A letter to Jacob

29 Comments

picture of mailboxes

I get some interesting emails. Usually they’re kind and appreciative. I particularly enjoy hearing from people who have found things I’ve written, or guided meditations I’ve recorded, to be helpful. Often people ask questions, and I’m happy to reply to them to the best of my ability.

Sometimes the emails I get are critical, though, and this one that arrived just a few days ago falls into that camp.

It’s from someone who called himself Jacob, although I don’t know if that’s his real name. I don’t know if it’s your real name, I should say, since this blog post is my reply to you, Jacob. (You used a fake email address, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to address your comments directly.)

Here’s the email you sent. You’ll find my reply below:

Name: Jacob
Email: FAKE ADDRESS @outlook.com
Message:
Do your supporters know they are in fact supporting your living in a 400K condo, STEPHEN?
You are hardly a Buddhist with a begging bowl, now are you? Unless and until you make full disclosure online of this hithertofore undisclosed material fact to those supporters you are in my view being unethical.

Isn’t that a Buddhist no-no? Tis odd how you have never mentioned this before…

[link to my apartment’s Zillow listing removed]

So, Jacob, you did your homework and tracked down my home on a real estate site! More about that in a moment.

And you also found my family name, which was indeed Stephen until I legally changed my name after my ordination in 1993. So that hasn’t been my last name for a long time.

I believe this is called “deadnaming,” where a person insists on using someone’s former name. It’s like if a woman gets married and changes her surname, yet someone insists on using her maiden name. The point of doing this is to cause offense by refusing to recognize something that is important to the other person. So that’s not a good start, Jacob. You’re forgiven, though! This has happened to me many times, and it really doesn’t bother me.

Let’s get back to the house thing, though. Yes, you did your homework and looked up my home address online.

Unfortunately you didn’t do your homework very thoroughly. The reason I have never mentioned that I live in a “$400k condo” is because the address you linked to in your email is actually the rented apartment that I share with my partner.

You’d have seen that it was a rental apartment if you’d dug around a little more in the Zillow listing.

Here’s the relevant part. I’ve circled where it mentions the rent. Just below that it uses the word “tenant.” I admit it’s a little confusing, since it also mentions “condo dues” for reasons I can’t guess at, except that my landlord’s secretary is a bit of a character and a little odd in the way she writes things — maybe you can get a flavor of that in the listing! She *loves* asterisks!! And exclamation marks!! It’s kind of fun!!

(It’s also odd that she says that the apartment is available August 19th. I’m assuming this is an old listing, since we’re still living here!)

Image

Anyway, no, I do not live in a $400,000 condo. I don’t own a house. I can’t afford one at present.

I rent an apartment with my partner. It’s not a luxury apartment: the rent is $1,765, including a $50 fee for our two dogs and a surcharge because my kids stay here part-time. (Landlords, eh? They’ll get you for everything!) We’d like to own our own place one day, so that our dogs can have a yard to run around in, and we’re trying to save for that. Of course I’ll be in my 90’s by the time the mortgage is paid off, if we can ever find a place we can afford.

I said our apartment is not a luxury apartment. It’s a decent place to live, although it’s not in the nicest part of town. Until a couple of months ago we had a couple of meth addicts living downstairs from us. They weren’t too much trouble except when their cigarette smoke and weed came up into our apartment. Fortunately they didn’t burn the place down before they left. I took a walk-through after they’d gone and while the apartment was being gutted, and the carpets were covered in cigarette burns. Oh, and dog shit from their pit bull! So, not a luxury apartment, and not in the best part of town. Good news: our new downstairs neighbors are a lovely young couple!

It’s not the worst part of town either, though. We’re right beside some woods where I like to walk the dogs.

But even if I had lived in a $400k condo, what would that mean, Jacob? It could have been inherited. It might be my partner’s. I might have bought it at some time in my life when I had a high paying job and now be living in poverty. (Although there’s never a time I had a high-paying job.) I might be sleeping on the couch in a friend’s house. There are lots of possibilities one could consider.

Also, a minor point: in the area where I live, a $400,000 house is well below the median house sale price of $550,000 (crazy, eh!), which is why I’m renting. So if I had owned this place it would be a below-average house in a fairly working-class town.

You demanded that I “make full disclosure online of this hitherto-fore undisclosed material fact,  Jacob. So here it is. I can’t disclose that I live in an expensive condo, because I don’t. But I do disclose that I live in a rented apartment, splitting $1,765 of rent with my partner.

