From time to time I receive email from people questioning me for selling a meditation course (as if it’s some sort of crime agains the practice).
Some of them are clearly hate mail, like this one, from a man calling himself “Nirvana”.
Others are more lighthearted and sincere, such as this one, from a subscriber:
This is a very touch and controversial topic, so I decided to share all my thoughts about these things, and about “why I charge”. Forgive me if this sometimes sound like a rant.
I understand you
First, I’d like to say that I deeply understand the mindset behind these criticisms. I used to think like that myself!
In fact, I still share some of the assumptions behind it, but my conclusion is different.
Let’s deconstruct the ideas behind these criticisms.
- (a) Meditation is a spiritual practice.
- (b) Money and spirituality shouldn’t be mixed. Spirituality should not be made into a business.
- (c) There is plenty of good information about meditation easily available for free on the internet, from traditional masters, or through inexpensive books.
- (d) Since teachings/information about meditation either is freely available (“c”), or should be freely available (“b”), anyone charging for teaching meditation in any form is either taking advantage of people or is anti-spiritual.
The criticisms can take many forms, but they invariably carry some or all of these assumptions.
I agree with ideas “b” and “c”. But I only partially agree with “a”, and strongly disagree with “d”. In the next fours points I express my reasons.
1. Spiritual meditation & secular meditation
Yes, spirituality should not be turned into a business (and that’s actually one of my criticisms against TM). The thing is: meditation need not be only a spiritual practice.
In fact, there are likely millions of people in the West right now that are not in a spiritual path yet practice meditation for purposes of health, wellness, personal growth, therapy, productivity, etc. These people are experiencing several benefits of meditation—but if this practice were only available for spiritual reasons, they would not be able to benefit from it.
I deeply honor the spiritual roots and significance of meditation. In fact, personally, spirituality is the reason why I practice meditation. However, if meditation is only a spiritual practice, if it’s only for “spiritual people”, then its ability to benefit society at large, and to truly contribute to a better world, is incredibly diminished. Forget about running meditation programs on schools and hospitals, for example.
Meditation as a spiritual practice should be donation based. Meditation as a secular practice can be offered as a service/product, especially if you expect true quality and support.
The same thing happened with Yoga. Traditionally it was only a spiritual practice, meant to prepare the body and mind for deep meditation, and taught free of charge (donation based).
Nowadays there are Yoga studios everywhere, and people practicing it for improving the quality of their lives or for healing. The fact that being a Yoga teacher is now a profession makes that a possibility.
On my side, everything I do on the spiritual level is offered free. This includes all the time I put into writing thoughtful blog posts and answering reader’s emails. There is nothing I gain from that, except the joy of serving.
What I offer for a price is a secular meditation courses (example). It is strongly based on traditional techniques, and it incorporates lessons I’ve learned on the spiritual path—yet its approach and marketing is fully secular based.
Selling meditation is not the same as selling spirituality.
I don’t sell spirituality.
2. Charging protects quality
People that criticize charging for meditation don’t understand that by doing so they are alienating those true practitioners that wish to be able to devote themselves more to their own practice, while at the same time serving people along the way.
In the past, this was only possible if you were a monk; but times are changing, and the world needs people that live in society, in a family, and yet incorporate these ideals.
The “spiritual-critics” are actually strengthening the comoditization of meditation by companies such as Headspace, that are immune to their arguments and mass produce meditation products/advice based on the lowest denominator.
The teaching of meditation nowadays happens through one of these four figures/institutions:
- (1) Spiritual teachers (monks, gurus, etc.) teaching spiritual meditation
- (2) Layman teachers, with strong spiritual roots, teaching secular meditation
- (3) Layman teachers, without spiritual roots, teaching secular meditation
- (4) Companies & apps (such as Headspace, Calm, Muse)
Let’s say that these critics argument is so strong that it convinces all people to stop charging for meditation.
Group 3 and 4 won’t stop, because they have no spiritual roots. Only the group 2 will stop charging. As a result, they won’t be able to dedicate themselves to teaching meditation as much as they would if they were making a living off it. Maybe they could still write a couple of blog posts here and there, or answer some questions in a forum—but nothing of massive influence.
This would mean that everyone that is not on a spiritual path would end up learning meditation without any real spiritual roots! The practice would still work well for health and wellness purposes, but it would rarely be a door to something deeper.
There are people out there that are rooted in the wisdom traditions of meditation, but teach it in a secular way, with sincerity and a serving heart. People like Sean Fargo from MindfulnessExercises.com, Chad Foreman from TheWayOfMeditation.com.au, and me with this blog.
