The following was written by Rebecca Li to answer the inquiries regarding the online retreat fee:
Many years ago, someone asked Master Sheng Yen why they charged a retreat fee because the Dharma should be free. Master Sheng Yen responded, “The Dharma is free. But what it takes to offer the retreat is not free. The food and heating and cooling of the facility is certainly not free.” What was left unsaid in Master Sheng Yen’s response is all the costs of supporting the living expenses of Dharma teachers so that they can do the work of sharing the Dharma and all the costs incurred to make it possible for even an online retreat to take place. I only came to know of these costs when I started handling the operation of the retreat center years ago and when I started teaching. For most, these costs remain invisible and thus the question “why charge for retreat.”
I would like to explain why we are charging $50 for the one-day retreat, the same rate charged by DDRC for the online one-day retreat. Participants can pay on a sliding scale based on their financial situation. I don’t want anyone who wants to practice to be turned away because of lack of fund due to job loss or other financial difficulties. So the sliding scale will start from $10 and anyone can give more than $50 if they want. I have given a lot of thought to this topic over the past 2-3 years. This pandemic has brought the financing of Dharma teaching into sharper focus. Many Dharma and retreat centers are in financial difficulty due to the stay-at-home order that resulted in retreat cancellations, depriving them of revenues while the costs to support the teachers and maintain facilities are fixed. The many online opportunities to practice has been offered to support everyone in times of great suffering. I am very concerned that it will breed the belief in practitioners’ minds that making the Dharma available is cost-free. Without the understanding that financially supporting Dharma teaching is crucial, there will be no viable institution to sustain Dharma teaching to be shared with the future generations.
So far, I have been able to finance my Dharma teaching with my own income because I am fortunate enough to have a job and the moral support of my husband and other family members. It is not the case with many Dharma teachers. Since DDRC and many Dharma teachers are also offering online day-long retreats for a fee, I do not feel it would be right for me to offer a retreat for free as I would be inadvertently undermining the survival of many retreat centers and Dharma teachers by so doing. It is important to cultivate the understanding among Dharma practitioners that it is our responsibility to help make it possible for future generations to benefit from Dharma practice, the way past generations of practitioners have done for us in their support of the continuation of Dharma practice, financially and otherwise. Cultivating this understanding and doing our part in fulfilling our responsibility is part of the giving rise to the great Bodhi Mind.
The retreat fees will be used to pay for the costs of operating Chan Dharma Community and the remainder to be donated to a worthwhile cause on behalf of the Chan Dharma Community. Please check out this effort we will be supporting and I have spoken on it in a Dharma talk. A report will be made available for the sake of transparency.