By JERRY ISEDA, Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

“Although we are physically apart for now, we will continue to practice compassion and stay connected together.” Rev. Kory Quon’s recent message included this quote, and the Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple continues to look for creative ways to keep their members and community engaged during this pandemic.

The latest venture is the creation of a “Virtual Sangha” — custom cut-outs of temple members and friends in Dharma that are placed in the temple to create a virtual congregation. It is providing a means for people to physically attend services while stay-at-home orders remain in effect.

The idea for the Virtual Sangha came shortly after the temple began holding live-stream services via Zoom. Rev. Kory said he missed seeing actual faces in the Hondo, especially during the Sutra chanting and Dharma message. Coincidentally, baseball resumed, and teams filled their stadiums with virtual fans. “If baseball can do it, why can’t we?” we asked ourselves and from there, the plan took off.

To date, the response has been tremendous and over 50 temple members and friends in Dharma ranging from ages 3 to 90+ have signed up. The first cut-outs arrived and were displayed at our Sunday morning services beginning in September. Anyone can join by making a recommended donation (to cover costs and a small addition for the Onaijin (altar) Fund). While most are using the suggested pose of hands together with their heads up (to see faces), a few have gotten creative, such as using their wedding photo, or an Obon photo in yukata. Once the temple reopens, donors can reclaim their virtual selves.

This is just another way we are working to keep our temple members and friends upbeat and engaged. Want to see our Virtual Sangha in action? Join us on any Sunday morning via Zoom, as we have promised to point our camera at the congregation at least once each service. Visit us at www.vhbt.org for more information.

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