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

AN 5.159 covers this:

“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 & 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.’

I think it is quite possible for someone to ask for donations and still be speaking for the purpose of material reward - it is about one’s intention. I used to be a member of a local Buddhist group and we found that we were getting many requests from lay teachers to come and speak at the exact same time they just happened to come out with a new book - invariably they would bring copies of their new book to offer for sale. We finally had to make a rule to not allow book sales. Though the talks were offered on a donation basis, it seemed obvious that there was an ulterior motive.


Much thanks to you both @chansik_park & @Charlie!

Why complain about people who are actually willing to teach the Dharma? In my opinion, the world could do with more of that. I don’t care if they are giving it away for free, or charging a million dollars. More teaching will lead to more knowledge. Now there are not nearly enough teachers.

In the history of Chinese Buddhism, great reforms and modernizations to Buddhism were sometimes spearheaded by lay teachers such as Yang Wenhui and Ouyang Jian, who made great accomplishments in reforming the entire institution (and in turn taught some of the most famous monastics). When they taught, they were sometimes strongly opposed by monastics who felt their territory was being encroached upon (along with all the hocus-pocus good fortune nonsense they were peddling).

Monks were territorial not only with laypeople, but also with other beliefs, sometimes being dogmatic in opposing Daoism and other religions (rather than finding areas of commonality). This had nothing to do with the real nature of the religion, and everything to do with tribalism, fear, and self-preservation. In reality, Buddhist lay teachers made some incredibly valuable contributions, and lashing out against other religions was always counterproductive.

Actually I can’t remember any modern day monk who oppose lay teachers.

I think what is not enough are the students and competent teachers.

Assuming retreat center has to cover their costs (rent,insurance,utilities and food)
what could be the reasonable charge for a day,for a retreat in a western country?

Here in New Zealand, a local meditation group here runs retreats at a camp out in the countryside (bunk rooms, kitchen, hall). They can run a week-long retreat charging about 200USD per person for rental and food, with participants doing the cooking and other work. They would also be covering travel costs for the teachers (any other support for the teachers is by donation). So that’s about 30USD per day.

I imagine that more comfortable facilities, with management, catering, and cleaning staff, individual or double rooms, and so on, would easily be 2-3 times as expensive. The camp I’m describing is quite basic:

Thanks Mike
I think this is pretty reasonable.
What is the average number of people required to break-even the cost. (to cover cost)?

Not sure. Probably the order of 50.

"Money is not allowable for the Sakyan-son contemplatives, the Sakyan-son contemplatives do not consent to money, the Sakyan-son contemplatives do not accept money, the Sakyan-son contemplatives have given up gold & jewelry, have renounced money. For anyone for whom money is allowable, the five strings of sensuality are also allowable. For anyone for whom the five strings of sensuality are allowable, money is allowable. That you can unequivocally recognize as not the quality of a contemplative, not the quality of a Sakyan son.

"Now I do say that thatch may be sought for by one needing thatch, wood may be sought for by one needing wood, a cart may be sought for by one needing a cart, a workman may be sought for by one needing a workman, but by no means do I say that money may be consented to or sought for in any way at all."

It would seem that what is required for subsistence is allowable. However even hoarding robes is making a profit, above what is required for oneself.

Unlike the actual material, money can be used in ways which are detrimental so it makes sense to limit it in a community where its improper use brings disrepute to the entire community (and where many types of individuals with various levels of morality are part of).

The great ‘product’ monks can sell is the Dhamma. It makes sense to put limitations around that, because of this. Being invited for a meal and then being asked to give a dhamma talk slightly circumvents ‘selling the dhamma’ dynamic.

Lay people have other means to obtain money and the whole point of lay life is being able to enjoy sensuality (at least, as it was seen in the Buddha’s time…). If a lay person is doing more than this (ie- being a kalyanamitta to others) and teaching the dhamma, it is commendable, as long as they are not misrepresenting the dhamma.

When money or profit comes into the picture the problem is that the dhamma will be altered to make it more appealing. Then the issues of misrepresenting the dhamma comes into play.
The question then is how can a lay dhamma teacher ensure that what he teaches is in line with the dhamma? Having said that even honest monks who live a renunciate’s life might not be very accurate in their dhamma teachings.

Charging money is only an issue if there is no other source of dhamma (and the teachings are accurate). Since there are other sources, it is down to the person listening whether they want to pay for this particular teacher’s instructions or not.

Some lay people might feel that the dhamma is sacred. They might feel no amount of money can pay for the teachings they deliver.

If a lay teacher is good at teaching, teaches accurate dhamma in line with the early texts, does it out of compassion and not looking to make a ‘killing’ (ie-‘profit’) I see no reason why they cannot charge for the dhamma (or ask for donations) for -costs, to free them up from employment to do more useful dhamma work, to support loved ones who would loose out otherwise, electricity, water etc.

This is my opinion.

with metta,



This is very interesting and can be implemented in a barter society.
In modern society you give the wood or give the money equal to wood.
By all means monks should observe the tenth precept.

Or you can show the dayaks what is needed and they can get it for you. :slight_smile:

I see that IMS in Massachusetts, USA, calculates about 120USD per day as their cost for providing room and food for long retreats. This is roughly in line with my estimate above, since I imagine compliance costs in the US could be expensive (it’s not trivial here either).

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This seems too expensive.
Two people can stay in a three star hotel for this price taking meal outside!
A third person can stay in the same room for another usd 20.00.

IMS offers single rooms to everyone and three professionally cooked meals a day. It’s getting awfully cushy. I have to say I do better in places where you chip in and help more, but IMS’s yogis are noticeably older - often in their 70s and even 80s.

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I though they have only one meal a day?

For me personally inspiration is the main point, and I simply haven’t found inspiration in a teaching framework depending on making profit.

A professional lay teacher has to sustain a more or less worldly life, maybe a family. There would be a tendency to worry when money is not coming in and that would affect the teaching. A tendency again to advertise popular topics and to water down the unworldly buddhist message. The same with a retreat center that has to pay staff, teachers, rent etc. They would gravitate towards things that ‘sell’ simply because of economic survival.

Again, thinking about my beloved teachers who spread the dhamma no matter how much people could donate - how could I charge for a lesser teaching when they gave freely?

On the other hand dana is a sign for appreciation and I’m surprised myself that some people don’t understand that a place has to be maintained. For example we run a free/donation based meditation group, and there are of course expenses of water, tea, electricity, toilet paper, maintenance etc. Yet some returning visitors don’t donate at all, or sometimes 40 cents or so which I find personally weird when they pay 3 dollars for a beer ‘having fun’.


Hotels and restaurants are highly efficient and are able to offer low prices because they are able to offer many people their services. Each worker does one job, and the whole thing works like a well-oiled machine, getting as many customers as possible to cover operating costs and make some profit.

Meditation centers are typically trying to survive with a small number of guests, few employees, and less efficient operations. If the place has comfortable facilities, for example, then this all costs real money, and that gets expensive.

There is this idea that anything spiritual should be free, but at some point, someone has to pay the rent, cook the meals, do laundry, clean rooms, provide maintenance, and help facilitate a pleasant experience for guests.

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This problem happens due to lack of communication.
It is a good idea if you can display the cost associate with running the place and a budget and the shortfall etc.

Not the USA, or New Zealand.