And no, I’m not a Buddhist monk with a begging bowl. (Although I am a Buddhist.) I have two adopted children and two rescue dogs, and (as mentioned) a partner. I’m not rich, either. I recently bought a five-year-old Prius C (a hybrid electric/gasoline vehicle) that I got from a friend at a good price. It’s replaced my previous car, a 12-year-old Mazda6, which I bought used eight years ago, and which has 216,000 miles on the clock — most of them from the previous owner, who did a lot of driving. I have virtually no savings because I just gave them to the friend who sold me the Prius. (By the way, I’m absolutely loving the fuel economy and I’m glad to know that my carbon footprint has shrunk.) Oh, I have no pension plan either.

I basically just scrape by, and often experience anxiety because I have to juggle bills. So it’s kind of ironic to be accused of being wealthy.

Apart from three years in Scotland when I worked for the Community Education Department in Lanarkshire, I’ve spent my entire adult life either as a student or working full-time to teach meditation and Buddhism. It’s not a lucrative way to make a living. When I ran a retreat center in the Scottish Highlands, or an urban Buddhist center in Edinburgh, or worked in a Buddhist right livelihood business I basically got my food and board covered, plus some pocket money. Things are better now, but it’s still often a struggle to get by. It’s been worth it, though. Even though I don’t have any savings and will probably never be able to retire, I enjoy what I do. I especially find it heart-warming to know that I’ve helped people become happier.

Anyway, It’s very easy to jump to conclusions, Jacob. We’ve all done it. If you’d just asked a question and given a real email address, I’d have been happy to reply with the information you were seeking. I imagine that you have concerns about “gurus” making vast sums of money, and there are good historical reasons for having those concerns. But believe me, that’s not my situation in the slightest.

Hopefully this has set your mind at ease, if you’re reading this. I hate to think that you’re out there suffering because you mistakenly believe I’m some kind of rich guru. And maybe other people think the same thing?

Money is tricky when you teach meditation. Much of the time in the past I’ve taught courses that had suggested donations, with plenty of leeway for people who couldn’t afford the full amount. Right now the bulk of the income that pays my rent and bills comes from monthly contributions from supporters. These are people who appreciate the teaching I do, and who pay a sum each month to Wildmind (the amount varies from person to person) to make it possible for me to explore and teach meditation. This is what I do full time. Being supported in that way is my dream!

Unfortunately the amount that comes in from supporters isn’t enough to cover my expenses, so I have to do other bits and pieces of work in order to make ends meet. I do long for the day when I no longer have to worry about money. (And I’d love my dogs to have a yard to run around in.)

So if you’re reading this, Jacob, and I haven’t annoyed you too much (that’s not my aim at all), and you see some value in what I teach, do feel free to consider becoming one of Wildmind’s supporters. I appreciate all the support I receive, because it allows me to do what I love, which is to teach meditation and help people live happier and more fulfilling lives. If you are interested, you can click on this link.

I hope you’re having a great day, Jacob — and anyone else who’s read this far.

With love,
Bodhipaksa

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29 Comments. Leave new

  • Namaste,
    I have been listening to your beautiful and useful CDs for many moons. They were incredibly helpful to me in the past and I am very appreciative of your devotion to your path.
    People make assumptions all the time. It’s such a shame as it ends up dividing us for things that are ultimately superficial.
    I would like to add something to your reply to that email. You can be just as good a Buddhist if you know where your mix next meal is coming from than if you’re out with a begging bowl.
    Who can judge anyone else’s intentions or path? It’s all to easy to judge the externals…or what we presume them to:be. Just the way people have a tendency to compare their insides with other people’s outsides. Just divisive. And all too human. I can safely say I have done both many times.
    Thank you for all you embody and offer.
    Nicole

    Reply
  • A lovely, frank and gentle reply Bodhipaksa. You are a gracious man!

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  • Well said, Bodhipaksa! ♥️ I hope very Jacob gets to read your reply.

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  • 400k?
    Here in Sydney, Australia you’d be lucky to get a tin roof garage for that. A 400k condo is hardly “luxurious” from my perspective, even if you did own it.

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  • Sorry you had to go through such a tough accusation, Bodhipaksa! And thank you for being open and honest. I do hope Jacob can read this and know that not all “gurus” are the same. Some teachers do teach from the heart to help beings.

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  • Your meditation CD was the first meditation I ever did, it was beautiful and taught me to forgive and fill, fill, fill with love. You set me on my journey home and I will be forever grateful for you and the beautiful gift and guidance you share. Thank you for all you do and know you have guided me on my journey and my husband, who never does anything like this uses your breathing meditation (from the first CD I had!) whenever he is feeling under stress. Sending so much love and gratitude for you xxx

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  • Ah, the assumptions we make when we don’t care/dare to look more closely. Thank you, Bodhipaksa, for your willingness to share publicly so many personal details of your life. As a relatively new reader of your newsletter, I found your frank, honest response to Jacob’s painful and pain-filled letter so refreshing and disarming. Your gentle loving answer to his concerns is an example to us all how to respond with kindness and respect when faced with difficult situations.
    Beth

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  • Debunked.

