Although we have an idea of how much a class costs, what the Vedic tradition has to say about this often goes unnoticed. Whether you are an instructor or student, the cost of a yoga class is always a hotly debated question. Some say it is too little given the proposed result, while others say that in general yoga and spiritual knowledge should be free. There are students who only value classes when the price is high and instructors who charge little and regard this as the fate of the yoga instructor. Lastly, there are those instructors who are able to make a living from yoga classes and students who pay for classes with pleasure. What is the truth behind all of this? Should yoga be free?
In the West, the idea that spiritual knowledge should be free prevails. This idea may have emerged due to influence of the Church, seeing that its defense of the “right of man to the heavens” and work of “salvation” for the sake of fellow man, created a type of dissociation in our minds between money and the “heavens”, which for many represents the concept of spirituality. Money is still referred to as “demon or temptation”, and monks take a vow of poverty, despite living in one of the richest institutions in human history. We gain nothing from criticizing history or the Church and, surely, there are honest people and various types of administration for this institution, it would be unfair to condemn, however we cannot deny that these concepts are well rooted in our Western culture and on realizing this, we regain consciousness on this matter and can change.
Notwithstanding this religious influence, the capitalist mentality also exerts influence. In general, capitalism produces two effects: the overvaluation of money, making it so strong that it becomes a kind of treasure of which life revolves around; and a collective paranoia, in which we think everyone just wants to take what is ours or fool us all the time.
Indeed, in today’s age, money is an important issue for those seeking self-knowledge, seeing that it plays an important role in our minds and, naturally, in our lives. The inappropriate use of money is a disorder, since it is the inappropriate use of our own selves. Money represents “our sweat”, days worked, effort… And it is so strong and subtle that on a piece of paper we can write a check that represents all of the money we made in an entire lifetime. Thus, for a yogi, good relations with money are essential in order to balance the mind. And having good relations with money means that money “flows” proportionately to what the person considers valuable.
We spend 200 reais on a bag or eating out, but consider that same amount too much for a yoga class. We spend 10,000 reais on a trip to India and we are unable to give the beggar at the temple door 10 rupees. And we want to do big business even with our alleged friends and relatives where “you give me everything and I don’t give you anything”; we want free consultations, services and solutions to our lives. The “nerve” sustained by the fantasy that we are doing a big favor or that we will pay back later in other ways. We are under the impression that we are saving, but we are saving in the heart and becoming more alienated from the world, separated by this barrier of the “demon”, money.
According to the Vedas, money is considered a Devata, a divine aspect often referred to as Maha Lakshimi – the Goddess of Wealth. In this tradition, she has to be treated well at all times in order for our endeavors to be successful whatever they may be. Perhaps some masters do not set a price or a monthly fee, but even in the heart of India, according to the Vedas, there are no free classes. A life of a student, “brahmacari”, is a life of seva, service to the master, where one works a lot. This happened not only because master and students lived together, but also because while they study students are often unable to pay for their expenses. And this is why, traditionally, upon completing the study, in order to get married and proceed with one’s life, the student had to work for a few years to pay the master, the place of study and for all that was received.
Similarly, everything is exchangeable in the Vedic tradition. While this exchange may not be financial, it is always present. When you go to an ayurvedic doctor, you pay. When someone performs a ritual, the pujaris and even the people who help, receive money. When you go to an astrologist, you pay for the consultation. And you even pay when it is your birthday. In India, people celebrating their birthday do not get presents, the birthday is seen as an opportunity to offer food to all of the person’s friends and the community. And even through them, who ritualistically represent their ancestors, the person thanks for all that was received in life.
This vision and the way money is handled does not transform spirituality into a business, but if people are able to spiritualize their money, their own lives no longer turn into a business. The truth is that life is composed of many things that cannot be bought and much less of things that money can buy. What is a father worth? And a mother? How much do peace and happiness cost? How much does it cost to know the right medicine to take when someone is sick? What is a hug worth? And a smile? How much would you pay for one more year of life?
When we are dealing with yoga, not strictly speaking of postures, but all that this name embraces, meditation, mantras, pujas, lifestyle and self-knowledge, do all these things really have a monetary value? If no one can really pay for classes, perhaps we could pay for the instructor’s time, or the rent of the room, but this knowledge has been crossing the millennia in each Japa mala seed (Buddhist prayer beads), which have been passing from person to person, from master to disciple. Actually, no one can charge for it because it does not belong to anyone, and no one can pay for it because it is priceless. Therefore, the instructor charges enough to have an acceptable standard of living and dedicates his entire time for this task, like in any other class. The instructor’s contribution is to be the best he can for students and those who study contribute according to their abilities, and their contribution is to make sure that this knowledge continues to flow to others, much like in any other matter that is valued. This contributory attitude transforms payment into what is referred to as “dakshina”. Dakshina is an offering, a contribution, our share, our retribution, the recognition of what was given to us in each aspect of our lives and the respect with our own values and the people around us.
And this is how it goes in this tradition, if in the form of wealth God is Maha-Lakshimi, in the form of the one who provides knowledge, God is called Dakshinamurti.
ओम् नमो भगवते दक्षिणामूर्तये नमः॥
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