Heated Controversy Confirmed by Survey – Should Spiritual Services be Free or Not?

Should Spiritual Services be Free

Money and Spirituality

As usual, before I write any article regarding charging money for spiritual services, free yoga, free meditation or other business aspects of spiritual services, I first like to give my standard disclaimer to avoid any misunderstandings and here it is.  I am very happy to offer my website in it’s free format, and plan to continue it and the online yoga and meditation classes for free.  In addition, this article is not a request for money and I am not against those making money from their spiritual work either.  Now onto this very heated topic of whether or not one should charge money for spiritual services.

This has undoubtedly been the most heated and controversial topic on Mastery of Meditation and Yoga so far.  You will find the original survey here (Survey: Should Spiritual Services by Free or Not?) and are welcome to still participate, as these surveys remain active and continue to collect data for research and study in the fields of yoga, meditation and spiritual living. 

If you look in the comments section of the survey page above you will notice a lively debate, with very intelligent, thoughtful and at times passionate responses from both sides of the fence.  The results of this survey were quite incredible and as you will notice below, show that this is clearly one of the most polarizing topics in the spiritual world.  In addition, those on either side believe quite passionately in their point of view and generally have quite potent arguments to defend their opinion as well.

I really did not know exactly what to expect from this survey, but I certainly did not anticipate such an incredibly close competition between the two sides.  So here are the current standings in this very, very close survey:

SHOULD SPIRITUAL SERVICE BE FREE OR IS IT OK TO CHARGE? – RESULTS

Survey Results
Value Count Percent %
Yes, It’s OK to Charge 52 51.49%
No, It Should be Free 49 48.51%


Free Spiritual Services or Not Survey Analysis:

As you can see from the results above, it is really too close to call.  For those who remember the close elections here in the US between Al Gore and George Bush, this survey could also be decided by a dangling chad .  51% said it was ok to charge money for spiritual services, while 48% said spiritual services should be given for free.  I waited an extra week to two to allow more data to come in, but the incoming votes continued to reflect this deep divide on this controversial topic.  If you have not yet voted, feel free to chime in, as I mentioned the surveys remain active and I will keep an eye on this one to see if it leans one or another over time.

What I want to do next with regard to this topic, is briefly summarize the arguments from both sides, to give you insight into what each is thinking and give you some food for thought.  So here are the top 4 reasons I get from each of these sides to defend their point of view. 

Please read my disclaimer above if you have not already.  I am just presenting the arguments from both sides here.

Top 4 Reasons Spiritual Services Should be Free:

1. Reflection of Greed and Power:

The most common reason that spiritual services should be free is the argument that those who charge are not really interested in helping others, but are really just interested in making money.  That the spiritual practitioners who charge money are really businessmen and find the spiritual marketplace an easy way to get rich and powerful.  Along similar lines, come the arguments that those who charge are really fake gurus, con men, un-enlightened, etc, etc.

2. Trust Life to Support You:

Another common argument, which is very deep, is that you should not worry about money and security and just go about doing what you love to do, leaving life to help support and care for you.  This is in fact a necessary approach to living moment to moment and free of worry, but of course, the counter argument is that life is sending you clients to help you survive and pay your bills, so to not charge them would be refusing the very help life is giving you.

3.  Only Use a Donation Based Model:

The third common argument is to stick to a donation only model.  Here allowing people to donate to you according to their financial capacity and also, allowing for other forms of donation besides money, such as work exchange (karma yoga), etc.

4.  Compromise is Inevitable:

If you decide to sell your spiritual wares on the marketplace and money becomes important, then sooner or later you will start to compromise or adjust your services to what the masses are willing to pay more for.  Don’t discount this argument casually, it is quite powerful. 

For example, you may start off teaching the Great Truth that desire is the root cause of suffering, but soon realize that there is no marketplace for that, but can make a pretty penny telling people all about the Law of Attraction and how to manifest their dreams and so become a Law of Attraction guru instead.  This is just an example of how you might start to modify your teachings to suit the marketplace, I am not against the Law of Attraction or anything.  Selling your spiritual services could be leading you down such a slippery slope.  You may soon find yourself compromising or adjusting what you teach or do, to better serve your desire for success, fame and money, instead of just following your passion as you originally intended to. 

