Commodification of Buddhism: a threat to its real value

Whatever the legal recourse is in the jurisdiction where it happens.

Don’t see how, IMO

Gonna have to disagree on your example. FDR’s heavy handedness didn’t work at all. The Glass–Steagall Act of 1932 predated FDR’s election, even though he signed the bill(Clinton signed its repeal in 1999 and caused the 2008 crash). The vast majority of his New Deal Legislation was over turned by the Supreme Court and the worst year of the Great Depression, 1935, was in the middle of his first term. Hiring temporary construction workers and building the Empire State Building, which didn’t become profitable until the 1980’s, did nothing for the economy. It wasn’t until 1942 when the US was forced into a war-time economy that the “recovery” even began and despite the federal gold reserves increasing the crippling debt from the war bonds lasted until the 1950’s and stifled new investments.

Outside of public safety and welfare heavy handedness from government is typically bad news. Government mandating religious doctrine, teachings, practices or tradition is medieval, IMO

This is a very worldly concern. Best to just shrug it off and worry about your own practice. There is no central custodian of the dhamma for a reason, just practitioners and anyone whom feels the need to take on that task is misguided and potentially dangerous, IMO.

If people are offended by others presumably “commoditizing Buddhism,” they should possibly examine why it is that they are internalizing other’s action as an affront to their own identity. If their sense of self wasn’t wrapped up in their religion there would be no offense to be taken.


I think the issue that concerns me most is not whether or not anyone is making a living (or perhaps even enriching themselves) with Buddhism, it’s whether or not people are achieving right view. Right view is a requirement of enlightenment according to the Buddha, not a particular meditation technique.

I think that in the West where meditation is a foreign practice, people (especially non-Buddhists) fall into the misconception that meditation and mindfulness techniques are the secret sauce of Buddhism and other eastern traditions. The reality was that the Buddha was in a society in which all sorts of traditions were meditating and not realizing liberation.

So, to me the core problem with these trends is the decoupling of right view and philosophy in general from meditation exercises and presenting them as though simply performing x, y, z activities is the solution to the suffering of the unenlightened life.


Well, I won’t stop you! And it’s probably a better livelihood than many.

But I wouldn’t encourage it. The dhamma is for your own liberation, not for teaching.

It would be like a man with a horrible disease coming across the cure and, being so blinded by his greed and excitement, decided to sell that medicine. In no time, would that man not experience debilitating pain and suffering? And, having sold the cure, would he not soon die from his disease, a painful, wracking death?

And, in future lives, whenever such a man comes across the Dhamma, his habit will be to think: “wow! This Dhamma is excellent! What if I were to sell it?” And, so habitually focused on selling, so blind to his own need for it, he may never gain its benefit, despite having been so fortunate as to come across the Dhamma in even multiple human lives.

But, that said, the Dhamma is quite miraculous. Who knows! Perhaps, like Susīma (or Nanda), you’ll get something out of your encounter with Buddhism despite your initial wrong intention. And at least a “thief of the dhamma” recognizes it as something valuable! To be honest, that’s already a better reaction than most.


Well, isn’t it great that one can learn to train the monkey mind to be calm at least for a moment by paying money? :monkey: The karma of exploitation will be on the greedy teachers but gullible people will at least learn that a calm mind is the start of something beautiful. I would say “Take my money!!!” :money_mouth_face:

1 Like

It seems to me that part of the beauty of the system that the Buddha set up was that as between the monastics and the lay folk, the relationship was a positive, healthy symbiotic one. If the monastics lived Vinaya lives and taught the true Dhamma, the lay people would support them with alms and requisites. It’s a simple, minimalist formula that is just so perfect in its execution.

We can see in modern lay life the effects of monetization of “Buddhism.” The Dhamma is nearly nonexistent on most Buddhist forums. Many teachers and practitioners live non-renunciate lives, and amass personal wealth and personality cult followings. We see with the “McMindfulness movement” any number of mindfulness trainings and for profit programs, to the point where the word “mindfulness” has almost 100 meanings, or no meaning at all.

