Getting Donations is Legitimate Work


This is another installment in my Money is Spiritual series.

Getting donations and begging is related. Begging sounds pejorative. But, when I say “begging”, I do mean depending upon the donations of others for your livelihood. It can find expression in everything from begging on a street corner to receiving donations through patrons.

I now consider this a legitimate enterprise.

Years ago, when I was going through what Lisa calls my “Gandhi Phase”, I read a biography about Gandhi. The author, journalist Louis Fischer, interviewed some people who lived on Gandhi’s ashram. One of them told Fischer, “It takes a lot of money to keep Gandhi poor!”

It kind of shocked me. Yes, Gandhi chose a life of poverty, but it took a lot of money for him to do it. It required cash from many generous donors.

This led me down a path of research. Here are some of the interesting things I discovered about those who choose to live in poverty:

I could provide many examples from the Bible, but let’s talk for a second about Saint Paul. Yes, he earned his own money by making tents. My guess is that he did quite well. But he was also a fund-raiser, collecting money from richer churches to help the poorer ones. Without a doubt some of these funds were used to finance his own ministry which included a lot of travel and other expenses.

Generally speaking, Buddhist monks are required to spend at least an hour every day begging. My research reveals that they beg for food or money from lay supporters. If they don’t get their food from begging, they get their food from the monastery kitchen which is also supplied by lay supporters.

Buddha himself, along with his disciples, although it could be said he owned nothing, was supported by lay people. Such donations, including tracts of land, were donated to him and his cause.

Many look to Mother Teresa with admiration for her vows of poverty and her simple lifestyle. However, many are also shocked to discover that she and her order, the Missionaries of Charity, received millions of dollars in support from donors all around the world.

One of my personal spiritual heroes, Thomas Merton, took the vow of poverty. Indeed, he lived a very simple lifestyle, first of all in his cell in the monastery, then finally in his rustic cinderblock hermitage in the woods. It was because of his him and his writings that there was a revival of interest to join monastic orders, and his monastery, Our Lady of Gethsemane, experienced a significant influx of novices. To take care of so many men requires money and someone had to raise it. He himself admitted in one of his journals that the Abbot was ingenious in his business savvy, and through the production of lumber, cheese, fruitcakes, bourbon fudge, as well as the sale of his popular books, these kept the monastery afloat and even prosperous. Donations also helped fill the coffers eventually allowing him to take trips around the world promoting monastic theology and his views of spirituality.

I recently watched a fascinating episode from Chef’s Table on Netflix. This episode was the story of Chef Jeong Kwan, a female Buddhist monk in Korea. Through her youthful persistence she finally gained entrance to a local monastery and eventually became their chef. She devoted such care and creativity to her cooking that she became a world-class chef. She was discovered when chefs invited her to New York to show off her chef’s skills and teach, and now foodies from all over the world travel to the monastery where, on special occasions, they can eat her delicious food. Even though she embraces a life of poverty, her monastery, world notoriety, and exposure is financed by lay supporters.

Poetry is one of my hobbies. I love haiku. I heard about a Japanese monk, Santoka Taneda (1882-1940), who wrote free verse haiku. I read his slight book, Mountain Tasting, a collection of some of his haiku and journal entries. Even though he was a wandering monk with no home or belongings, every day he begged and depended on the food, money, and sake that was donated to him. Sometimes he spent hours a day getting enough to eat, rent a motel room, and get drunk.

Even Saint Francis of Assisi, who disavowed the life of luxury for himself, required donations, food, and shelter in order to live and continue his ministry.

Krishnamurti, another hero of mine, left the well-funded Theosophy organization, much to the dismay of everyone, to branch out as a world teacher. I read with fascination his spiritual detachment from wealth while at the same time enjoying a very simple but comfortable lifestyle from the abundant donations that flowed into his own organization from his teachings, recordings, tours, books and supporters.

I could go on and on about the many spiritual leaders we admire, including the famous yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, who lived a simple lifestyle while being surrounded by abundance.

Of course, we also know of the countless stories of spiritual leaders who were not only surrounded by wealth but reveled in it to the point of abuse. You can watch such documentaries called Holy Hell and Wild Wild Country to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

My point is, those of us with spiritual hangups about money tend to admire those who seem to be able to live without money, when the truth is they really aren’t living without money but are supported by generous donors who believe in what they’re doing and choose to support them.

The bottom line is, whether you appreciate and directly enjoy money or not, you and your work nevertheless requires it.

If you want to receive my daily emails, sign up HERE. If you just want my weekly digest of the previous week, sign up HERE. Of course, you can get both if you want.

Do you need help getting over your money hangups so you can get on with your life? Are you a pastor leaving the ministry and are worried about money? Or are you someone who’s going through deep changes in your faith? I facilitate an online community for people like you. But I also coach people one-on-one through these traumatic transitions. Read more about my coaching HERE.