The vow of simplicity [taken at Zen Mountain Monastery] asks that the monastic or prospective monastic develop a simple lifestyle, bringing things down to their barebones level. We're not into asceticism: we live in a modern, heated building. But we ask them to keep it simple. Implicit in that vow of simplicity is the vow of poverty, the vow to not accumulate wealth. Wealth is what has corrupted religions throughout history. The monastics of the Kamakura period [12th- to 14th-century Japan] who could speak Chinese were hoarding incredible amounts of money which they earned doing translations. Even in modern Zen, money has been a big issue. The big issues are: sex, money and power. These are the things that have corrupted the beginnings of 20th-century Buddhism in America as well.
Poverty makes the monastic dependent upon the lay practitioner. Historically, monasteries were dependent on patrons. In 15 years, we've never had a patron. We're not supported by the government, or foundations. We're supported by practitioners, but not just by their giving--although there is dana. Lay practitioners pay to participate in our programs. In this way we heat and repair the building, and supply the food and housing for monastics. The monastics, in return, keep the monastery running--taking care of the building and the training schedule. This co-dependent relationship between lay practice and monastic practice is of critical importance. Once the co-dependence disappears, the relationship becomes very lopsided.