Over the past several weeks it has been a joy to return again to in-person practice and to our full daily service (gongyo) and meditation each week. Tendai is a form of temple Buddhism, and within that model there is a recognition that the physical space where we gather creates a supportive container for our practice. It is no accident that the first chapter of Zhiyi’s 10 chapter introductory meditation manual, the ShoShiKan, is dedicated to preparing external conditions, including a description of the ideal physical locations for meditation.
The space where we practice can cultivate a sense of the sacred. It can bring us stability and foster our awareness of the reality of interbeing. The wood and light in the Winding Path hondo (meditation room) reminds us of our intimate ties with the planet. The walls of the hondo absorb the energy of one week’s practice, fueling our practice the next week. Chanting the verses of the daily service and sitting together in this space brings our body, speech, and minds together in one realm.
The importance of the physicality of our practice has led us to the most recent refinements of our blended service. Now that we are more able to join together in person, we can return our gathering space from the virtual realm of the pandemic to a physical community. In this time when so many of our interactions in the world take place at a distance through technology, we can offer each other a sphere for a more embodied community of practice.
Moving forward, we will be offering all of our Monday evening services in the blended format. This means that our gongyo will start at 6:00pm, followed by two periods of meditation. This service will happen in our physical hondo and will be streamed for those joining from afar. By beginning our service at 6:00pm, we make it easier for people to travel to the temple right after work and/or to travel home during daylight hours. By shifting away from Zoom to a video-streaming web platform for the service portion of our gathering, we are able to stream at a higher audio quality and to, hopefully, bring our distance sangha members more effectively into the hondo with us. The more people we have in the hondo together, the more powerful the experience for our virtual community as we send the dedication of our blended voices out into the world.
The discussion will run from 7:00-7:30pm in our sangha gathering room and in Zoom. By shifting our discussion from before to after the service, we can enter the discussion with more open hearts and not just from our heads. We are keeping our discussion in Zoom to give us the opportunity to interact and learn from each other as a sangha. Recognizing the value of our sangha’s support for each other, we are saving the joys and concerns portion of our service for the end of our discussion when those who are in person and remote can all see each other.
There is one downside to making more opportunities for in-person practice available. More travel to our sangha also means a greater consumption of fossil fuels and a greater time commitment, so each person in the sangha will need to evaluate what amount of travel feels right for them. We each need to find our own balance between the benefit of coming together in person and our responsibility to minimize our carbon footprint. Thus, while I hope to see as many of our local sangha members in person as often as possible, I recognize that in all likelihood, some local people will attend virtually on some evenings and in-person on other evenings. I would encourage you to attend in person when you can, and to recognize that each in-person gathering is a true gift.