Once the Dhamma becomes commodified, we can see all around us what happens. It is human nature to distort, to bend, to reinvent, to sugar coat, and to denature almost anything of purity, in order to draw a vulnerable audience, and to induce them to part with their money for a teaching that is easy, comfortable, and fashionable. And so, the Buddha established a teaching and a system that is not always so easy, not always comfortable, and not fashionable in an otherwise consumerist Coca-Cola and Armani world. Coca Cola is an artificially colored, high fructose rubbish drink. It’s terrible for one’s health to drink. Yet: 15 Facts About Coca-Cola That Will Blow Your Mind - Business Insider

So, in the face of a global society like this, the Dhamma is a hard sell. But, as the Buddha realized from Day One, there might be a few with little dust in their eyes. Sutta Central is an amazing fountain, with pure spring water. We can only hope that more people can find it, and draw from it.


Even selling of Buddha statues cannot be justified because no one can find Buddha in a statue. If Buddha was in the somatic body, why did he ask Bhikku Vakkali to go away? That Bhikku got ordained only to look at the enlightened one and thus followed Buddha like a shadow where ever Buddha was or where ever he went. The pure truth is only those who realise Dhamma can see Buddha, “Yo Dhamman passathi so man passathi” One who realise Dhamma see Buddha.
That is why no one can see Budha under the Bodhi Tree. The Ficus tree for pariyaththi purposes is termed Bo Tree. The truth is that it was under that tree Buddha contemplated the base of realisation, and then on the 7th day of first week after enlightenment uttered the three peons of joy (in Bodhi vagga). That base of Bodhi is the principle of co-dependent arising, “when this is there this is there, when this is born, this is born”. In middle watch he saw, “when this is not there, this is not there, when this is stopped, this is stopped” In the early watch he saw both together as only a Buddha can see that and then uttered the three peons of joy.
I also agree with venerable thero that in the west today meditation is a business with huge sums being levied for retreats. Then again when you listen to what those gurus are saying you realise how they are misinterpreting the Dhamma. But this is to be expected as Buddha has told this to Bhikkus in the three discourses titled Future Fears.

I can’t tell if this is from the early sources or later sources, but I came across this in the 16 dreams supposedly relayed by Pasenadi to the Buddha. The way it is spoken seems to indicate that it might be from a later source; can anyone verify? I include it because if it is from an early source, it seems relevant:

The King then related his next dream.

“Sir, I saw sour buttermilk bartered for precious sandalwood worth 100,000 pieces of money. What shall come of it?”

The Buddha replied:

“Here too Sire, this dream will not affect your reign. In the future the Dharma will wane. This is because shameless brethren (monks) shall arise who for their bellies’ sake shall preach the very words I preached against. Their preaching will not lead to Nubbin. Nay, their only thought as they preach by fine words and sweet voices shall be to induce men to give them costly raiment and gifts. Others, seated in the highways, at street corners, at the doors of kings’ palaces, shall stoop to preach for money as they barter away for food, raiment or gifts, the doctrine the worth whereof is Nibbana. They shall be as those who barter away precious sandalwood worth 100,000 pieces of money for sour buttermilk.”
The Sixteen Dreams of King Pasenadi Kosol - Saraniya Dhamma Meditation Centre

Is a business that sells the Dhamma-Vinaya for money a harmless, beneficial, and suitable livelihood for laypeople to engage in? Is that why you wouldn’t stop or warn me?
I am confused because quite a few people seem to be suggesting that outright selling the Dhamma-Vinaya, or parts of it, as a layperson may not be harmful, unbeneficial, and unsuitable for a layperson to earn their livelihood from. :thinking:
Or rather, it seems many are shying away from condemning it unequivocally lol.
It’s confusing. Is this really controversial or does the Buddha have a clear-cut answer for this?

Can you explain the relevance of this discourse?
It seems to criticize a monastic who joins the Sangha for material gain.
I seem to be in relatively complete agreement on this count regarding monastics.
It doesn’t seem to address the issue of whether it is okay for laypeople to outright sell it.
Are you aware of any similar discourses regarding whether or not it is okay for laypeople to sell the Dhamma-Vinaya?

