One of the reasons Buddhism may have difficulty spreading beyond upper- and middle class white Americans is the high economic cost of Buddhist spiritual practice, writes Joe Parker in Turning Wheel (Spring), the magazine of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
In Asian countries, most Buddhist practices, such as meditation retreats, are offered free to practitioners. In the U.S. retreats and other intensive practice periods are relatively expensive, not to mention the paraphernalia that goes along with Buddhist practice, such as meditation cushions, robes and altars. Parker conducted an informal survey of recent American Buddhist center publications and web sites, and found a “clear difference in the fee structures and other costs of practice between centers that serve a predominantly Asian population and those that serve mostly non-Asians.”
For instance, a North American Buddhist center catering to a largely white population charges an average of $50 for a one-day retreat. For membership at a center, it could be $10-$120 per month or $100-$2500 per year. In contrast, U.S. Buddhist centers serving Asian immigrants “showed a consistent pattern of offering retreats for free or, more commonly, for a voluntary donation.” This pattern may have been brought over from Buddhists in Asian countries who “have a long history of meeting the religious needs of individuals from a broad spectrum of economic means.”
Parker adds that the lack of Bi-lingual material at centers and the way regular spiritual practice may not yield to the demands of a household with children and working parents are also factors in the class gap in American Buddhism.
(Turning Wheel, PO Box 4650, Berkeley, CA 94704)