal is to impart a message and to have it taken on board as valid and worthwhile, one of the surest (and quickest) ways to have that message challenged or discounted outright is to not be an obvious practitioner of exactly what it is you are promoting.  Overweight dietitians, pallid physicians, broke financial advisers, and temperamental meditation instructors are just a few examples of those who present a face-forward that screams, “do as I say, not as I do!”  And any sane person would be well within their good senses to beat a hasty retreat from such as these whenever and wherever they are encountered.

Very rarely is there only one right way to do something.  But whatever behavior or methodology is being promoted (and usually charged for) should be consistent with the herald bearing the message.  There should be evidence to support the claim.  If you are one who has something to say, a product to sell, or an idea to spread, then it is in your best interest to be a walking and talking billboard for the value you purport to offer; there must be an obvious coherence of message and demonstrable results if you are to be taken seriously in this day and age.

It is challenging enough to persuade others to consider what it is you might have to offer without sabotaging your efforts.  Don’t make the task all the more difficult by presenting a message that appears to contradict the facts.

Walk your talk.

©Billy Red Horse