Friday, April 1, 2011

Is Buddhism the most expensive religion?

Buddhist monasteries and institutions/centres depend very much on the donations of the public in order to survive. Being Buddhists, I think we are the most expensive of all major religions. The Churches are much simpler in design and most of them do not have statues, except for the Catholics. Even then, Catholic saints are less in number and mostly not gilded or gold-plated or as beautifully designed as the Buddhists statues. The only other religion comes close to the Buddhist lavishness is Hinduism. But from my observation and the number of fundraisings and donations needed to maintain, develop and support the activities and members of the Buddhist temples and centres remains by far the most costly despite their lesser number of adherents globally. Or, at least it does seem that way. Am I correct to say so? You are free to challenge my assumption and I will appreciate any indications that my views are incorrect.

It is not my intention to criticise any particular Buddhist centre or organisation or temple, but more and more amount of money seems to be needed annually. More projects that require fund-raisings seem to come out every year, especially on huge projects that require millions of dollars. These include building new building blocks, acquiring large pieces of land, commissioning the building of huge Buddhist statues, renovations and expansions, as well as acquiring expensive d├ęcor and materials for these projects. These Buddhist organisations often lay out the plan first (i.e. what they want) and then only they start to think or figure out how to raise that much money to support it. Conventional wisdom normally dictates that we should plan according to our budget or how much we think we could realistically raise. But it does seem (or at least appear to me) that most of these projects are not planned with the budget in mind. Their projects are fixed and could not be scaled down in case if insufficient funds are raised. If this happens, it’s possible the project will get stuck and the project site will be an ugly scene of half-completed buildings. It could be left abandoned for many years till it is revived again in the future, if ever. In the meantime, the purpose for which the money had been raised and spent for the half-completed project goes unfulfilled. Thus, the well-wishers do not get the full merits for their donations. Because the project is incomplete, indirectly the donations that had been raised can be considered as wasted.

Whatever that has been planned, they just dish it out to the public and start their donation drive. This is done without the slightest thought on how many times the public has to be approached for donations. The need for Buddhists to perfect their perfection of generosity cannot be a reason for subtle exploitation of the Buddhist community. In a smaller Buddhist community or township, where there are several Buddhist organisations, they usually are approaching the same community of Buddhists or members there for money. Hence it is not surprising that some criticism levelled at Buddhism is that we are money-faced people, often asking for endless donations.

Buddhists must be careful about this point. If you intent to raise funds from your benefactors, while they are very generous in giving money and other support, the organisers must see to its intended completion. It is not good to leave projects unaccomplished for years. This is because the money raised in the past could have been better utilised somewhere else such as in other projects that could be argued to benefit as many beings as the incomplete project, or perhaps even more. Also it is not good for Buddhist organisers to think that their benefactors have bottomless pockets and that they can approach these benefactors many times over and over again. Do they not have any sense of shame? I do not know. But often when we are approached for donations, we are often greeted with the same “promotion tagline”, i.e. that by sponsoring the project or statue or temple, it will generate infinite merits and good karma for the donor. But when these same donors suffer from some unfortunate illness or accident soon later, these organisers do not give any thought about explaining to these donors what happened to the vast good merits they had earned or seemingly earned. But many donors and well-wishers are very simple and do not wish for anything more than blessings. And yet, sometimes they do not seem to be getting much blessings. I am just wondering whether these well-intentioned donors have been taken advantage of by some Buddhist organisations. However, regardless of whether the donor is sincere or not, I feel that Buddhist organisations and temples must exercise prudence in fund-raising and not attempt to raise funds too many times in a year or ask money from members too many times, even in cases of selling items at much higher prices than their actual cost. They should also not embark on expensive projects or acquire expensive property without prior accumulation of funds first. I do not agree with the idea of “Buy first, Build first, but Think later” concept. This is very similar to those people who live on credit cards but could not pay-off their monthly debts on time. This is not right and should not be encouraged. Buddhist organisations should learn to accumulate money first over several years if they want to acquire expensive assets. There are far more issues than could be possibly discussed here in this article. I understand that Buddhist organisations have their own difficulties too and tough challenges.

 As mentioned earlier, it is not intended to be a veiled criticism to any organisations nor intended to cause any controversy. Rather it is an exploration and honest look at this issue confronting Buddhists in our world when we are faced with an ever shrinking economy and ever rising inflation. Due to limited funds available, I seriously think we should only raise funds only when there is a serious need for it. Some financial prudence as well as forward-looking and compassionate attitude are perhaps the key ingredients needed for a balanced formula in the activity of fund-raising. Doing it correctly, the money collected will generate much blessings for everybody and even beyond. But doing it incorrectly could potentially cause a rebirth to the lower realms for the fund-raisers.

So, is Buddhism the most expensive religion? I am sure, the truth is perhaps far more complicated than this. It will not be a simple “yes” or “no” answer. But the intention of this article is not to seek an answer to this question. Rather it is hoped that you will give more thoughts when you are confronted with the need to do some fund raising for the organisation or temple that you belonged. What do you think? But no matter the problem with handling donations, and whether it is expensive or not, we get the opportunity to practice with whatever our situation, i.e be it our wealth or lack of it. It is also because people spend a lot on the religion, that much merits are created. And that is a good thing that other religions may not have. If we use welath properly and spent it in the wisest way, then the most expensive religion is also the most meritorious religion.

Sarvam mangalam.

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