Nonduality Teachers and Money
By Jeff Keller
The amount of money charged by nonduality teachers can be a delicate issue. There are those who believe that no teacher should ever charge money for communicating this sacred teaching. They will tell you that the truth is “not for sale” or words to that effect.
I can respect this position, although I don’t feel that way myself. I just don’t see a problem with charging reasonable amounts, especially in today’s society, where the teacher is incurring significant expenses relating to the transmission of the information (including maintenance of websites and securing meeting facilities). In addition, the teacher may have little or no other source of income and would be unable to devote considerable time (or full-time) to being a teacher.
I think many who are vehemently opposed to the idea of charging for nonduality meetings are thinking of situations years ago (in places like India) where sages held open meetings without charge and welcomed all truth seekers. However, it is my understanding that sages in these communities had all of their personal needs taken care of by others in the community, i.e. food, clothing, shelter, medical care, transportation, etc.
Such is not the case with most teachers today, especially in Western countries. The members of the community do not offer to provide for the basic needs of the teacher. How can a teacher in Chicago or London pay his or her living expenses (and in some cases support a family) without charging any money or receiving significant contributions? It would only be possible when the teacher has another job that provides adequate income.
I’ll offer some of my observations and judgments about fees charged by nonduality teachers. Naturally, these comments represent my own biases and conditioning. If you are relatively new to nonduality meetings and retreats, these comments may give some helpful guidelines. If you have attended meetings or retreats, I’m sure you have your own preferences and opinions on this subject.
In my view, the overwhelming majority of nonduality teachers charge very reasonable fees for their meetings and retreats. These teachers are not involved in teaching in an attempt to build wealth. They have a love of Truth and feel “called” to spread the teaching.
The amounts charged for meetings will vary with the locale and the cost of living in that locale. Therefore, we would expect meeting charges to be different in an area where the average income is thousands of dollars per month as opposed to areas where the average income is hundreds of dollars per month or less.
In the United States, it has been my experience that most nonduality teachers charge in the range of $10 – $20 for two-hour meetings. Full day meetings (approximately 6 hours) are in the range of $60 – $75. This can be called a registration fee, or in some cases, a suggested contribution. This is an extremely good value, as I see it. In addition, I don’t know of any respected nonduality teacher who would deny admission to a person who was truly unable to afford the registration fee.
With regard to retreats, the range for 5-7 day retreats is typically [in the area of] $300 – $450, which covers only the registration or tuition charge. Here again, I consider that a very reasonable fee for what is being offered.
Retreats can get expensive when you add in the lodging cost and food cost, as well as travel expenses to and from the retreat, if the retreat is not held near your home. Thus you may hear that someone paid thousands of dollars to attend a retreat in Costa Rica or Hawaii, but the lion’s share of the expenses were for travel, lodging and food expenses. The teacher did not pocket thousands of dollars from each student.
Of course, you will find exceptions. There are teachers, or should I call them charlatans, who will ask for thousands of dollars and promise that you will realize your true nature by attending their meetings or studying at their ashram or retreat center.
No legitimate teacher of nonduality will make promises that you will recognize your true nature within a specific time period—and they won’t promise that you will ever self-realize. I would be very wary of any teacher that asks for significant amounts of money upfront or makes any promises about what results will come from his or her teaching.
Some nonduality teachers charge consultation fees for phone discussions or email communications. In the U.S. and Europe, I’ve noticed that teachers charge in the area of $50 – 75 per hour for such communications. There are also many teachers who conduct phone discussions and email exchanges at no charge.
I admit that I’m not a big fan of consultation charges, especially when it comes to email. Many of the best nonduality teachers will answer your email questions at no charge, but they simply don’t have time to answer all email inquiries in detail—and it may take them a long time to respond due to a large volume of email.
“Can you imagine a popular teacher like Adyashanti trying to answer all of his email inquiries? It’s just not reasonable to expect a teacher to do that.” ~JK
If you are in the beginning stages of nondual investigation, email is not usually effective. You will tend to ask questions that can’t be answered in a short email response. And whatever response you receive will trigger more questions. You can’t expect every teacher to spend all day conducting email satsang with you.
Regarding phone discussions, I can understand why some teachers charge a fee. If there is no charge for phone discussions, many people abuse the privilege. They will want the teacher to spend hours answering all of their questions. This can be a tremendous time burden for the teacher. I think most teachers who set fees for phone consultations are not looking to make money from these discussions; rather, they want to discourage those who are not “serious” from calling and wasting the teacher’s time.
It has also been my experience that nonduality teachers are usually willing to speak to you on the phone (or offer email responses) at no charge when you are deeply committed to your nondual investigation and need to clear up a few specific issues.
Almost all nonduality teachers are extremely generous in providing free resources, especially through the internet. Most of the popular teachers have websites, where they provide essays, books excerpts, question and answer exchanges, as well as audio and video materials. Some resources may be offered for sale, but in almost every instance, a generous supply of free materials is offered directly from the website.
There’s also the issue of teachers who set up their blog or website to allow site visitors to make a donation. I see nothing wrong with that and only a few teachers are very aggressive in soliciting donations. The majority have a short statement that donations are appreciated and there is no other mention of money.
Some people like to support a teacher’s efforts, realizing that the teacher is spending time to assist the site visitors and is not charging for his or her services. It’s a nice way for the student to give something back to the teacher. I don’t think many teachers are making a lot of money from these donations.
Finally, I salute all the teachers who are willing to travel to conduct meetings and retreats, even when their appearances will yield little or no money for the teacher. There are many fine nonduality teachers, especially in the early years of their teaching, who get requests to travel to different countries (or different parts of their own country) to conduct meetings.
In some instances, the attendance at these events is very small—perhaps only 15 or 20 people. The teacher is often getting nothing more than payment of his or her travel expenses. In other words, they earn nothing from the meeting and yet it requires several days of their time, when you factor in the travel time. They come because of their love for sharing the teaching.
You may have your own opinion about the fees charged by nonduality teachers. I am just grateful that there are so many outstanding, sincere teachers who willingly share the teaching without being motivated by how much money they can make.
It’s true that a small percentage of nonduality teachers earn quite a bit of money. What’s wrong with that? They deserve it and I see no reason they should have to take a vow of poverty. As long as they are coming from love and sincerity and charging reasonable fees to students, it’s all fine with me.
*Please note, this article is a couple of years old and may or may not reflect current “market pricing” for nondual services in the West.
What are your thoughts on charging VS not charging or any of the above?