Spirituality as a Business

During ancient times, guru dakshina used to be a tricky business; gurus could ask for anything and the shishyas, without questioning, had to provide. Pandavas, on completion of their education asked Drona and his wish was a preemptive strike on Drupada. In a separate incident related to Drona, Ekalavya had to part with his thumb.

In modern times body parts and warfare are not in vogue; the disciple donates something according to his capabilities to the guru and such convention has worked very well. The stay at Sivananda Ashram in Kasi is entirely free for few days and if you want to extend the stay, all you need is notify the receptionist. The 10 day vipassana course conducted around the world is free as well. All these are supported by dakshinas by people and there are enough people donating that both these institutions, like many others, have been running successfully for years.

By giving a dakshina, as per Indian tradition, we honor the guru parampara; all the masters in the org structure who made this transmission of knowledge possible. By our support we also make sure that our children and grand children have access to this knowledge. It was never about money this has always been the way of Indian spirituality.

Now you see certain New Age spiritual groups which sell spirituality with a predefined price list for various courses. There is a fee for basic meditation course, a larger amount for advanced meditation and half your salary for a residential course. Essentially it is like registering for a tennis or salsa dancing class – you pay a certain amount and you get packaged spirituality.

Indian philosophy has supported a market place of ideas including both astika and nāstika but there never was, during ancient times, an instance when spirituality was sold as a product in the market place. Earlier each school differentiated itself by ideas, now it is by the menu card. To top it, these spiritual groups demand a guru dakshina at the end of the class and what got by goat was a recent $100 discount coupon I got for one such spiritual course.

Selling spirituality is not to be delated. That is business and looking at the amount of people flocking to these gurus, it seems to be a profitable one too. Then, at the end of the tennis class our coaches do not ask for more money for the price for the class was negotiated and settled earlier. Asking for guru dakshina in such situations does not go with tradition and it would be as disagreeable as adding sugar to sambar. As Yoda would have said*, “This mix and match of business and tradition, jarring I find it to be.”

(*) result of watching 6 Star Wars movies back to back.

6 thoughts on “Spirituality as a Business

  1. Awesome post! Just inspired me to do a “serious” (therefore, boring) post on the same lines.
    >>By giving a dakshina, as per Indian tradition, we honor the guru parampara; all the masters in the org structure who made this transmission of knowledge possible.
    Bang on target, but VERY well put!

  2. The ancient kind of gurukula isn’t there anymore. The new “business model” is perhaps the only workable way at least for Hindu organizations that don’t have rich patrons or Government funding. Anyone who opposes it runs the risk of contributing to destroying Hinduism.
    And somehow it seems that Hindu charity doesn’t get as noticed as charity from other religions eg. compare the popularity of the charities of RK Mutt and Mother Teresa within India. Perhaps this business kind of thing is the only way for Hindu charity to be recognized – when people realize that the fees they are charged are going to charity.
    Unless they are keeping quiet about the dakShiNa, and then announcing an expected minimum amount after the course – which is patently dishonest.

  3. @froginthewell,
    Ramakrishna Mission, Chinmaya Mission, Sivananda Ashram, Vipassana Centers are all low key and most of their teachers don’t have the profile of the jet setting gurus of the new age groups and they all have been surviving for years without this menu card system. Then they are low on marketing and do not get as much coverage as other charities.
    One of the local temples here offers free yoga classes every weekend and it seems no one comes for it. The priest was saying that if he charged $30/class like YMCA or Yoga Studios, there would be a rush. The perception is that there is no value for free goods. The folks at the new age groups tell me that they charge money to make people committed and this money is used mostly for charity.
    Then as you noted, they don’t mention this dakshina thing at the begining and that’s when it gets a bit uncomfortable for my taste.

  4. Thanks for clarifying your stance in this post and the one after that. I thought you too were condemning the marketization of religion as some “spiritual-but-not-religious” or humanist-agnostic types do ( eg. criticizing Swaminaryan group for the grand temples ) – nice to know you weren’t.
    Perhaps the way to Hinduism’s survival is by making it “cool”, and perhaps we need “jet-setting” gurus for that. Yes, I agree dishonesty is shady.

  5. @froginthewell, here is the comparison. past year i went for one lecture from a swami from chinmaya mission – audience count, about 200. went for another by one of the flying gurus – audience – more than 2000.
    so the trend is obvious. if we banned such gurus, then it would be like adding the word socialism in the preamble of indian consitution. as time changes, people change and whatever works will survive.

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