A twenty-first century phenomenon is the “virtual community”—a gathering of people who share a common interest and develop personal relationships, without ever meeting face to face—thanks to the Internet. For practitioners who don’t have easy access to a live Sangha, these virtual solutions can be a blessing—an electronic raft that keeps their practice afloat. (The cyber-universe evolves rapidly, so some of the technical information here may be out of date by the time you read this. But you might be inspired to start something on your own!)
Plumline Online Sangha
In March 2006, Allan LaCroix took Thay’s words to heart—“without Sangha, practitioners quickly lose their practice.” Allan, Peaceful Commitment of the Heart, of Ontario, Canada, sent out an e-mail looking for people interested in helping to set up an online Sangha for practitioners who are physically challenged. Because of Allan’s own difficulties accessing Sangha face to face, he thought this might be a viable way for him to keep in contact with the greater Sangha and at the same time maintain his practice.
In Colorado, I was having similar difficulties and I thought this was a great idea, so I contacted Allan. Plumline Sangha was born. We began meeting weekly and over time set up a workable online meeting format using Yahoo IM.
While in Plum Village in June 2006, I met people who lived in remote places with no Sangha nearby. I saw the potential for use of online Sangha by people who are geographically limited as well as physically limited. I posted signs, put out a sign-up sheet during the Sangha Fair, and spoke with people about Plumline. Comments ranged from “a great idea” to “this will be huge over time.”
Allan’s goal was to ultimately set up a website where people could connect with one another. Eventually we created a website that is easy to navigate through and simple to use: www.plumline. org. It is designed to be a support center for those wishing to establish, build, and maintain an online Sangha—a place to share ideas and resources as online Sangha develops.
After the first few months I found myself facilitating Plumline alone, twice a day on Mondays, trying to accommodate people from around the world at 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Mountain Time. We have had requests from twenty-four countries. By December of 2008 I was not able to continue as meeting facilitator by myself. I had received over 175 requests from people and could only serve twenty or twenty-five due to time zone and language constraints. These are some of the places we have heard from so far, outside of the U.S. and Canada: Australia, Austria, South America, Africa, France, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Syria, Senegal, Thailand, UK, United Arab Emirates.
Fortunately some volunteer facilitators came forward. Bill from Canada took over the evening meeting and now facilitates on Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Lorraine facilitates on Mondays at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time. I still operate behind the scenes, answering the many e-mails that come in.
As our mission statement says, online Sangha is not a replacement for face-to-face Sangha, but a viable alternative for those that cannot regularly attend a traditional Sangha and wish to maintain their practice. Plumline has been established to enhance the Sangha experience for practitioners and enable people to connect with others in similar situations.
A Plumline member from Oregon writes: “Plumline has given me a real frame of reference for the term ‘taking refuge in the Sangha’. Because of my geographical isolation I would have no other way to experience a Sangha and be able to practice and receive loving and compassionate speech.” A member in Australia says, “Thank you to everyone who has kept the Dharma alive in Plumline. A lotus to you, a Buddha to be.”
Plumline has already become more than Allan and I imagined. It has become a vital worldwide Sangha connection—a connection we hope will continue and flourish for years to come.
We are in need of volunteers to make this happen. We need background technical support for the website and the Plumline message board. And we need people to facilitate meetings in other countries to accommodate time zones. Clearly we don’t need someone from every country, yet. We need folks from time zones for Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America.
Please check us out at www.plumline.org or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Elaine Sparrow, True Lotus Heart, lives in Idaho Springs, Colorado where she co-founded Full Moon Sangha. A former educator, Elaine has focused on building Sangha for children and providing children’s programs at Days of Mindfulness.
Mindfulness Anywhere Sangha
A couple of years ago I was listening to The Hand of the Buddha retreat on CD and the phrase “global Sangha” stayed with me. At the same time, I was working on an idea that I call Communities Without Borders, but I didn’t know what the next step was for me. In 1996, my wife and I had started Peace House, in Phoenix, Arizona, part of which was leading a Sangha practice. I would get calls from people asking where and when we met. Their reply was often, “Is there any place closer or on a different day?” The response to all this has come in the shape of a virtual practice center—Mindfulness Anywhere Sangha.
