Is it appropriate for lay people to charge for teaching Dhamma?

I understand that it is inappropriate a monk to charge for teaching Dhamma.
It is very clearly spelt out in Sutta.
The question is whether it is applicable to lay people as well.
If yes how it differ from teaching any other craft / profession and charge for it.

The following discussion is from Dhamma Wheel

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For my two pennies worth, I’m not sure the first point has yet been adequately dealt with in practice.

Nevertheless with regards to the actual question, it’s a point I’ve been intrigued about myself and for myself I’m oddly happy enough to leave it unresolved. Material needs exist as is fully recognised by the Buddha’s set up. In a way, I’m drawn to turning the question on its head and instead ask if it is appropriate for Dhamma students to not voluntarily support a lay teacher they study with.


This is how things happened in olden days. This was the case for all teaching not only for Dhamma.
Then some how it was modernised by westerners and state took the responsibility for education.
Then teaching became a business. Now many of us have a useless degree and a huge student loan!

I’m not sure if this discussion around Dhamma being “free” is quite the right way to look at it.

In the case of regular schooling, in the “old days” people would be hired to give lessons, or at least provided with food and accommodation. They generally didn’t do it for free. Similarly, if a group of people wanted to have the benefit of resident Dhamma teachers they would provide requisites. Again, it’s not free, in the sense of no cost. And that’s how it still works. My local Thai Wat is supported by donations and labour from people who live locally, as well as some rather generous donations from Thailand from time to time.

I’m not advocating that we should simply “short circuit” the system, and charge admission to take the precepts, attend a talk, or receive meditation instruction. It’s great that people can just turn up and not have to pay. However, the whole system would collapse if noone contributed - Bhante Sujato, for example, would be reduced to skin and bone… :cry:

Please be conscious of the difference between freely given and free.


Perhaps then we should consider whether it is ok to make a profit from Dhamma.
Then the question comes what profit means.

Personally, I wouldn’t have much faith in a teacher who was interested to make money on the Dhamma.

(MN8) [The Buddha:] Cunda, that one who is himself sinking in the mud should pull out another who is sinking in the mud is impossible; that one who is not himself sinking in the mud should pull out another who is sinking in the mud is possible. That one who is himself untamed, undisciplined, with defilements unextinguished, should tame another, discipline him, and help extinguish his defilements is impossible; that one who is himself tamed, disciplined, with defilements extinguished, should tame another, discipline him, and help extinguish his defilements is possible.


What about teachers who accept travel and lodging to teach at retreats, and voluntary dana? Is that “making money”?

Clearly, ordained teachers commonly accept travel and lodging when asked to teach at a retreat… They accept requisites wherever they live.

From my earliest Buddhist days I’ve been a radical idealist when it comes to this topic, although I’m mellowing out more about it in the last few years.

To me the Dhamma should always be free, and I reside in a place which embodies that ideal and was ordained by a monk (Bhante Gunaratana) who lives by it and feels as strongly about it as I do.

I admittedly have an aversion to the Dhamma not being free: $1000 retreats, $200 teaching sessions… etc. Frankly I never paid a lay teacher anything, I always just went right to the source(ie monastics) and on principle never attended anything that charged. That being said(and probably because of ) I have always been pretty biased against lay teachers in general as well, although funnily enough it’s been since I’ve come to the monastery and become a monk that I have much more acceptance of them, so long as they don’t charge up front.

In short, to me, if a lay teacher wants to live a semi-monastic life and be a dhamma teacher, then they can accept donations and not charge, otherwise they can always just do dhamma teaching on the side and have a job like you see in Zen type stuff. If you want to “make a career” out of the dhamma, imo you are doing it wrong.

No amount of " but people don’t give enough in donations" type of logic will ever sway me from this, especially because I feel any teacher, and any physical location, in many ways is just like a business, you need a demand to provide the supply, and if the demand isn’t there, then the place( or teacher) shouldn’t exist.


Shouldn’t we admire that some people are ready to pay so much just to learn Dhamma?
How this difference to selling a Dhamma Book and keep copy right for it?

actually I have issue with that, and with groups like Wisdom Publications lol, at least I’m consistent. I mean if it’s joe schmoes " mindfulness in modern times" and stuff like that, I don’t care, but if its real dhamma, it should be free, at least in digitial pdf form.

Why do you think Bhante Sujato is doing his translations of the Nikayas and leaving them open and free? instead of having to buy through a company? I fully support his project and forward to having my own copy in the future.

also what about the people who CAN’T pay for dhamma? People who CAN pay, thats good on them, they can travel hours and buy stuff off amazon and donate, all three things of which I did as a lay person who had enough money to do so but no Buddhism near them.


Actually I thought the other way around.
If its real Dhamma it is Ok if they (lay people) charge for it.
I have a problem when people teach the wrong Dhamma and charge for it.

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For me, the important thing in this discussion is the importance of developing the practice of dana whether lay or monastic - teaching or not teaching. I find the talk below by Thanissaro a helpful reference when contemplating the question, “How do I want to approach teaching Dhamma?” After years of holding the question and trying a few approaches, the deciding factor for me is that when I teach from a place of genuine dana there is so much joy. When seeking reward - financial or other - it just doesn’t feel as good. There is just no way to fudge around that bottom line. Part of what I teach when teaching Dhamma is the practice of dana. I just don’t teach it in the context of - what a smashing idea it would be to give something to me. I do put a jar by the door and let people know one time that if they want to offer something to me that’s the place to do it.

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It is a very good article.
But it appears mainly revolving around monks teachers. (not lay teachers)

Hi Bhante,

I agree with your idealism, and I think that’s a wonderful model, which means that noone is excluded.

However, as I tried to point out, it’s not the case that the Dhamma is free, in the sense that noone is paying. There is the option of supporting (or not) your monastery. If noone took up that option it would not last very long.


I would say no, because they aren’t making money :-)[quote=“mikenz66, post:14, topic:3860”]
However, as I tried to point out, it’s not the case that the Dhamma is free, in the sense that noone is paying. There is the option of supporting (or not) your monastery. If noone took up that option it would not last very long.
How would you define ‘free’ though?

TANSTAAFL(There aint no such thing as a free lunch) applies in Dhamma as much as government services and taxes. The dhamma cannot exist for free, someone pays, this is 100% true.

in fact it wouldn’t of made it 2600 years for us to practice now without the effort of laity to support the monastics and safeguard the dhamma.

that is the point though, that the fourfold assembly was made to be a symbiotic relationship, the monks were always beholden to the generosity of the laity and only survived because of them. Now in the modern west we have many more lay teachers and secular buddhism being taught, so I understand that things are different, but the concept of the Dhamma being for all people is harmed and corrupted much more easily when the the dhamma is withheld pending payment.

So to respond to @mikenz66 - if no one supported this monastery it would die, and someday that will happen most likely, but enough people have felt it worthy of survival and it was close enough to a base of people who could support it(a decently sized drive from multiple major eastern cities), that it has survived near 35 years completely on donation.

even I as an individual monk, if I could find no place or people to support me, I’d just have to disrobe and practice as a lay person, simple as that.

the point is though that survival of Dhamma depends on generosity, not bottom lines and cost benefit analysis.


Another question is why people are prepared to pay money when the Dhamma is available is free of charge.

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Hi Bhante,

Yes, exactly. That most of us can access Dhamma almost for free is due to generous donations from others.


Remaining curious about this one, can anyone point me to canonical references wherein the issue of charging for teachings or related matters are handled?

Much obliged.

I believe the capping verse of Ud 6.2 would be the go-to:

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.