The Buddhist enlightenment cannot be bought. The person making a million dollars donation is no different from someone who gives a flower. Once we understand this simple truth, it becomes a useful measurement to determine the quality of a Buddhist center or a Buddhist teacher.
In Buddhism, nothing is more important than enlightenment. Not the size of the temple nor the number of devotees in its congregation.
This simply means that good Buddhist centers or teachers shouldn’t be differentiating their congregations according to the sum of donations. Reserving seats for VIP donors and allowing VIP donors to enjoy privileged meetings with teachers are examples of malpractices. Giving “special” or “holy” artifacts in exchange for donations is also a bad practice since Buddha forbade the monks from trading.
If we think about it carefully, shouldn’t the underprivileged people receive more attention? They are the ones who require special teachings and guidance to help them escape their vicious karma. Why are the rich disciples hogging the attentions of Buddhist centers and teachers instead? If we witness such discrimination in any Buddhist circle, then we should be wary that the Dharma practice isn’t strong there. We ought to be smart enough to know that our Buddhist teachers or Buddhist center should practice what they preach.
Most of the time, it is the laymen occupying management positions who bring commercial practices from the secular world into a Buddhist environment. Operating a temple or a center is costly and there are many bills to be paid. The stress of fundraising can sometimes blind the leaders to Dharma. That is why it is important to ensure that the management committee of a Buddhist facility is firm in their Dharma. Otherwise, corruption and malpractices can easily occur. Instead of influencing the secular world to follow dharma, the opposite happens.
Do not be deceived by the glitzy facade or opulent facilities in a Buddhist center. Giant Buddha statue doesn’t speed up our enlightenment. We should learn to look deeper into their practices instead. Are the centers fair? Do they practice charity? Are they a peaceful lot or a quarrelsome bunch? Are moral precepts being encouraged? Do they meditate? Do they teach Dharma doctrines? If a Buddhist circle is akin to a lotus pond, then we want to make sure there is clear water (Dharma) there. Otherwise, it is just a mud pit.
Having said all these, we also need to ask ourselves what are we looking for exactly? It takes two hands to clap. Are we trying to make new friends to broaden our social circle? Are we looking for an opulent “spiritual” recreational center? Are we hoping for god-like miracles to solve our problems in life? When there is a demand, there will be supply.
Before we start wearing our judgemental hats, let us be truthful with ourselves. At the end of the day, many people (including myself) are still attracted by outward appearances. And we really need to remind ourselves that the 1st enlightenment happened under a tree without any friend or companion, without walls and buildings, and definitely without any golden statue.
May all be well and happy.