So would be harmful even for laypeople to sell the Dhamma-Vinaya or parts of it?

Makes a lot of sense! Something to carefully consider and keep in mind.

lol Until you seemed to suggest that it might be okay for a layperson to sell the Dhamma-Vinaya, I was under the impression that selling the Dhamma-Vinaya, either as a layperson or a monastic, was unequivocally harmful.
If the Buddha himself says that selling the Dhamma-Vinaya for money is harmless and beneficial for a layperson to do…then why not? Like you said, “it’s probably a better livelihood than many.”
But my question still remains…what did the Buddha actually say regarding laypeople selling the Dhamma-Vinaya or parts of it?
It seems pretty clear to me, for example from the sutta you generously shared, that it would not be appropriate or proper for a monastic to do so - so that much I agree.
Some one pointed out the Dhamma never forbids laypeople from doing it - and I also don’t remember coming across any discourse that did - hence my confusion!


Have you come across any early textual basis for the claim that laypeople who sell the Dhamma-Vinaya would reap harm as a result of their selling?

Come to think of it, I just remembered one possible reference! It doesn’t seem to specify laypeople though.

"It’s not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when five qualities are established within the person teaching. Which five?

"[1] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak step-by-step.’

"[2] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak explaining the sequence [of cause and effect].’

"[3] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak out of compassion.’

"[4] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak not for the purpose of material reward.'

"[5] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak without hurting myself or others.’

“It’s not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when these five qualities are established within the person teaching.”


It seems this way to me too! It doesn’t seem proper for government to have authority over religion - except like you mentioned, in extremely basic cases, like killing, etc.
In Buddhism, it seems that even religion claims no authority over government either, nor the secular world.
It is outside of society (yet dependent on for them material support) in solitude where the monastics are to be living, unconcerned with government and political affairs of the state.

I noticed that you did not disagree with the part of about the “live and let live” approach being an utter disaster for President Hoover though. :thinking: This was actually my main point - I agreed that heavy-handed misguided authoritarianism is dangerous - but I brought up a counter example of the opposite extreme which do you didn’t seem to defend or disagree with. Can I assume we agree at least on “live and let live” also being potentially dangerous on a policy level similar to your Bangladesh example?

Regarding FDR, I have never heard about anyone so thorough refute and dismiss his accomplishments the way that you just did! The way you made it seem is that aside from the signature of that act, he didn’t achieve anything.

It made me wonder we both have our own political biases - since it seems like you are from Texas and I grew up in the Northeast lol. Texans/conservatives/Republicans/Libertarians/etc. often seem to harp on the dangers of “big,” “intervening” government (which I agree with to some degree - for example, now when they themselves have taken over it lol) - so I wonder if your perspective could be influenced by that as opposed to by early Buddhism on this topic?

I’m not convinced by the way you seemed to thoroughly dismiss the accomplishments of FDR (since it seems like a bias propagated by those who belong to the opposite party out of envy of his achievements), but I will let this go because I am neither willing nor able to research this topic. Furthermore, I acknowledge that I may still have political biases growing up in a largely liberal population (though it should be noted I was born in the south) which may make me inclined to overestimate the accomplishments of FDR without sufficient grounds for it.

Instead, from an early Buddhist perspective, the ideal governor/government seems to be a beneficial monarchy:

'Six times, Ananda, I recall discarding the body in this place, and at the seventh time, I discarded it as a wheel- turning monarch, a righteous king who had conquered the four quarters and established a firm rule, and who possessed the seven treasures. -DN 17

If I’m not wrong, he conquered the entire earth.
“Establish a firm rule” can appear to many as “heavy-handed authoritarianism.”

'And those kings who faced him in the eastern region came and said: “Come, Your Majesty, welcome! We are yours, Your Majesty. Rule us, Your Majesty!”
And the King said:
“Do not take life.
Do not take what is not given.
Do not commit sexual misconduct.
Do not tell lies.
Do not drink strong drink.
Be moderate in eating.”
And those who had faced him in the eastern region became his subjects. -DN 17

He definitely seems to have enforced these “rules” in a way that many would would disagree with him might perceived as “authoritarian”!

