It’s been very interesting to include you all in Hondo and my discussion of a small issue – whether we should move this blog to an ad-supported platform – that touches larger ones, like:
- What is the “value” of the Dharma?
- How do we make our way through capitalist consumer culture as so-called “spiritual people”?
- How do we understand money and purity?
- What is independence or freedom from the world or the marketplace, and what is engagement in it?
- In what sense do we ask for our practice to support us? And what modes of support are we comfortable asking of each other?
- What is renunciation? Barring old-school monastic home-leaving, aren’t we necessarily applying it selectively? What is our basis when we do so? (For instance, renunciation includes having a family but shouldn’t include buying Coca-cola? Or should include buying a coke now and then but shouldn’t include advertising coke?)
All of the comments on the original post and elsewhere have been very interesting to me, and genuinely helpful as I reflect on both the small and large questions. A majority preference for staying ad-and-revenue-free is clearly shaping up from our readers, and I appreciate it and am certainly disposed to honor it, but I do have a question or maybe a gripe.
Naturally, readers are expressing their Dharma position as readers (totally exerting themselves nondually in it, even?!). An overarching question for me, though, feels largely unaddressed in the more aesthetic or anti-consumerist lines of thought: does this kind of work have material value, and, if mainstream internet advertising revenue is not an appropriate mode for reflecting that value, what is?
More bluntly, I’ve heard a lot of feedback that advertising isn’t the way to go, but I haven’t exactly been overwhelmed by pledges or other ideas to support No Zen to stay ad-free! The feeling I’m getting (though it certainly doesn’t do justice to the nuances of the many comments, and though I can totally relate to it from my own “reader” position) is more like: it’s better that the blog stay ad-free than that it produce any income for its authors.
If this blog should be clean and free, which of course it should be, just as our temples should be, just as our water should be, then how is a livelihood to be wrenched from Dharma teaching? And if there is no livelihood to be wrenched from the Dharma, what does that mean for the future of the Dharma?
A friend recently complained to me that he felt turned away at local centers because he wasn’t able to produce the apparently mandatory optional dana. I was outraged, of course. The Dharma is free and clean. No ads in the zendo, no charge for sesshin, no big pressure to donate – but then what? Who or what steps into that unfunded space?
It’s easy in a way to say that Zen shouldn’t have anything to do with livelihood. I’m tempted to say that, and I’ve certainly heard it from others. But where does that leave Zen teachers and Zen temples? Certainly one would be on solid ground to suggest that Zen shouldn’t be anything like a livelihood for anyone, but what then happens to the lineage stream, what happens to the forms, ceremonies, and doctrinal styles that depend on being single-mindedly turned to keep their life?
Much of my concern is naked self-interest, of course, but it’s also tied to the fate of Zen and Buddhism in our capitalist economy. A friend of Hondo and mine, Bryan, chimed in on the question on a quora.com post, and hit some of the themes entailed. For me, it’s the lack – real or perceived – of a dana culture that has driven centers like mine (San Francisco Zen Center) into a network of capitalist involvements, a whole slew of money-making schemes to supposedly maintain our financial viability. This move is self-fulfilling, though: the more a place is involved in for-profit ventures, the less motive there is for anyone to offer dana. At the moment we assert our intention to work towards financial independence, we take some steam (if not the whole engine) out from our nods at our dependence on dana.
In a small and unflattering way, I feel some resonance between this current blog platform issue and this larger question of the entrepenuerial Zen model. I hear clear and sound encouragement to not bring this one Dharma venue into the realm of consumerist profiteering, but what I don’t hear or feel behind it is much assurance that there is any mode of support apart from that.
So it ends up sounding like a mixed message – don’t work towards independence, but don’t assume there is support.
Again, I don’t say I’m sold on that admittedly petty version of things, or that it accurately expresses the comments we’ve received here and the conversations we’ve had elsewhere, but it’s enough of a itch, and one that points to a rich enough field, that it seems worth raising even if it’s a little humiliating.
What do you think?