The first time I attended a retreat at the Margaret Austin Center, I was amazed and a little offended when I was asked to make a donation to the Center in addition to what I had already paid. The retreat I attended was not inexpensive! I had paid what they asked for room and board. I brought my own bedding. I washed my own dishes. And now they wanted more money?!? For those who may find themselves in a similar state of astonished confusion, let me share what I have learned.
The Margaret Austin Center was established with very little money, a substantial mortgage, and a lot of goodwill. In the first years of the Center, volunteers organized retreats, built buildings, cooked meals, maintained the grounds, and gave money when they could. They shared a common vision: making available this place of peace and beauty to everyone, regardless of spiritual orientation or philosophy, at as modest a price as possible, and by so doing, honoring the memory of Margaret Austin who had shared her home so hospitably during her life.
Many of those founding friends were practicing Buddhists. In the Buddhist tradition, the priceless teachings of the Buddha have always been offered for free. Those who hear the teachings make gifts to the teacher in proportion to their ability to give and in proportion to the value they receive from the teachings. The gifts are called “Dhana” (also spelled “dana”). So originated our custom of asking retreatants for a freewill offering. By making a gift to the Center, you join us in making it possible for all who pursue a personal spiritual path to find a welcome here.
Over the years the vision blossomed and the Center grew. We added a second dorm, an office, a computer, a paid manager, part time office staff, and part time cleaning staff. The fees charged by the Center remain low. They pay for the day to day operations of the Center, but provide little margin for big expenses that inevitably occur: a new AC unit, a new coat of paint, comprehensive termite treatment…the list is quite long, and not particularly glamorous. We don’t yet have an endowment fund and we aren’t supported by a large parent organization to bankroll our needs. We are sustained, as we have always been, by those who volunteer their time and talent and by those who share with us their hard-earned money, ensuring that this place of sanctuary remains available to all. In other words, you are our endowment.
And so we ask you to share in proportion to what your experience here has meant to you, by leaving cash or checks made out to Margaret Austin Center in the Dhana baskets usually found in the dining hall, the dorms, and the Teachers’ Quarters. Your gift is fully tax deductible and if you leave us your name and address we will send you a receipt. Your gift sustains the Margaret Austin Center so that you and others like you will continue to enjoy this sanctuary for the spirit. Thank you for your generosity. Margaret would be so pleased!