Top 4 Reasons You Should Charge for Spiritual Services:

1. Practicality:

The top reason to justify charging for your services, is simply one that you need to eat, feed your family and have money so you can devote yourself to your passion.  The variations to this reason include arguments along the line that donation based models no longer work, society is no longer structured to support spiritual practitioners like the old days, life is supporting you by sending you the clients you need, etc.  This argument asserts that in today’s world, charging is quite accepted and the framework within which one can support oneself and one’s family.

2.  Energy Exchange:

The next most common reason, is the one of energy exchange to complete the transaction.  This reasoning has it’s roots in the Law of Karma, and is essentially saying that for the services you receive, you pay the provider back and money is just a form of energy you use.  This is close to the donation based approach used to argue the free model, except generally speaking, money is required for the exchange.  A nice variation to this argument is to charge for your services, but have a free option available as well.  Or as Yogi Bhajan was reputed of doing, leave change in the bushes outside his classes, so the students who did not have the money, could complete the energy transaction with this money.

3.  Free is Not Appreciated:

This argument should not be dismissed casually, as it does have merit.  What is essentially being argued here is that psychologically or subconsciously that which we receive for free is really not appreciated.  This then means that the free yoga or other free services are not given their required respect or devotion.  This casual approach to that which is free, finally prevents the recipient from extracting the full benefits of the service.  This point argues that in today’s world we have been programmed at some level to value those things that we pay for, and thus free services are simply not given their due respect.

4.  What’s Wrong with Being Rich:

Along the lines of the idea that money is energy, is the thinking that the more money you have, the more energy you have and therefore the more good you can do.  After all if you are a good person, and you have at your disposal large sums of money, you will be able to do a lot of good in the world with it.  In addition, part of the being rich thinking is that what is wrong with having money anyway?  Why is that wrong or evil?  Why must those who are spiritual be poor?  And should not spiritual services be valued highly as well?

Summary of Free Spiritual Services Survey:

So I am sure you can see from the above, there are a lot of great points and arguments from both sides on this very difficult issue.  In general this issue comes under the big issue of Practicality versus Passion, which I can assure you is a subject of great debate as well.  One final thought that comes to mind, is I wonder how may of those who said spiritual services should be for free are spiritual providers, while those who said it is ok to charge money are actually clients .  Well, that is a question for a future survey I guess .

If you have more points you would like to contribute to this debate, please feel free to jump in and share them with us in the comments section below.

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19 replies
  1. Nerakami
    Nerakami says:

    No one questions paying a medical doctor for his services and yet, we question reciprocal exchange for spiritual services rendered. One tends to the body whilst the other, to our consciousness, our dis-eased minds. Existence rests on free will and choices, and we all have the power to choose whether to pay & how much to pay for such services. Many spiritual practitioners have spent their entire lifetime acquiring the knowledge, practicing the techniques and tools to cultivate & maintain their spiritual growth… many would love to be able to give up the 9-5 to dedicate their 24/7 to sharing their awareness, but are unable to because it cannot pay the bills… the law of cause & effect deals with dishonesty and those unfair in their pay scale will live their consequences… but at the end of the day, it still is about choices.. we all have choices.. to pay or not to pay, but establishing that it is not right to charge, is taking away choices…

    Reply
  2. Mango
    Mango says:

    This is an issue which is so close to my heart, and which I haven’t found the answer to yet. On the one hand, I intuitively feel that I can only really trust a spiritual teacher if he or she does not charge anything. Sometimes it even breaks my heart when I meet a teacher, who I really trust and in whom i experience unconditional love, but whose services I cannot afford to buy. This makes me doubt whether it was actually true, unconditional love that I experienced in the first place. On the other hand, from a spiritual perspective, it doesn’t feel right to judge and criticise people’s decisions about charging. Cause what is love and spirituality after all, if it’s not about complete acceptance of other people and their actions? I feel that I just have to surrender into the universe of doubt and uncertainty as to whether unconditional love truly exists. This surrender might or might not reveal a deep trust that it does. But at least it wont rely on the choices of other people, which I cannot change anyway. Surrender. Yes, that could be the answer…

    Reply
  3. Brent Krizo
    Brent Krizo says:

    This is a very interesting debate. While, for full disclosure I myself am a mediation teacher through the Chopra Center, and I do charge for my classes, I think it doesn’t really matter. As an earlier commenter, follow your inner guidance.

