I realize that this is a topic that is much discussed and debated, but it came to my attention again this morning, and I wanted to add my two cents!
This morning I was looking at some of the web pages of some of my Friends onFacebook. Many are very nice and interesting, but one thing I kept noticing were the "Donations" buttons. Now most of these are "spiritual teachers" of one kind or another, and are requesting donations for the furtherance of their "work". To me this is like offering insight with your hand out. Now I realize that they are not charging, but a donations button lets you know that they want, or at least would like something from you.
Now, as some of you know, I come from a Christian Monastic background that holds poverty as an ideal. I also have to say that I was often in conflict with the "Church" over this very issue. I was involved with a couple of cathedrals that had very wealthy congregations, and clergy that catered to them. One kept hearing that "the church is a business". This was a large factor in my leaving the established church, as I had no desire to worship in a business.
One of the web pages I visited today was one belonging to a well known American spiritual teacher. He sells books, DVDs, and other items. I have talked on the internet to this teacher about this very subject, after hearing him defend Eckhart Tolle over the excessive charges for Tolle's meetings. This American teacher told me that he makes very little from his books, which were initially self published. In an interview in a spiritual magazine, he was asked about this "charging". Among other things he stated:
"I'm thankful that people paid my teachers to talk or else I would never have seen their books or benefited from their messages."
"If there is a good teacher out there anywhere who can help the realization of freedom, I certainly wouldn't want him working in a factory. If I were suffering, I would pay for him not to work so he could give me guidance."
Before I go on, let me point out that this particular teacher is also a professional in a very lucrative profession, and not someone living in poverty. He is certainly in a position to share without charging.
Now I understand that it costs money to print and distribute books. And as long as some are freely distributed to libraries, so the less advantaged can read them, I have no problem with charging a minimal price. Also, if you are asked to travel for a satsang, or other meeting, having your expenses met is reasonable if you cannot afford to offer this as a sharing. But the excuses above are not at all valid, and demonstrate a lack of spiritual understanding.
The first statement assumes that they may not have this understanding if they had not read these books or "benefited from their messages. This is as much as saying that this message is not available without the books being published. This totally rejects the Absolute and it's ability to "bestow" grace as it will. If "awakening" is going to "happen", it will happen regardless of whether there are books, or Gurus, or if they are paid or not. Understanding comes from within. Another important thing to remember is that, in this age of the internet, this message is available for everyone. The teacher who made these statements has two websites on which he could share the entire of his message, but he chooses to put money between the seeker and the message. This first statement is simply a rationalization.
The second statement shows very little understanding of the functioning of the Absolute. My experience has shown that there are, and have been, many "good teachers" working in factories. Their fellow workers benefit from their presence, and those who are suffering find their way to them by the grace of the Absolute. They are not charged by this "factory worker", as he gives love without wanting or expecting any reward. Your "teacher" may be the trash man, or the one who services your car. The important thing to remember is that anyone or anything can help you "awaken". A real teacher in spirituality wants nothing from you but earnestness. If he asks for something, or has his hand out with a donation button, question that.
The most important point however is, a true spiritual teacher has "faith". If he is worried over his financial situation, he is without the understanding that the Absolute will provide what is necessary. If someone is called to donate or contribute, they will. If the teacher is to live in and adjust to poverty, they will. If we do not let life take it's own way, if we do not offer our love freely, without reward or compensation, then we do not live the compassion we pretend to be. Guru's and seekers are led to each other. The Guru does not need to advertise or put out books. He simply needs to be, and trust that the Absolute will see to the rest. If he cannot see this, or be willing to do this, no matter his education, beautiful words or charismatic personality, he is a fraud.