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Venice Is Creating Its Own ‘Virtual Sangha’

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

“Although we are physically apart for now, we will continue to practice compassion and stay connected together.”

— Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Resident Minister Rev. Kory Quon’s Obon Dharma message to Keiro members

By Jerry Iseda

Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple

The Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple continues to look for creative ways to keep its Sangha and community engaged during the pandemic.

The temple’s latest venture is the creation of a “virtual Sangha” — custom cutouts (produced by sports merchandiser Fathead) of temple members and friends in Dharma that are placed in the temple’s Hondo. It is providing a means for people to “attend” services while the shelter in place remains in effect.

The idea for the virtual Sangha came shortly after the temple began holding live-streaming services.

Rev. Kory Quon said he missed seeing actual faces in the Hondo, especially during the Sutra chanting and Dharma message.

Coincidentally, Major League Baseball resumed its 2020 season, and teams filled their stadiums with virtual fans.

We asked, “If baseball can do it, why can’t we?” and from there, the plan took off. Fathead was selected given its reputation in producing wall-sized images of professional athletes, and their responsive customer service.

It turned out to be a simple process of submitting digital photos to Fathead — and Fathead did the rest.

To date, the response has been tremendous and temple members and friends in Dharma — ranging in age from 19 months to 102 years — have joined.

The cost for a cutout is $75 per adult and $50 for each child under the age of 12.

The first cutouts arrived in early September and are now displayed during the live-streamed services each Sunday morning, And the temple has about 60 cutouts to date and expects to have more in the future.

“Their eyes seem to follow you,” temple member Gail Sharp said.

Many viewing via Zoom have expressed surprise at how lifelike everyone’s cutouts look. Even Rev. Quon was taken aback as he looked at his Sangha for the first time, saying it was funny to see all these “people” in the Hondo.

Our virtual Sangha posts on Facebook have received the most reactions by far, and Fathead even shared our pictures and Rev. Quon’s quote on its own Facebook page. We are even starting to receive inquiries from a few other temples who we hope will consider following suit.

Anyone can join by making a recommended donation (to cover costs and a small addition for the Onaijin Fund), and we are close to filling the Hondo. While most participants are using the suggested pose of hands together in Gassho while wearing a Monto Shiki Sho with their heads up (to see faces), a few have gotten creative, such as using their wedding photo, or an Obon photo in yukata.

This is just another way we are working to keep our temple members and friends upbeat and engaged. Once the temple reopens, donors can reclaim their virtual selves.



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