In America the land of capitalism religion will be analyzed in business terms. When I went on my search for inner peace I took on the protective coloring of a seeker after truth. However tucked in my pocket was my bottom-line cap.
After 18 months of a journey, restricted to the New Haven, Connecticut area, I have found that religious organizations can't help but adopt the best practices of commerce. Take, for example, the supposedly free meditation training and opportunities to practice in eastern religions.
At the New Haven Zen Center and the Shambhala Buddhist Temple there was, of course, a gentle reminder that donations are accepted. In the Zen Center, there are containers for those contributions in several rooms in the old Victorian mansion. At Shambhala only one jar stands in the social room. However, one could become a "regular" without ponying up a penny. And not be strong-armed to help financially support the mission.
When we're in the midst of all this, we assume the best about the outreach. Then, many of us tend to find what we came for. We internalize the principles and make a habit of mindfullness which bring us peace. After that we pull out our analytic cap. We process our experience through what we know of what works in business.
This might sound like hersey to devout followers of eastern religions. But I frame the availability of all the goodies ranging from training to ritual as loss leaders. Like two-liter Diet Coke for 79-cents in the supermarket, those freebies get us in the door. Once in, the marketing hope is that we will then avail ourselves of what else is there. I wheel my cart down to the deli aisle and purchase that high-margin lunch meat and prepared tuna salad.
In enlightenment, I did wheel my shopping cart to the aisle labeled "instruction." I took a course in basic Shambhala concepts for $70. But that isn't where the action is. There are off-site retreats for a day, a weekend, a week, a month, a year, or many years. Most are not for free. Those special events provide revenue. Maybe they don't generate high margins. But they do generate income. Monks and nuns get to do their thing. The facilities get repaired. The heat bill gets paid.
A capitalist myself, of course, I believe that the whatevers should be positioned and packaged according to the laws of the marketplace. Right now enlightenment is in demand in the marketplace. There are probably plenty of takers for retreats. Had I not had four-footed little ones at home I might have opted for a zen one at the center outside Providence, Rhode Island. So, yes, loss leaders are a smart strategy. What irks me is that it took me too long to figure that out. But perhaps that's the genius of the set-up. Even the most businessminded will suspend disbelief that all human organizations have a self-interested agenda.