If I were to say the government should impose the 5 precepts as laws of the land - surely, it it might appear to at least some others as heavy-handed authoritarianism!

To be fair, it was done with the consent of those whom he conquered. Not a hostile takeover, but a friendly takeover, if you will. So “heavy-handedness” might not be fitting, but he did seem to establish a firm rule based on the authority of the Dhamma.

This seems quite reasonable! Outside of public safety (protection) and public welfare (support), what else is the government’s responsibility?
So your assessment does seem correct, that if they were to overstep these boundaries, they may be overreaching beyond their appropriate domain and sphere of authority.

The Sangha? :thinking:

Agreed. There is definitely a danger in doing it in a misguided way, even if well-intentioned. It would still be harmful.

I totally agree with your criticism of “identifying as Buddhist” or “identifying with Buddhism” - which seems contrary to the Dhamma-Vinaya.
Yet, I would like to offer another perspective on this.
It may not always be about “taking offense.”
For example, misrepresentation of the Buddha and Dhamma-Vinaya could cause the harm of many gods and humans - so perhaps it could be out of compassion and concern for the welfare of others?
If commoditization of Buddhism does indeed lead to the decline of Buddhism, perhaps some are concerned about sustaining Buddhism so that it doesn’t not prematurely decline due to such a problem?
I’m not sure about the latter one especially. But I just wanted to bring up alternative explanations for why one might eschew the “live and let live” view and be concerned about issues like this.
Ultimately, I agree with you, that the study and practice of the Dhamma-Vinaya is of primary and fundamental importance.
The question is, according to the Dhamma-Vinaya, are addressing problems like these a part of that process or not?
The Buddha did take great care to firmly establish the Dhamma-Vinaya - and he did identify conditions which would lead to the decline of Dhamma-Vinaya (such as the arising of Adhamma-Avinaya). He interacted with other religions and kings and laypeople to ensure this. Would it be a part of the practice to address these adverse conditions that may lead to the decline of the Dhamma-Vinaya?

Do these necessarily have to be either-or/mutually exclusive?
Could one acknowledge both as potential problems?

I totally agree.
One that is often overlooked in pop culture misrepresentations of Buddhism!

Lol, but aren’t the jhanas also necessary just like right view is?
Isn’t both the first and last factors of the eightfold path both necessary?

Another really good point!

I totally agree with you here.
I’m just wondering: is this mutually exclusive with acknowledging the commoditization as a problem as well? Can’t they both be acknowledged as problems independently - even though this de-coupling could be a more grave one?

I agree to some degree - I find this to be true to some extent from my own experience.
What I hear in Buddhist meditation circles is often quite different both in content and emphasis than the Dhamma-Vinaya (for example, Burmese emphasis on Abhidhamma).
The excuse for misrepresentation or partially-correct representation is often: “this is more secular and scientific.”

Can you please cite the source or sutta reference number for this?
I tried to find this but I was unable to locate such a reference in the early sources.
Thank you in advance, this would be helpful.


So true, so astute! Sharp assessment and insight! :thinking:




I am not


My parents are both Yankees and I also lived in Manhattan for many years, hehe. I just happen to be of the opinion that FDR is the most white-washed US President of the 20th century. Pretty much I am a political fence-sitter that looks to results not so much ideological feelings. :zipper_mouth_face:

I was referring to a single individual. I think my wording was possibly lacking clarity there. :sunglasses:

You know what they say about assumptions!!! :rofl: I apologize! :pray:t3:

To be honest, I don’t know very much, aside from the basics. I’m not agreeing with you, but I am not disagreeing either. I just don’t think I’m in a position to tell.

What do you mean white-washed though? lol Why?

I totally agree. I’m pretty sure that’s why we both look to the Dhamma-Vinaya.
Because it actually leads to happy results and not otherwise.

Thank you for clarifying! Yes, makes sense.

