Reader Discussion: Spirituality and Money

Well, okay. Actually I lied a little. This post isn’t 100% about reader discussion; I wanted some space to have a little rant as well. I know I’m interrupting my Behavioral Mastery series (again), sorry.

Secondly, I wanted to get some reader discussion going. Comments have dropped tremendously in the past few weeks. Most posts get 40-50 comments, and the past three have been stuck below 20. I’m hoping a reader discussion post will get people back into the swing of things again.

Financial Cynics

So, back to the topic – spirituality and money. A few months ago, I was reading Steve Pavlina’s article on Blogging for Money. He has a section in it warning about the pitfalls of starting a blog for money – including meeting people he calls financial cynics. In essence, they are people who feel you have “done them serious personal harm by deciding to get paid for your work instead of bending over backwards to serve their needs for free.”

I remember thinking – Wow, I hope that never happens to me. And two days later, it did. It stunned me for a few seconds. A reader had come across my blog, and was furious at me for committing the mortal sin of having Google advertisements. He left a whole series of colorfully abusive comments on random posts. I didn’t know what he was angry about, for it was just a stream of vulgarities, until I saw his email follow-up.

If you are so good, he said, why don’t you reject the money from Google? He finished off his vulgarities by calling me a pedophile priest (probably a play on the Urban Monk nickname) who preaches to the church straight after molesting a child.

Admit it, he taunted, you’re out to make money and not to help others. Why don’t you tell everyone how much you make from Google, huh? You jerk! You don’t care about your readers! You jerk!

This is probably a nasty thing to say, but I couldnt stop laughing for a few minutes. Then I replied to let him know that – Yes, I do want to make money from my blog, and no, it is not a secret. It has been in my about page since the first day, and my mission statement when I wrote it, and I don’t know how many articles. And why can’t I care for my readers and desire to help, while getting paid for it? I was still providing a free service.

(If anyone is curious, I make about *edited out someone told me Im not supposed to reveal it according to the Google terms of service* from Google – I use it to pay for all the soft drinks I consume while blogging.)

Spirituality and Money

Steve Pavlina is solidly in the personal development niche. I don’t remember him ever talking about himself as a spiritual person (conscious, yes, but not spiritual). And yet it’s interesting that he would attract comments like these. Is it something that is limited to the service-type niches (like psychology, spirituality and personal development)? Do other blogs – movies, news, politics, or photography, for instance – attract emails like this?

But for argument’s sake, let’s restrict this to spirituality. I had forgotten about this incident until I began doing some research on a few spiritual teachers I had begun reading. I was on websites, blogs, youtube videos, online forums, and then I noticed one very interesting trend. Each teacher will have their critics (that is almost a given, anyone in the public eye will), but what caught my eye about these critics was different. Inevitably, critics will resort not to attacking their teachings, but the fact these people are actually charging for their books and seminars! Others even attack the shirt / dress they are wearing, or the beautiful necklace they have got on – anything that reeks of luxury.

One comment summed it up perfectly, if a bit strongly (I can’t remember the exact words): “The day I believe they are a true spiritual teacher is the day they give up their clothes, houses, money – and start wearing robes and begging for alms. That is the day I will believe what they have to say. Until then, they are frauds.”

At this point, before I contaminate this article with my opinion, I would like to ask for readers to share theirs. What do you think? Are they right? Should a true spiritual person be poor? Should a person who truly cares give everything for free? Is it wrong for a teacher to live in a comfortable house and wear nice clothes? Is it wrong for a blog (especially in personal development or spirituality) to have advertisements?

My Opinions

I think such attacks are absurd on so many levels. First of all, while I am no historian or cultural specialist, I am quite certain the whole “monk begging for alms” thing is cultural and time-specific. Some cultures and time periods support such practices whole-heartedly, and some don’t. Would the spiritual aspirant who lives off the kindness of strangers, be feasible in western society, in this day and age?

I remember reading the autobiography of a respected Buddhist teacher (I forgot who, though, it was years ago), who went to the west from an Asian country, tried it and failed. He didn’t even get enough coins for his daily food, and had to give up. And this was a respected teacher. What would happen to the “normal” aspirant?

What Is Wrong With Money?

Secondly, some traditions do preach the value of giving up worldly possessions – but the teachers I was investigating do not. The closest they have come to such a comment is – you don’t need money to be happy. They’ve never said – don’t earn money; don’t live comfortably. All they’ve said is happiness comes from the inside, regardless of your external conditions.

Thirdly, what is wrong with providing a service and getting paid for it? (Let’s forget fraudulent teachers for a second).Would a patient get angry at his doctor for charging for a consultation? Would a reader get angry at a having to pay for a newspaper before reading it? Hospitals cost money to maintain. Medicines cost money. Newspapers cost money to print. Journalists cost money to hire. Even if the person is not making a profit – there are unavoidable costs associated with almost every activity or service.

(As a side note, the reader who called me a pedophile priest made me curious enough to research how priests were financially remunerated. According to a few websites, they don’t get paid for profit, but they do get money to pay the bills and provide for their families. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.)

At this point let me switch from spiritual teachers back to the blogging world (not my blog, the entire blogging world in general). The way I see it, bloggers – regardless of topic – are essentially saying:

“Hey everyone, I found great recipes for coffee and cake, and I want you all to have some. I don’t want to charge you to come in, sit on my property, eat my cake, and drink my coffee. And yet I have bills to pay, for I am not Donald Trump, and my time is limited. What can I do? I know, I’ll provide everything for free anyway, and cover the costs by getting advertisers to put their posters on the wall.”

Some get big enough to quit their day job. Others don’t. But either way, can you imagine going into a coffee shop like that, indulging in the free refreshments, and then abusing the shop owner for wearing a “Sponsored by Google” t-shirt? As Steve Pavlina said, the very model of blogging seems to have given people the mindset of “something for nothing” – to the point they see it as an outrage to even get a sponsored something for nothing.

What Do You Think?

I would love to hear your comments on this topic. (And please note that if this sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. That email I received still makes me chuckle.)