Since the Buddha's day, the Dhamma has always been dispensed freely, and without expecting anything in return. This tradition has continued into the 21st century throughout Myanmar, where one may at any time wander into a monastery and be given food, shelter, and other basic offerings; and where no compensation is ever requested or expected. Similarly, a donor may give a daily spoonful of rice or build a multi-million dollar monastery, all while never expecting preferential treatment from the monks or teachers here. As Steve Armstrong (U Buddharakkhita) wrote in A Living Tradition, “The gratitude one feels to those who preserve, practice and preach the Dhamma is expressed in the joyful, heartfelt humility of a daily, simple offering of support so that it may continue. This reciprocal offering in this way has been preserved and practiced since the time of the Buddha more than 2500 years ago.” Or as Jake Davis put in Strong Roots, “[T]he joy in life and generosity of heart that the Burmese people display - despite extreme physical hardships and a political climate of widespread fear - is testimony to the power that the Buddha’s teachings can exert on societies that support and preserve them.”
The importance of the act of dāna to Burmese Buddhists is also expressed in the Burmese proverb, Thila hnin dana ma pa they ka hma thi, or “Without sila or dāna, at death’s approach one repents.” And the Burmese attitude towards dāna—and perhaps life in general— is illustrated by the simple proverb Wun ye wa hma, sun ye hla, meaning that one is/should be happy with what they have so long as there is enough for dāna.
Despite this long, important history of freely dispensing the Buddha's teachings for all to benefit from spiritually, Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Hotel has made the questionable decision to offer guided meditation to its guests-- for a very, very hefty fee. As the flyer shows below, a one hour session goes for $70 and two hours for $120. As Myanmar continues to open up, the potential to make money off of the Golden Land's noble Buddhist tradition is certainly tempting for a country that is one of the poorest in the world, and yet doing so will also jeopardize the very instructions and guidelines as laid down by the Buddha so long ago. Change and modernization may come, and the Buddha's teachings may be shared in increasingly innovative and accessible ways, but to do so "with a fee attached" goes against the very core of the Enlightened One's fundamental message and purpose, and brings crass commercialism to the faith and practice.
These concerns were brought to the hotel management, and their responses were unsatisfactory. They first noted that the meditation takes place onsite, however as these rooms are not residences and not in other use, there is no additional cost required for them. It was then noted that the monk teacher needs to travel from his monastery, but even a top car and driver would be no more than a few dollars, and most monasteries have their own vehicles. It was then pointed out that the meditator needed proper clothing, however these usually only cost a few dollars as well and few monks would require Westerners to wear these prior to teaching the Dhamma. It was finally suggested that the "fee" was actually "dana", which is entirely untrue as a forced payment is in fact diametrically opposite from a volitional donation, and it is only the latter that helps one in detaching from the ego and one's possessions. Finally, the management promised to bring these concerns to the hotel's owners.
To meditators who are worried about this trend continuing as Myanmar opens up, consider writing the hotel directly to express this concern. It is quite laudable that this hotel, located in the very place where Theravada Buddhism became established in the Golden Land in the 11th century, is wishing to give tourists a taste of their spiritual treasures. And there are many, many ways they can achieve this noble intention without seeking their own financial profit in doing so. If they decide to offer meditation freely and not as a money-making scheme, we will be sure to update this post.
The hotel's web page is http://www.thiripyitsaya-resort.com and its email is firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
In closing, one may consider Sayadaw U Sunanda's thoughts. He offered a real life example, of a Burmese man who lived a heedless life, and at one point stole a monastery carpet worth 76 kyat (less than one dollar). He later became quite wealthy, and also became a serious devotee of the Buddha’s teachings, and so went back to this monastery to donate 76 lakh (about $75,000). U Sunanda said that for lay donors, “One mustn’t give while also evaluating what one will get back in return, or judge the worth of what one is getting against what one is giving.” But a duty is also there for the Saṅgha, for monks must inspire by living highly virtuous lives. “Buddhism can’t be attacked from an outside source, but only when the inner circle is not behaving as they should be.”