How Do You Afford Your Buddhist Lifestyle?

“Now tickets to concerts and drinking at clubs
Sometimes for music that you haven’t even heard of.
And how much did you pay for your rock’n’roll t shirt
That proves you were there

That you heard of them first?
How do you afford your rock’n’roll lifestyle?”

I heard this song on the radio. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle”. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of this band, Cake, but this song in particular really made me think. I don’t know how a lot of people afford to do all the things they do. That song is about what it’s like to be a music fan, to be someone who’s always on the lookout for new music, looking for new bands, buying new albums, going to concerts.

That’s not really me. I’m old fashioned, I really only like the music I heard when I was a kid. BUT I know many people are that way.

But, I’m not writing about that. I’m writing about how this relates to something else.


This isn’t limited to Buddhism, though. The same article could be written about being a follower of new age gurus or paganism.

A lot of modern Buddhism is retreat Buddhism. That is, you go practice with a teacher during a retreat and study with them, but you spend the rest of your time practicing on your own at home. I’m not going to criticize that as a practice, except to say that I know there are dharma teachers out there who’s training consists of 1 or 2 or 3 retreats and that seems insufficient to me.

Anyway, this is the thing about retreat Buddhism. It’s usually expensive. There’s a retreat that I’d really like to go to. It’s a retreat with an amazing teacher that I know. I have friends that are going and I know it’s going to be great. But it’s 600 miles away. That’s not, in itself, an impossible barrier. I can travel 600 miles. It would take me less than a day to get there. But the other problem is that this retreat also has a fee. That fee is around $400. That’s on the low end for Buddhist retreats, really.

There are also temples out there that charge membership fees and there are places all over where you can take classes (prices vary). I’d argue that the zen tradition has it easier than some of the other lineages. If you’re a Vajrayana Buddhist you should probably buy a vajra,  a bell, and probably  damaru too. (man they seem to have a lot of stuff). And a retreat that includes an empowerment can probably charge more.

It probably sounds like I’m criticizing, but I’m not. I know all of these things are expensive to maintain. I’ve seen firsthand how much temples have to struggle when they don’t charge a lot. I just want to express why I’m not going to go travel to sit with a zen teacher. I don’t have an answer for this because spreading the dharma, by nature, is an expensive and difficult endeavor. I mainly just wrote this to express my confusion.  Is Buddhism largely restricted to those who have really comfortable economic lives? Of course it’s not and it shouldn’t be. I don’t have an answer for all this, I wish I did. I don’t want to say that the way things are unfolding is bad, but just that I’m not sure how some of us fit in to this modern western Buddhism.

Person: “Why aren’t you a zen priest?”
Me: “I can’t afford it.”

Not that I’m really poor. I’m not. I have a stable job and I’m pretty securely in the lower rung of middle class and very likely to stay there.

But I am at a point in life where hundreds of dollars for a retreat out of town is difficult for me to justify. I live in an economic situation where just a few things going wrong could get me into big trouble. And  a lot of people I know are in similar situations.

When I see people do things like this, especially over and over, I wonder how they can afford it.

How do you afford your Buddhist lifestyle?

I’m just lucky that meditating at home is free.

How Do You Afford Your Rock and Roll Lifestyle


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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City with two kids and two cats. He runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. Daniel has a BA in English from KU and he works for the federal government. Once a Novice Monk in the Rinzai Tradition, he dropped out of monk school to become a regular person. He has taken his inspiration mainly from Zen renegades and madmen like Ikkyu and Han Shan. Daniel has taken Bodhisattva Vows in both the Nagarjuna and Asanga lineages. He is a frequent guest teacher on Daily Dharma Gathering.

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