Orientation: My goal for this little blog is to share my experiences in trying to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism. It assumes you are interested in Tibetan Buddhism and are alone in your search; no friends or family who are also Buddhists. Take my comments as they are, just comments; one person’s experience. And if it helps you on your way, I am very glad for that.
I would be remiss if I did not talk about this obvious part of following Tibetan Buddhism. It is probably true for any religion or way of life, but I feel that the amount of money it can take to be a Buddhist needs to be discussed.
When one is a beginner in Buddhism, they need teachings. And to get teachings, they need access to an authentic lama. There are about three ways to get access:
- Go to the Lama: One can go to an event at a Buddhist center such as Chagdud Gonpa in Northern, CA. Here you will need to pay the event fee, and the lodging fees if the teachings last more than one day. Often, teachings are held in remote areas where there is no hotel nearby, so you pretty much have to stay at the center. Also, teaching events include the opportunity to attend puja, which often happens very early in the morning. So it is best to be very nearby to have a chance to attend. Of course, then there is the cost of one getting to the center, which can be a lot as they tend to be remote. Finally, there is the cost of the texts you need for the event. These tend to be esoteric texts that cannot be bought from anywhere but the center or lama themselves. Often large centers are able to offer some scholarships or volunteering a certain number of hours in exchange for attending the event for free or a reduced rate. These arrangements need to be made well in advance.
- The Lama’s Teaching Tour Comes to Your Area: Most lamas go on tour. In fact, once one finds a lama they like to follow, they will notice he or she has a grueling teaching tour schedule. To find out if a lama will be speaking or teaching nearby, it is best to find the relevant email group for your area. For example, in Los Angeles, it is
Green Lotus LA Dharmagreenlotusla@gmail.com
For these kinds of teachings, the host organization charges a “suggested” donation. For the most part, these monies cover the travel expenses of the lama and his/her spouse and assistant (if they travel with one). They also cover the cost of renting the venue. And they cover the cost of any texts needed. No one is ever turned away for lack of money, but I can say that if one attends more than one event, and does not pay it can become an issue.
- You Tube: These days, many Buddhist centers video record teachings that happen at their centers. One the best resources I have found for teachings in the Nyingma Lineage is Khenpo Sherab Sangpo He is an authentic lama and an excellent teacher. (I do, however, have to offer a caveat. His teachings are to his Sangha that gather regularly. So I notice, in his teachings, he refers to classes and events that his Sangha have had, but viewers of his YouTube Channel likely have not had. So even if one listened to every teaching on the channel, they would still not have the whole story like those who are listening in person have. I cannot say enough that one has to have their own teacher, in real life, in real time. An actual human they can talk to and converse with).
No matter how one accesses teachings it costs money. There is the payment for the event itself and then there is the offering made to the lama at the end of the event. Offerings are not regulated. It is not like you have to offer a certain amount, but one should offer what they honestly can. And if you regularly watch videos on a lama’s YouTube or Vimeo channel, there is usually a way to subscribe to offer monthly support.
So, to give you a breakdown of a 4 day teaching event I recently attended
- Cost of event for 4 days $400
- Cost to stay in a dormitory style lodging situation for 6 nights, included 3 meals a day (one night before and after the event) $300
- Cost of texts needed for the event $175
- Offerings to 2 Lamas who led the event $200
- Roundtrip airfare and bus/shuttle/parking $400
- TOTAL: $1475
It would be wrong to downplay the costs that can add up as one tries to attend teaching and other Tibetan Buddhist retreat events. Like any business, it costs money to put on these events, and it costs money for everyone to get there.