1 Like

Indeed :heavy_heart_exclamation:

No apology necessary. I didn’t think there was any maliciousness in what you said at all :grin:

No. “Concerns me most” means both concern me, but one concerns me more than the other. If you have monks and temples getting rich from large national followings like American televangelists, then you have an ethical problem, to be sure. Such teachers usually become more political than philosophical and the teaching suffers. It’s just that I think if right view were common place in society, this wouldn’t happen. That’s the root problem to me.

The keyword is particular rather than meditation. Meditation is necessary, yes, in some form in order to contemplate and observe, and concentration is a skill that needs to develop. I think people get obsessed with particular meditation techniques. Some think dhyana is the gateway to awakening, others make breathing techniques or chanting their core meditative practice, believing that if they go just in the right way, they’ll win awakening, or a longer life, or spiritual powers. I think it’s right view that needs that level of attention. Meditation can take many forms, and it did during the Buddha’s time as it does now.

1 Like

Please accept! lol You are right, there was no maliciousness in what I said - but it was still a misguided, mistaken assumption!


Thank you clarifying! Make sense. :slightly_smiling_face:

Good point! So true.

Thanks for clarifying again! This makes sense too.

What do you mean by this? Aside from the jhanas? :thinking:

Yes. The EBTs describe different meditative practices: The four abodes of mindfulness, breath meditation, and the four jhanas seem to be the main ones. In later texts, there are the four formless samadhis, the four immeasurables, samatha and vipassana, and several others. In modern times, I personally think that practices like zazen, contemplating koans, and chanting sutra titles or Buddha names are meditative techniques. If it develops concentration and observation skills, it’s a form of meditation in my opinion.

1 Like

Well, my comment was based on general kamma vipaka. I read in one sutta probably Brahmajala about ascetics doing unethical things while depending on food given in faith. This is close to what happens in some buddhist countries where monks predict future for money. In Sri Lanka there are ads in paper of monks who do readings for money. Poor, dumb people are trained to only say 3 sadhus to these monks. :rofl:

Most of the monks are not even following vinaya rules . But if one says a word against them, there are repercussions in this life! :scream:

My point is using the robe and buddhist label and doing exact opposite of what buddha said is worse than lay people trying to earn a living through teaching mindfulness.

1 Like

The commentary to the Mahāsupina Jātaka is a late text, though historically it’s been an exceptionally important one in the Theravadin cultural milieu – especially in Burma, where even to this day it’s the text that invariably gets wheeled out during times of national crisis.

Among early texts, one relevant sutta that comes to mind is the Sattajaṭila Sutta, though only in its Udāna version, not the SN one.

Ven. Ānandajoti:

“One should not endeavour in all circumstances, one should not be another’s man,
One should not live depending on another, one should not live trading in Dhamma (dhammena na vaṇiṃ care).”

Ud. 6.2 Ānandajoti

And Ajahn Thanissaro’s, which seems to follow the metrically irregular Khmer var. of the last line:

One should not make an effort everywhere,
should not be another’s hireling,
should not live dependent on another,
should not go about
as a trader in the Dhamma (dhammena na vāṇijaṃ care).

Ud. 6.2 Thanissaro


Please go to this link and see, AN 5:80  Anāgata-bhayāni Sutta | Future Dangers (4). In fact there are 4 sutras and this is the fourth one. Today this is very evident. Also not just one dream, but all 16 dreams of King Pasenadi Kosala are there to see today.
Take the dream where hard rocks were seen floating while empty pots made from pumpkin fruit by taking out the inner parts have sunk deep into the lake bottm.
What this means that well qualified and deserving people to hold high posts are pushed out while empty foolish and yes sir no sir three bags full sir people are being appointed to very high positions in governments.

Which of the rules seem to be most commonly broken?

This reminds me of Christianity in the West. Perhaps this is a problem common to all the majority religions in any population. Due to their sheer number, they may exercise undue power - which sadly might just backfire on those individuals who do so.

I think this is also sad for the monks in these countries who DO live according to the Dhamma-Vinaya.

One thing I would caution about is painting all the monastics with a broad brush.