We all could cease being meditation teachers, and just work a regular 9-5 job (as I did for years)—but this would severely impact our ability to serve “regular people” in the way of meditation. These are people that want more than what Headspace or Calm can offer, but who wouldn’t go to a guru either. And they are getting it through platforms like this one.
That’s why I think that those that can truly contribute teaching meditation should do so, and be well supported for it. If they are spiritual teachers, the support comes through donation; if they are “people of the world”, it comes from selling products and services at a reasonable price. All in a spirit of honesty, transparency, and loving service.
The easier it becomes for sincere meditation teachers to make a decent living teaching meditation full-time, the more the practice will flourish in our society.
This protects the quality of the information and teaching of meditation for everyone out there seeking meditation for health, wellness, healing, and personal growth.
3. Quality costs—and students are not complaining
Producing quality content, and reaching people that need it, takes a lot of time (and also money). For example, at the time of this writing this website costs me hundreds of dollars a month to run, due to the large traffic and email list, among other things. Not to mention the amount of time per week that could be otherwise spent earning a living, being with my family, or deepening my personal practice.
And, funny enough, not a single person that enrolled in my meditation course has ever complained about paying for it. They happily did it—and some of them even told me I could charge much more, considering the amount of value they got from the course.
4. “But it’s all available for free out there…”
This argument is so common, but also so silly. It actually comes from a lack of understanding about what most people need in order to really learn and change behavior.
Yes, it’s true that most of this information is available for free on the internet, or via small investment in good books. But that is also true basically out of every field of knowledge out there, including the ones taught in colleges and universities for a high price.
Yet people buy books, courses, and coaching. I also do!
In anything that you want to learn online, you have two options:
- (a) Spend dozens to hundreds of hours Googling it, digging information, connecting the dots, getting frustrated with conflicting information and unanswered questions, and after a long time figure it all out.
- (b) Pay some money and have it all laid out for you, step by step, in a systematic way, and with email support from an experienced practitioner of that area.
Again, people who pay for the course are happy to take option “b” above, and are not complaining. For many of them, their motivation to meditate is not strong; or they lack time, or discipline; or they are not good at keeping habits.
For them, unless they have all information they need laid out in a clear and motivational way, they simply won’t keep up with the practice. Maybe not even start. I have seen this happen again and again.
Some may say “Meditation is so simple that all you need is a couple of pages of instruction. How can you charge for that?”
Those that think like this don’t understand habit-building science or the psychology of human motivation.
And, to be fair, I’m not even sure they have a deep understanding of meditation itself—because I would struggle to put in two pages all that I’ve learned about this practice. It’s impossible to cover in two pages even the most common obstacles that people face when starting or keeping a meditation habit.
People who are highly motivated and disciplined will learn by themselves, off books and websites (including mine), for free or low cost. But this is a minority of people. Willpower, time and discipline are each time scarcer resources.
If we follow the critic’s argument, only people that are thus motivated and discipline will ever stand a chance to build a daily meditation practice, and experiment its true benefits.
For the great majority of people, they don’t have the time, discipline or motivation to dig in several sources of knowledge, go to a spiritual guru, or learn over the years by trial and error.
These people are the ones that can benefit from having all this information chewed up in a simple, easy to follow, helpful framework. They are the ones that buy online courses or apps about meditation—and they are the ones that benefit from it.
And they grateful, not complaining. They wish the critics would shut up and stop bothering our work.
How it is for me
For me, this blog can be seen as a mixture of selfless service and of conscious business. I spend countless hours every month answering readers questions, and writing comprehensive blog posts accessible to all.
I have translated for free 7 spiritual books from English into Portuguese (my mother tongue). Also, part of everything I earned is donated to charity, and to the work of true spiritual masters out there, whom I like to support. And yes, I also sell deeply valuable courses for a fair price.
It’s both about changing lives and about earning a living while fulfilling my mission. So that I can be more fully devoted to deepening my own practice—both for my own sake and for the sake of all those that read my writings, and join my courses.
I’m not a millionaire, and I’m not a monk. So either I make a living as a writer and meditation teacher, or the number of people that I can touch is severely limited.
My goal is not to become a Deepak Chopra or an Ekhart Tolle. I don’t want to create another Headspace. My goal is to live a life fully devoted to deep spiritual practice, and spiritual service—without needing to worry about money or selling my time to an office job that doesn’t help any of these.
Money is not the enemy of spirituality. With the right intention and awareness, it is a tool to support both sadhana and seva.
What are your thoughts on all this? Please share it in the comments, or send me an email.[Finally, here is an article from Ken Wilber on the topic. Different arguments, but a similar conclusion. On the other hand, the user Wollff makes similar points on this Reddit thread.]