    At the core of this debate is the the question of does it matter what other people think, should it be free or not. If you are teacher, guru, swami, whatever, and would like to charge, then charge. If you are a teacher and you want to do it for free for whatever motivating factor, then don’t charge. For those who feel it right to have an exchange of energy(money), then feed that with exchange. For those of you who think it should be free be/c God doesn’t come with a price tag, than more power to you. If as a student/follower you don’t agree with the teacher you come across then move on to the right teacher that aligns with your beliefs. Just don’t tell me what I need to believe, do, or how I should conduct my business. I will respect your methods, just respect mine, even if they don’t agree with yours. I am not wrong because I am different than you, I am just different. And that is good.

    Having said all that, and in light of my own method of exchange, I don’t understand why people who think it should be free that just because you are teaching on spiritual matters that you should be poor(or at least not compensated for your time and energy that it took you to attain the knowledge you are passing on). I offer to prospective students many methods to learn how to meditate and let them know that there are cheaper ways to doing it than by learning from me. But I also let them know that I tried several and having a real live teacher to ask questions to was crucial in my success of my own practice. Books didn’t answer “my” questions, but a teacher I had a dialogue did. I was comfortable paying for the knowledge I learned and am comfortable receiving pay for it as I pass it on.

    Lastly, I wonder of those who voted that spiritual guidance should be free, how many are living paycheck to paycheck. And how many would be willing to give it away if they had paid a large amount of money to learn it themselves. Sacrifices were probably made by those who paid for it, and why should give it out to those who might not be willing to make sacrifices of their own. That isn’t to say everybody might be able to pay the same amount, but I am hard pressed to think of any spiritual organization/teacher who won’t help those truly in need. But those are different than those who just ideologically think because it is spiritually related it should be free.

    Reply
  4. sk
    sk says:

    Strictly speaking it should be free as the ancient yogis did not discover these for commercial benifits. But the teacher should be given something out of reverence for his teachings and his effort. Also there is no harm for charging reasonably for comfirtable lively hood . But as money flows there is an element of greed, which needs to be controlled, this is applicable for all in all fields. It is also chanllenging and may be a courageous experience just to depend on the God and accept whatever he gives. I

    Reply
  5. Tom Von Deck
    Tom Von Deck says:

    It all comes down to inner guidance. When you learn how to listen to that, there is no scripture and no blanket rule that applies to everyone. I teach meditation. When I try to give it for free, people say “who the hell are you?”. In other words, I get ignored. I spent many years teaching for free. If all the Tai Chi teachers in the world decided to stop teaching for money, then good luck trying to call one of them to receive their services. You have to get into their inner circle. Even then, they are not available because when they get home from McDonalds, they are tired. I’m not an advocate of charging, and I’m not an advocate of not charging. One person’s inner guidance will lead them to think less about money. Another’s will lead them to creating more of a money infrastructure. Every Monastery has a business person who secures the funds so that the monks have beds and meals. We all have three choices: The market approach, the nonmarket approach and the sliding scale approach. The least inclusive of these is the nonmarket approach for the reasons stated above. The second least inclusive is the market approach because poor people are shut out. I choose the third option because the most people can benefit. Sorry if my message is jumbled. It’s a time constraint that’s causing me to type fast and hit the “post” button. Thank you, Anmol for your website. I’ve referred a lot of people to it.

