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.