We meet every Monday night, technology permitting, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. (Arizona time, Mountain Standard Time year round), over the Internet or by phone.
We sit and walk together each in our own homes. We have a Dharma talk and discussion. We are able to play talks by Thich Nhat Hanh; I look forward to having other teachers share with us live on the Internet.
The great thing is that distance is no longer a problem, nor are the day and time because the practice is recorded and people can listen and sit when they want. One of the obvious advantages is that we are able to observe a no-car commitment.
Some of the comments have been:
- “I think this is going to be a valuable resource and I will absolutely circulate it at every opportunity.”
- “I felt connected to others; I didn’t feel alone at all. I really enjoyed it and it felt like I was with a group.”
- “This is very comfortable. It really appeals to me since I travel mostly by bicycle; this makes it really easy and allows me to connect with ”
To join the Sangha, go to the website www.mindfulnessanywhere.com and select “Phone-In Sangha” at the top of the page; follow the instructions to join either by telephone or by Internet. The phone lines and Internet connection open every Monday at 6:55 p.m. AZ MST.
We also have an Internet network at mindfulnesspractice.ning. com where one can blog, join forum discussions, share pictures, videos, and music, and send messages to others.
— Rev. Marvin Brown, True Good Energy, is an ordained inter-denominational minister who teaches mindfulness practice and religious thought.
Do you ever wish you had other Sangha members joining you in sitting practice every morning? How about having them join you in your living room so you don’t even have to get up and go anywhere? And they don’t have to get up and go anywhere either! That’s what several of us have been doing for the past few months. We have developed what we are calling Virtual Sangha. Through the wonderful technology of free conference calling, we are able to dial into a common number and be connected with each other via our telephones. We take turns leading—which involves inviting intentions or prayers for the first minute, then doing a short reading for another minute, followed by inviting the bell and sitting in silence together for the next half-hour. We put our phones on speaker so we are free to put our hands in whatever position we wish and enjoy our breathing and meditation. At the end of the half-hour, the bell is rung again, and people hang up and go about their day.
It is very sweet to start the day meditating with others. I have known this from retreats, and I have longed to have it be a part of my daily life for some time now. I have found myself being envious of those who live in community or have a practice center where this opportunity is readily accessible. While our virtual sitting practice is not quite the same as being present in person, it is quite lovely and has made a big difference for me. It has helped me to be more regular in my morning practice, as I know there are others who will be sitting with me. I find it easier to wake up early, knowing that my Sangha sisters and brothers will be there. And it’s not limited to those we know. Although we are in Colorado, by word of mouth, we have people joining us from Iowa and Canada on some mornings. I feel like I’m making new friends with people I haven’t even met!
Feel free to join us. Here’s how it works. We “meet” at 6:15 a.m. on weekdays and 8:00 a.m. on weekends and holidays (Mountain Time). Simply dial 1-218-339-3600. You will be prompted to enter a code. Our group’s code is 934902#. Feel free to identify yourself, but if it’s after 6:20 or 8:05, please remain silent, as the meditation will have begun. (We take the first five minutes to greet each other before the reading and silence begins). Once the meditation has begun, we ask people to mute their phones (by entering *6 on the conference call service) in order to avoid the sounds of rustling clothes, coughs, sneezes, inquiring spouses and children, etc. (Note: The conference call is free, but the long distance call isn’t, so use your free minutes for this. Many people’s long distance charges don’t begin until 7 a.m. on weekdays and don’t apply at all on weekends.)
If you live in another time zone, you may want to start your own Virtual Sangha. Just go to www.freeconferencecall.com and sign up. Happy meditating!
— Val Stepien, Liberating Essence of the Heart, lives in Denver, Colorado where she participates in a real live Sangha, Eyes of Compassion.