By Kellie Schorr
“Dharma is not a career. Dharma is our life.”
Ven. Thubten Chodron, Awaken Every Day
The first job I ever had was collecting aluminum cans and selling them by the pound.
Recycling was a new idea then and about as popular in the US as the metric system, so they actually paid money for people to bring in cans. At 12, I didn’t need to put up rent or get insurance but the steady 10 to 15 dollars a week kept me rich in comic books, baseball cards and candy bars.
We lived near a small park that served as a make-out spot for local teens, and an afterschool and Sunday morning (always the most cans!) walk for me and the dog, who didn’t even get a share of the profit. My engineer dad made me a “pick-up stick” (a metal pointer with a magnet soldered to one side and a hook on the other so I didn’t have to bend over with my challenged knees). Then, one day, he brought home the holy grail of treasure hunters—a metal detector.
Like recycling, metal detectors were new and quite the fad. I had seen the ads (largely in comic books) of people finding rings, bracelets, historical relics, and coins—so many rare coins. Forget cans! I was going to find the treasure of Sierra Madre!
For two weeks I scoured anywhere I could imagine, although the machine was so bulky I had to leave the dog at home. I found a handful of change, a toy cap gun, a stray key and roughly 2 billion can tabs from the cans I wasn’t picking up. After the second week of low (no) income and high frustration, I quit it all. Finally, my dad asked why I didn’t need a ride to the recycle place. I confessed treasure hunting was neither as lucrative nor fun as I imagined.
“I brought that thing home because it wasn’t helpful at work. It didn’t show us anything we couldn’t find by ourselves and it was heavy,” he said. He handed me the raggedy home-made “pick-up stick” and the dog’s leash. “Snoopy still needs a good walk, though.”
The metal detector was eventually sold in a yard sale. I continued to pick up cans, bought a bunch of comics and had some really great conversations with my dog.
Dharma Dreams and Day Jobs
“Meditation Teacher Certification. Be a certified meditation teacher. 3 months, $2599 but if you sign up in advance, $2,500.”
“An intensive program featuring study-at-your-pace videos of famous gurus, 2 video chats, and a peer group forum. $6,700.”
“For anyone who has dreamed of teaching the dharma, meditation, or creating a community of meditators. 10-week course + 6 CEU Credit Hours. $995.”
At a time when jobs are furloughed, insecurity flitters through the air on battered wings and angry water pours down our spiritual streets threatening to drown us all, anything that floats can seem like a life vest. Suddenly, that practice we’ve been hanging on to as a means of maintaining our sanity takes the shape of an emergency vessel.
It isn’t just a pandemic that encourages people to turn their practice into a career. There’s something really wonderful in the idea that a practice you enjoy, that helps you and that you know would help others, could be what you do for a living. The desire to work as a meditation and dharma teacher comes from the best part of our deep, good nature. We have one of the three jewels, and we want to share it.
There is nothing wrong with a career in helping people through teaching meditation, dharma, and empathetic skills. You can get a great education through an online course. In fact, with the way our world is changing, most education is done online. Before you sit down and send away money you might need for other resources, I encourage you to do some introspection. After all, Buddhism is about getting rid of delusions.
It’s the Heart that Counts
Take some deep breaths. Breathe in clarity, breathe out desperation. Breathe in intention, breathe out magical thinking. Breathe in altruism, breathe out ego.
The most important thing to know on the sometimes pricey path to meditation certification isn’t what it costs or how long it takes, what the certification actually means (there’s no standard for that), or even who is in the videos you’ll be watching. It is a simple question.
“Why am I doing this?”
If the answers that cycle through your mind are things like, “I think it will make my practice deeper,” “I want to be able to share this gift with others,” or “this is a way to encounter new techniques and opportunities,” it’s a sign your expectations aren’t oversized or based on fleeting or imaginary things. You could learn a lot.
If the answers, the true ones in your heart you don’t normally say out loud, are “I like meditating a helluva lot more than my job, so I’d rather get paid to do that,” “I can do it on zoom and a pandemic can’t take my job away,” or “This is a way to go viral, get published, be seen, be heard,” you may want to hold off and get to a different place in your thinking before you forge ahead.
It’s really the heart-mind you carry that will determine your likely outcome. If your forward vision shows you getting wiser, bi-vocationally leading online or local mediation sessions while maintaining other employment, or connecting with community, you’ll be fulfilled. What’s not likely to happen as a result of your $6,000 investment? Huge crowds signing on to sit with you, consistent membership fees, being recognized as a “spiritual influencer” and the kind of income that pays the rent every month on time.
Dig deep, because somewhere in the midst of all of this desire is the dharma, that truth that you live every day, the wisdom you seek, the practice you breathe. Putting a schedule, click-count, pressure and expectations of daily income onto your practice may make it too heavy to lift at all.
Most people who teach meditation make enough to pay for their website, their outreach, and the occasional side-gig savings fund. It is probable, even with a successful following, that you will need another job, a spouse’s income, or retirement fund to sustain your career as a meditation teacher.
That’s not to say it can’t happen. As a friend who buys lottery tickets tells me, “Somebody has got to win.” However, the people who have a dharma career (other than renown lineage holders, elders, and monastics) are almost always people with other credentials, such as college degrees, existing health/life practices, connections in publishing/media, or a skill besides breathing and chanting—the gift of marketing and tirelessly engaging in outreach and promotion. That’s the job you’re really going to be doing for a long time when you sign up for a career on the cushion.
Ultimately, you should go about this decision the same we meditate in Vajrayana—with your head in the now, your intentions clear and understood, and your eyes wide open.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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