When I retired from my college, I hoped my ministry teaching meditation, Yoga, stress management, and holding retreats would financially support me. And, in the first couple of years, I made several thousand dollars. But my relationship to my services changed. I began to measure my success by the amount of money I made.
My work at Panther Brook Spiritual Center is, first and foremost, my spiritual practice. The purpose of my life is to be Self- and God-realized. My personal meditation practice and being of service to others fulfills my life’s purpose.
Panther Brook Spiritual Center is my ministry, my opportunity to be of service to others.
The renewal of the spiritual life is facilitated by meditation/prayer, silence, solitude, and a natural environment. I have a firm belief that what I am offering at Panther Brook Spiritual Center is badly needed by the world – a beautiful, quiet setting for Yoga, stress management classes, and retreats. The ashram is a place to reconnect to one’s true self, a place to rediscover the peace and joy within, and then go into the world and serve others with more joy, compassion, and peace.
Located on forty acres of land nestled in twenty thousand acres of national forest, the center has a waterfall, miles of trails, and eleven established sites for meditation/prayer along its streams.
A three-fourths mile, one-lane, gravel road leads to the center. I always tell new students that, “If you feel like you’re lost, you’re on the right road. Just keep driving.”
So I decided to remove money from the equation. I resolved that all services and retreats offered at Panther Brook Spiritual Center would be free. Nor would I actively solicit donations. So do not let money keep you away! You will never be asked for any!
I offer the opportunity to experience the truth of Christ's words, "The Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21 KJV). I am teaching methods to remove obstacles to entering the Kingdom of God. While I am convinced that it is only through God's grace that we enter the Kingdom of God, there definitely are things we can do to enhance the possibility.
I know that everyone can’t afford to pay for classes and retreats. Many people are hurting financially. They're unemployed or marginally employed, their savings are being eroded, and prices for everything continue to rise. Why should only the wealthy, those with surplus income, have opportunities to live the abundant life that Christ promised to all? Christ's primary ministry was to the poor and I follow His example and make my services available to all people, regardless of their ability to pay.
Over the years, this policy of no fee for service has allowed many people to come to Panther Brook Spiritual Center who would not otherwise have come. This has provided me an opportunity to serve a population of folks who really need and really benefit from what I offer. Their participation in my services has been a great gift to my spiritual life!
And, of course, if I did want to charge money, I wouldn’t know what price to set. I’m literally teaching methods to remove obstacles to entering the Kingdom of God within. How are you going to place a price on the Kingdom of God? I don’t know how to set a price on liberation of consciousness.
Swami Satchidananda (the founder of Integral Yoga) said that to take 100% and give back 0% makes you a thief. (For that reason he recommended charging at least a dollar for a Yoga class.) To take 50% and give back 50% makes you a good businessman. To give 100% and receive nothing in return makes you a saint.
Most students know I have a bowl in the Entry Room for donations. However, I do not actively solicit donations. Students also know that they can give back to the center by washing windows, cleaning, etc. Few give anything to me or the center. But I’m not concerned that this makes them thieves. Their presence in my classes is the greatest gift I can imagine – service is my path to liberation and they allow me to serve them.
Swami Satchidananda was once told about a Yoga teacher who drove to the other side of the state to teach a free Yoga class to one student. Swami Satchidananda responded by declaring, "This is the highest form of Yoga!"
After my classes, I pass by the donation bowl, which is usually empty. I smile to myself, paraphrasing Swami Satchidananda’s words, “Teaching a Yoga class for free makes you a saint.” And I am grateful to my students for helping me become a saint!
There is another advantage to offering free classes. I serve a rural, four-county area in northeast Georgia. Because my services are free, the county newspapers do not charge to list my services in their community calendars. Often my announcements appear, titled “Free Programs at Panther Brook Spiritual Center.”
I feel having these announcements appear frequently in the newspapers of this rural area of the Southern Appalachians is another service I can provide. I think my efforts are an especially useful service to a community where Yoga continues to be viewed by some people with suspicion and is not widely accepted.