Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Don't Pay To Pray

Reasonable people understand the relationship between money and the infrastructure of sacred space. There is a vocal and unrelenting, judgmental minority that pesters society on this subject.
I have done hundreds of ceremonies for “free”…meaning I paid myself whatever the costs came out to be. In doing so I have spent a modest fortune over these years. At other times, I require that participants make donations or pay fixed fees to cover the various expenses involved. These expenses include housing the sacred objects (rent), travel, food, telephones, computers and gasoline, to name a few.
While you can function with great freedom, you cannot function in a worthwhile manner for free. This has always been true. There should be no question that you are going to pay. If no one asks you for money, it is up to you to seek out the host and demand to know how you can help. Every other argument on this subject is fear, a lie.
Who pays for Dalai Lama to travel in the world and give teachings to all cultures? And how much is he paid? The answers are simple, it costs millions of dollars to get Dalai Lama around. He personally makes nothing. I, and a handful of others like me,  are in this exact situation.
Reservation communities have never had much experience in understanding or in talking about money.From the beginning until the present day, money is not well understood by reservation members. Most reservation members do not grow up in the same capitalist system as modern people. It is a different there. Tribal people do not really understand money. Even today, with some tribes having profitable casino operations, they require outside consultants to actually understand how to make a paying system work on the reservation.
When tribal speakers talk about “do not pay to pray”, or say things like “there is no money in the right to ceremonies” they are speaking tragically incorrect English. What they are trying to say is how much American Indians really dislike the theft of tribal teachings by modern people. This is always the problem. Money is not the problem..
Do the people who say strange like this believe that the ceremonial leader must pay for his airline ticket, car rental, feed everyone and then go home, paying for everything himself?
So, in this argument about “money” put forth from the LookingHorse group, and other loud-talking American Indians, they are not speaking correctly. This is to bad. It has created a lot of confusion. Learning to express clearly what you really mean is a very important part in the desire to communicate with others. Clarity in communication is in fact a foundation of the sacred teachings in question.
The sweat-lodge and other ceremonies cannot be sustained in the outside world for free. They have never been sustained for free in the traditional world, it is an illusion.
More tribal authorities need to take responsibility for standards. Every great tool of spiritual faith in the history of the world is sustained by an infrastructure, payments by those whose best interests it serves.
I travel throughout Europe and have made a number of sweat lodge ceremonies here. I have asked that the expenses for wood, food, travel other required spending are covered. The fees I have charged reflect what these costs are. In this way I am able to make this effort to share in a responsible way. Usually I collect just at or under what the journey and supplies cost. It is that simple. Only a model like this can enable the possibility to share these American Indian practices with a waiting world.
Another model might involve endowments. Some tribes have the power to do this, but so far have not. There are no endowments for the sacred bundles and ceremonial keepers of tribal society. With proper endowments sweat lodge camps could be set up and open at no cost, like the church. They could be dispatched to troubled places around the world to offer assistance, for example. But there are no endowments for this work from anyone, including American Indian tribes…including those who have spent millions of lobbying dollars and other political activities while their sacred objects and languages vanish in front of them….or perhaps I should say behind them.
Historically, tribes never developed a habit for cash. To this day, tribal members rarely have a good understanding or a good feeling about money. It is symptomatic of poverty. Guilt and confusion over what money is and where it should arrive is a source of great confusion in American Indian life, and in the expectations and mythology of tribal ceremonies. This great confusion has become a mythology which sounds like a policy. It is only confusion.
Understanding how to use money to protect and move the ceremonial original instructions around is a challenge for even the best American Indian community. There is a lot of healing which needs to be addressed about this issue.
I have always believed that it was a good idea to enlist the help of modern people and their money to support the infrastructure of the tribal sacred. With some sense of money management the tribes can move their dialogue out into the great waiting world. By insisting everything is free, they stay home while the mountain of bullshit which surrounds them grows higher and higher. Having the money to send runners, bundle holders, sweat lodge leaders, out into and around the world where they are needed can only happen with a supported infrastructure. This is not paying to pray, it is praying and building and growing, when it is done right.
Tribal ceremonies are more important, and contain more sacred real world information than “prayers”. We Wabeeno people do not believe mouthing your desires and hopes to the creator (praying) is very real. The ceremonies and the sacred bundles are something much more important than prayers. A sacred space is like a mystery life machine. You can enter it and go on a great journey.
Society in general allows religious and spiritual groups to build an infrastructure, a financial system that takes care of the work and the objects. That is why there are so many tax and political reliefs for such groups. Only in tribal society, in loud voices dominated entirely by the impoverished Lakota Nation, do the people talk about “don’t pay to pray”. They talk about it loud and they talk about it often. What they are trying to say is they don’t want people to steal their ceremonies and make money from the theft. I agree with that. When the wrong people do the wrong thing and make money, it is ugly. It happens everywhere, not just to American Indians. We all have to work our way through the same pit of snakes to find a true path for our lives. Stealing and selling is not the same argument as the act of providing support and expenses to the great sacred work. Confusion between these two ideas has come out as a loud and vulgar argument called “don’t pay to pray”.
I have made many ceremonies with tribal people. I always paid for this. I considered it my obligation and part of my education. I was happy to pay. I paid as often as I could. I would just leave as much money behind as I possibly could when I stayed with and shared ceremony with my tribal relations. It was like bring home-made cookies. People bring cookies to a meeting and everyone eats. I used to bring cash. And just left it behind when I left. I made no noise about it. I am a good example. It is one reason why my tribal elders love me.
Tribal leaders and keepers of ceremonies need to brace up and embrace a more balanced and thoughtful view of these matters. Under the current entrenched attitudes, the ceremonial teachers, sacred bundles and ceremonies are vanishing. This attitude contributes to the continual shrinking of opportunities and qualified people to carry on the tribal sacred.
I could imagine a great university filled with teachers of the sacred teaching day and night. The great school of the sacred American Indian teachings has yet to be built. The current attitude may sound noble, but it is not correct. When tribes scream and yell about the money they are missing the point entirely. They are trying to object to the theft and acting out of tribal sacred, but using this language it comes out as something else..

Update || 25 march 2010.
Arvol LookingHorse, a keeper of an important sacred bundle of the Lakota has gone on record to answer some of the hysteria directed his way by tribal members who are angry that he "raises" money or "accepts" fees for his work. His answer is similar to mine, as you may read above. It is great that at least one other keeper of a tribal bundle has spoken with some clarity about the need for tribal keepers of bundles to raise funds to meet their escalating expenses.

"This whole conflict is happening because of money that these individuals think should go to them personally and to others they convinced of their hardship that is due, any money raised is for what efforts wolakota was created for and the people involved in those efforts. There are other state and non-profit organizations that help the concerns they have and have helped them. They can also spend their energy on their concerns and creating their own program, instead their energy to attack people."--Arvol Looking Horse, statement June 2007. The full statement can be read at this link....

Additional clarification on this issue can be found by clicking this link....

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