July 7, 2012

By Donation is Not Free. ~ Shambhavi Sarasvati

We can always give.

I live and teach in Portland, Oregon—the city of do-it-yourself, dumpster diving and, as the folks at the TV series Portlandia have quipped—the city where young people come to retire.

Portland is also a place where “by donation” spiritual teachings are often liberally and unilaterally interpreted as being offered for free.

For the record: By donation doesn’t mean free. It means make a donation of your choosing. Free means free.

On my first visit to the ancient city of Varanasi, India, I stood in line at Satyalok, the teaching center of the Lahiri Mahasaya kriya yoga lineage. A couple hundred of us were waiting to give dakshina (a monetary offering) following an initiation.

Immediately in front of me, two poor-looking young women counted out a few rupees between them and deposited them in the donation box. Their faces were ablaze with pride and joy.

I have always loved giving service, gifts and, yes, money to my teachers.

I feel the wonder of living in a world where other beings are willing to devote their every moment to helping me wake up from the slumber of so-called life normal.

I want to give in return.

I find the taste of the reciprocal flow of giving between teacher and student to be sweet indeed.

The scene in Varanasi made a deep impression. I saw, in one moment, that there are no barriers to participating in that natural reciprocity other than our own limiting karmic tensions.

We can always give, no matter how little money we have.

The real poverty is in refusing to participate because we are holding on tight to our feelings of anger, resentment, fear, lack, self-hatred, skepticism and greed.

To recognize the gifts we have received—small and large—and to give in return is always nourishing and ennobling.

If you choose to support valuable teachers, you are not only helping yourself to a dollop of natural juicy goodness. You are supporting the teacher to have more time and energy for giving teachings to everyone. In some cases, you are helping to preserve wisdom streams of teachings for generations to come.

First you have to recognize the gift.

I always try to share with my students my sense of wonder and gratitude that teachers and pathways to self-realization exist at all.

Then, I try to relax, in every moment and allow natural generosity to reveal itself to my students through my activities. I am not trying to get money out of them. I am trying to open their hearts so that they can taste the sweetness of life as I have.

Inevitably, I sometimes have to talk to students about the meaning of “by donation.”

Just as inevitably, someone will bring up the topic of teachers who bilk their students out of millions.

Now, I do not have a lot of money. I gave up a tenure-track job at an elite university in order to teach in my spiritual tradition. I also had an even more lucrative consulting business. Each year, I turn down consulting jobs worth tens of thousands of dollars so that I can focus on my own practice and teaching.

I recently moved into a house I share with several students. I have only one room in which to sleep, write, see students and astrology clients and run the nonprofit spiritual organization of which I am the director.

Furthermore, the teachings I give in Portland are not expensive.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with spiritual teachers having a lot of money. Some highly accomplished beings have come from well-off families, or live comfortable lives.

Teachers with no accomplishment who rip people off are another thing. But most of us have no contact, or only passing contact, with such people.

So what work is this knee-jerk reference to greedy teachers doing for some of us?

My impression is that people want to protect themselves from being ripped off, more emotionally and spiritually than financially.

The longing for this whole “spirituality thing” to be real can, in some cases show up as fear of none of it being real.

It can even show up as a bitter conviction that all Gurus and teachers are worth sh*t.

Don’t be fooled by yourself. Longing for a real teacher is at the root of all that anxiety and skepticism.

It is exactly that longing—recognized and cultivated by you—that will lead you to a good teacher. Longing is the voice of your own enlightened nature, drawing you inevitably forward.

So, forget about unscrupulous teachers. If you have one, move on. If you never had one, drop the subject.

I can tell you, after more than 25 years of personal experience, that good teachers, while not on every street corner, are definitely out there to be found.

The cosmic fact is that if you give with total sincerity to a lousy teacher, she or he may be in for a long karmic downhill slide, but you will reap rewards (and meet a better teacher next time).

So follow your longing.

Let the teachers you find into your heart. When you receive your teachers there, relax and surrender to the natural desire to give back.


Shambhavi Sarasvati is the spiritual director of Jaya Kula, a nonprofit organization in Portland, Oregon offering teachings in the traditions of direct realization Tantra and Anandamayi Ma. Shambhavi is the author of the award winning-book, Pilgrims to Openness: Direct Realization Tantra in Everyday Life. Her second book, due out in September 2012, is Tantra: the Play of Awakening. For more information about Shambhavi and Jaya Kula please visit: jayakula.org.



Editor: Carolyn Gilligan

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