    Reply
  6. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    Hi Anmol,
    I have been through the whole basket of spiritual searching and I have paid and paid! I am 67 years old and have finally come to the realisation that you cannot sell God to God. It is a blessing and a great gift of Grace to be able to share whatever knowledge we have gained along the way. Bread cast upon the waters (freely) is always returned in some way. I am a Sathya Sai Baba devotee, and Swami says that wherever there is money involved, He is not there!

    Love your website!

    Reply
  7. Experiments with spirituality
    Experiments with spirituality says:

    Ooooh, a very controversial subject that is well addressed here. I have often thought about this and I dont think there is anything wrong with either offering it for free or a charged service. Depends on your livelihood as one of your readers points out. I just disagree with one “correct” method.

    The way I see it, so many of our scriptures are free as are many of the teachings that I wonder if those who learned from the scriptures had any intention of paying.

    The old rule, a fool will not learn from a paid class and the wise man will take gems from a free class. It is what you bring to the class that counts.

    Reply
  8. Anmol Mehta
    Anmol Mehta says:

    Dear Angela,

    Wonderful to hear you are doing better and finding the website beneficial and enjoyable. Great to also hear you are able to return to your Art and finding success there.

    Have no worries, my website will continue to be free and available to all.

    Thank you for your inspiring feedback and sharing your thoughts and insights.

    All Good Wishes,
    Anmol

    Reply
  9. Rick Modi
    Rick Modi says:

    Spritual service should be free always as once it is paid then its a business, and if you do business you cannot attain peace, its again a material world.

    Yoga Store Online

    Reply
  10. Angela
    Angela says:

    Your web-site is wonderful. As for me having the funds at this time to pay a monthly fee (or however it would be set up) I do not. Until I started looking and learning from your site I did not feel well at all. Many reasons for it but I do not need to go into at this time. However, with that being said, as I feel better I can physically spend more time either standing or sitting in a chair, then work on my art. Therefore, my finished art sells and I have funds for living.

    The more I follow your site, the better I am feeling and the better I feel the more I look and follow your teaching. There is not a doubt in my mind because I am receiving this great teaching free that my donations when available will be equal to or more than the fee charged.

    I do believe as an old saying goes “what goes around comes around”. Also, once I am making my money from the sale of art I will be buying your products paying retail.

    See my art once purchased is displayed in homes for the beauty of it, there is no physical effort for the purchaser to enjoy it daily. Your teaching via the web needs my physical and mental effort without the availability of you my teacher in my room instructing me. Getting paid for services when hands on is one thing, but when trying to follow via the web is the other.

    In closing I believe if I receive I will give and the cycle goes on. If you do indeed at anytime charge a fee for your teaching I would pay you that fee because I am starting to feel better and this has not happened to me before with any yoga instruction. I just hope that I can still enjoy it free until I do start making money once again.

    Reply
  11. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    I am a student of self-realisation class that been tought for free for many years by a few teachers who also recieved free classes when they started their journey on self-discovery. And although I’m deeply grateful for their love, care, time (their all have a day-time jobs and families) I think the class should not be for free. Some of the students really missed out on the oportunity to grow . The class and teacher’s dedication are not taken seriously. Its easy to skip a class in favor of a paid dance class or fun social event, or fall asleep in the class, or text friends . Its not everyone, but many of us who are in the begining of their self-realisation do need extra motivation, and for most young people its money.

    Reply
  12. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    I feel that some money should be charged, yet at the same time allow the client to decide as to how much. That way they are not being denied help due to lack of funds. I always just say; ” Pay me what you can afford”…this then allows the energy to go both ways. This won’t work though if you are reliant for the money to pay your bills. I always get what I need. Anything beyond that is ego.

    Reply
  13. Chaitanya
    Chaitanya says:

    Well it depends on whether your living depends on the services you provide. what i am trying to say is if you have a steady source of income irrespective of whether you are involved in a spiritual activity or not, then you should do it for free. In such a case we should leave it to god. When we do God’s work, he will take care of us. Even in the other case, the only thing that matters is true belief( belief that there is nothing that ‘you’ actually do, so there is no point in worrying about your finances) As Lord Krishna says “Do your duty and leave the rest to god”.

    Reply

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