Apparently, even in the days of the Buddha, the laypeople would have a common habit of seeing an offense that was committed more than once and generalize saying “the Sakyan sons are like this or that.”

With that being said, I currently happen to be studying in Sri Lanka right now, and I am told that many of the monastics repeatedly break the Vinaya rules - and the problem is quite rampant, and not limited to a few individuals. So I can empathize.

Any idea what can to be done to help address this problem suitably?

Would you say both are harmful?

Why do you think that it is “worse”?

Can you please explain the relevance? Make the connection? It doesn’t seem readily apparent to me.

Reminded me of this dream:

The King said:

“I saw men unyoking a team of draught-oxen, sturdy and strong, and instead setting young steers to draw the load: and the steers proving unequal to the task laid on them, refused and stood stock still, so that the wagons did not move.

What shall come of it?”

The Buddha replied:

“ Here again this will not have any bearing on you. During the days of unrighteous rulers, wise men and aged councillors skilled in the precedent, fertile in expedience and able to get through business, learned in the laws of the country, will not be honored nor appointed to courts of law.
Those appointed officials, ignorant alike of statecraft and of practical knowledge shall not be able to bear the burden of their honours or to govern, and because of their incompetence would not be able to discharge their duties. Whereupon the aged and wise lords shall keep in mind having been passed over earlier and shall decline to assist saying: “It is of no business of ours, we are outsiders. You were appointed, now you carry on.” Hence they shall stand aside and ruination will result just as the yoke that was laid on the young steers that were not strong enough to carry the wagons.

“Again you have nothing to fear, oh king, from those far-off times when all the nations will be poorly run by the young and foolish.

Definitely reminds me of what is happening both in the US and abroad.
This part in particular
“learned in the laws of the country, will not be honored nor appointed to courts of law.”
reminded me of how the Trump administration was able to not just secure 2 Supreme Court, but apparently has the appointed far more judges than his predecessors:

“The Kavanaugh and Gorsuch nominations are sort of the icing on the cake,” Blackman said. “But I think the real action is in the lower courts, which most people don’t even know about.” Trump's legacy: conservative judges who will dominate US law for decades | US news | The Guardian

Which in turn reminded me of the next dream lol:

The King said

“Sir, I saw a horse with a mouth on either side, to which fodder was given on both sides and it ate with both mouths. It was eating voraciously.

This was my fifth dream. What shall come of it?”

The Buddha replied:

“This dream too shall have its fulfilment only in the future, in the days of unrighteous and foolish rulers who shall appoint unrighteous and covetous men to be judges. These base ones, fools, despising the good, would take bribes from both sides as they sit in the seat of judgement and shall be filled with this two-fold corruption even as the horse that ate fodder with both mouths at once.”

Despite the seeming uncanniness of the predictions, I am a bit skeptical because these stories seem to stem from later sources - and perhaps it is a coincident where the relatively “bad” and “good” take turns ruling the same way Asuras and Devas constantly battle for divine power. So the prediction might be confirmed each time the Asuras and the Asura-like seize power, whether in the human or god realms.

Wow :star_struck: Thank you!

What a find!!

Do you have any idea why it might be mentioned so infrequently?

Simple, link the 16 dreams of King Kosala to today and see them happening. Then go to Future Fears Sutta the 4th and you will note that no longer monks are happy with Pansukhula robes but look for the best robes, and same true of accommodation, the food. Thenb what is lacking is that many do not practise the Dhamma taught by Buddha and few even try to manipulate the teachings. The end it seems getting near.
See what is happening in the planet earth right now, millions in protests in Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon, Bolivia, Venezeula. Then the attrition developing in USA on account of the Congress investigations on President, the BREXIT getting worse, floods in Japan, India, France, UK and many other nations, fire burning it all in California, extreme heat in many nations. Due to the enormous hatred that is being spewed out each day by humans, the four great elements are impacted and they are reacting.
What is left to react is earth element. Imagine what will happen if the plate tectonics go at each other? It is becoming really dangerous but still there is no abating of human hatred towards fellow humans.