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  • Bodhipaksa,
    I too benefited from, and am thankful for, your wonderful meditation guidances. I hope your reply will give the keyboard warrior ‘Jacob’ food for thought.

    Steve Parry

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  • I would like to offer that being present with you recently in person and live after several recorded encounters was delightful…having the affect of affirming and deepening my appreciation for you as a teacher and for the entire Tri-Ratna lineage…which was opened for me with my trip to India with Viradhamma and Manidhamma…experiencing the University in Nagpur as well as truly opening an appreciation for the deep inertia and pain inherent in the caste system. It has been a newer learning for me to appreciate the joy the others may be taking in what they are doing…which at times can certainly give rise to mental and emotional constructs difficult to integrate and see clearly as in “Jacob’s” case…I look forward to your having space for all the dogs in your life.

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  • Sometimes the best reply really IS no reply.

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  • Thank you for showing loving kindness to Jacob. It’s an example to me for when I feel entitled to righteous anger. I have been you and I have been Jacob (in my mind even if I didn’t act out).

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  • This is a brilliant letter, Bodhi. I doubt he’ll ever see it or believe it if he does, but it gives your Sangha a deeper understanding of the circumstances under which you live and the sacrifices you’ve made to do what you love. With warm regards, Dan

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    • Thank you, Dan. It’s been too long since we’ve been in touch. Curse this Covid thing! We really should try to get together sometime and catch up.

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  • Love your reply. Keep up the good work!

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  • I’ve been thinking the same thing. Looking forward to it. Let’s do it soon but not before October. This September for me is overwhelming.

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  • Dear Bodhi,
    I like your approach. I do wonder though if actually that was an initial email that could possibly have led to a blackmailing scam? Although, then the email would need to work!

    I too found your CD with 3 meditations invaluable in early days, and it introduced me Metta practice which has changed my life. Deep thanks to you and all the teachers in your lineage to the Buddha. May all beings hear the dharma.
    Best wishes
    Evan

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  • Bodhipaksa,
    A wonderful reply! I’ve learned so much from you over the years and I’ve missed your kind and gentle presence. I am very happy to be reconnecting. Namaste 🙏

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  • What a very strange email to receive — I wonder what is going on in Jacob’s life that led him to write such a thing, and what they thought it would accomplish.

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    • I assume he was genuinely concerned that I am some kind of rich guru who is exploiting people. There are in fact some very wealthy meditation teachers — including some of the first names that come to mind when you think of meditation teaching in America, who have made a lot of money from best-selling books. I wonder if he’s concerned about them? (I’m not saying that those teachers have exploited anyone, by the way!)

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  • I respect your integrity in providing a detailed and thoughtful response to an accusation we would not even have been aware of had you not brought it to light. While there are indeed some mediation & yoga “gurus” who have made their fortune on the backs of followers (in one notable case, literally on their backs), in the 10+ years I have been following your work such a thing never occurred to me of Wildmind and Bodhipaksa. Quite the contrary, I sometimes wondered about the pragmatic side of the contribution you make to the world and what a slog or struggle it must sometimes feel like–but that is a reflection of my own perspective and something you are likely above. In any case, I am intrigued by the effort and time someone would take to ferret out that information to challenge you with. I think it was Jung’s notion that until one recognizes and resolves their own shadow side, they will continue to see it in others.

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    • Thank you, Neil.

      I had a lovely experience this morning. Someone wrote the other day saying that he thought “Jacob” was right and that I was some kind of wealthy guru. I wrote him a long response (at least he’d used his real name and email address) talking about the trauma of poverty and the weird phenomenon of random strangers denying someone’s experience, and today he wrote back to apologize and to say he was going to become a supporter. I was blown away. It’s very rare these days to see someone change their mind. I have deep respect for anyone who does this.

      All the best,
      Bodhipaksa

      Reply
  • You provide one of the very best things anyone can on Earth. Meditation has changed my life in profound ways which are far too many to list here. I am sorry to hear that you are not rich because you deserve to be! I am not Buddhist per say, but I don’t think one needs to identify that way in order to experience the deep changes, peace, and insight meditation can bring into one’s life. I recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and literature and identify as a spiritual atheist, and I believe that meditation has opened my eyes to a greater understanding of consciousness and reality. It is powerful to those who will invest the time and approach it sincerely with openness. Thank you very much for all that you do. I hope that fortune blesses you and your family! I am on a lifelong journey with meditation now and I know it will continue to bring profound gifts and great clarity and stillness. It’s like it shows one how to find the “magic” in reality, existence, and the universe. Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart :)

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  • Thank you for your teachings Bodhipaksa. I am enjoying “Sitting with Bodhi”. I am on number 12 and have already learned alot. Keep doing what you are doing. May the Dharma support and protect you. And may Jacob be free from suffering…

    Reply

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