On the importance of supporting the Dharma through donation

Here are some thoughts on this topic by Rebecca Li (5/31/2020):

Many years ago, someone asked the late Master Sheng Yen, my root teacher, 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 Dharma class or 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.

It is very important that the Dharma is accessible to everyone regardless of one’s financial situation.  No one should stop or avoid attending any practice session or Dharma class due to financial difficulty.  Otherwise, the Dharma will be available only to the society’s privileged members and that would not be in accordance with the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings.  We need to understand that our current financial situation is the coming together of many causes and conditions.  If we are at present in the fortunate situation to make offerings to support the Dharma, it is our blessing.  If that is not the case for now, we are still supporting the Dharma through our sincere practice and participation; there will be no Dharma teaching if no one wants to practice.  As many of you have come to realize, the Dharma is priceless and that we have the good fortune to encounter the Dharma is a great blessing.  Any donation we give in gratitude to the benefits we have yielded from the Dharma is merely an expression of our appreciation; it is not a fee for service in the way we have been conditioned to think of all transactions by our capitalistic culture.

Over the past 2-3 years, I have given a lot of thought to the importance of supporting the Dharma financially. 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 cancellations of retreats and group practice sessions, depriving them of revenues while the costs of supporting the teachers and maintaining the facilities are fixed.  Many online opportunities to practice have 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 many Dharma centers and teachers are offering online Dharma teachings for donation, I do not feel it would be right for me not to encourage you to donate 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.

Your donation will be used to pay for some of the costs of operating Chan Dharma Community and the remainder will be donated to a worthwhile cause on behalf of the Chan Dharma Community.  Please click here to read about the first donation made on behalf of CDC.  To donate, you can use Paypal by clicking here or Venmo @Rebecca-Li-36.  Please indicate clearly that you are donating to support Chan Dharma Community.  If you would like to designate part of your donation to support Rebecca Li’s Dharma work, please indicate that explicitly.

Inspiring words shared with or found by Rebecca Li

Dave Mermelstein told me about this Tricycle interview with Joanna Macy on feeling fortunate to be living in this time of great despair and how we can co-create a life-sustaining culture (4/17/2020).
Beth Adelman shared this NY Times article written by Scott Kelly sharing his experience living on the International Space Station for nearly a year.  He gave very good practical advice on how to maintain a routine while working (or having school) from home (3/28/2020).
Pierce Salguero shared this on Facebook (3/14/2020):
“Instead of going around thinking that everyone else has #Covid, reinforcing our suspicion and fear of others, let’s move through the world like we’re the one who’s infected, reinforcing our compassion and concern for others.”
A group leader in the Western Chan Fellowship shared this reflection with Hilary Richards who in turn shared it with Rebecca Li on 3/16/2020.
Reflection on lockdown
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan, after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul.
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
By Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM

Weekly Online Dharma Practice Gathering with Rebecca Li

Dr. Rebecca Li started this weekly online practice gathering on March 27, 2020 to support practitioners during the Covid-19 pandemic.  The group meets weekly on Friday from 8:30-10 pm E.T.  Practitioners has also been invited to share their practice reflections during the the pandemic.  You can view the practice reflections here.  For inspiring words shared with or found by Rebecca Li, click here.  For resources compiled to support practitioners, click here.


8:30-8:50 Guided meditation

8:50-9:15 Participants check in to share the week’s experience

9:15-9:45 Dharma talk and discussion

9:45 Checkout thoughts sharing

9:55 Chanting practice

10 Closing offering

Dharma talk recordings:

3/27/2020 Allow Joy into our Heart in this Pandemic

4/3/2020 Open our Heart to our Whole Self

4/10/2020 Unconditional Kindness to Ourselves

4/17/2020 Practicing with the Unfolding “New Normal”

4/24/2020 Practicing to Suffer Better

5/1/2020 Facing Uncertainty with Chan Practice

5/8/2020 Recognizing and Learning from the Bodhisattvas around us

5/15/2020 Letting Go of Our Search for Absolute Safety

5/22/2020 Restoring Meaning to Our Lives

5/29/2020 Living Fully is the See Each Moment as Brand New

As the community develops…

The founding members of our community, a small group of long-time practitioners, began meeting regularly with Rebecca to explore various aspects of Chan practice in Fall 2017.  We would agree to read an article or listen to a Dharma talk or research a topic and then reflect on it by practicing with it.  We then shared our experiences and reflections and raised questions to be discussed in our gathering on zoom.

Setting our minds in the right direction

The first topic our community studied was the Bodhisattva Path.  Having established a proper orientation in our practice, we reflected on and practiced with two of the six paramitas: patience/endurance and generosity.  After weeks of meaningful and heartfelt discussions, we were inspired to deepen our understanding of the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows.

Examining our biases and privileges through Chan practice

The early part of 2018 has been devoted to exploring how we can use Chan practice to examine our blind spots that, when remained unacknowledged, can result in thought patterns and actions that cause harm to ourselves and others.  We started off with reading the article on Chan Practice and Contemplation on Race and practicing with what resonated with us.  We then practiced with Charlene Leung’s “cultural humility” (published in Buddhadharma Spring 2018) to explore the origins of associations we habitually make with various categories to familiarize ourselves with how they arise in our mind.  We have been exploring privilege, belonging vs. fitting in while digesting Thanissara’s piece on privilege and power (“Dismantling the Master’s House,” Buddhadharma Spring 2018).  In the second quarter, we explored the role of money in our lives and how to practice with it, and this topic brought us to examining our experiences with social class.  We are currently working with the precepts.

Dr. Rebecca Li has invited practitioners who have participated in her retreats and expressed interest to deepen their practice to join her in an upcoming series of online Dharma courses.  The first course, “Giving Rise to the Bodhi Mind,” began in September 2018.  In 2019, Monthly Online Dharma Study with Rebecca Li began in December.