Sangha in Virtual Reality?!
When I first tried VR (Virtual Reality), I put on a headset with zero knowledge of how to use it. In moments I was defending a castle with a bow and arrow and it all felt entirely real, and required no training to use because it so perfectly replaced "real" reality. My brain simply knew what to do, and my heart rate and reactions indicated that my body believed it too!
The answer to the latter is broad and expansive and I'm still always exploring and learning more about that. But it makes perfect sense to us Buddhists as the Buddha taught us that we make reality with our minds anyhow, so it's not hard to grasp that if we fool the senses into perceiving it differently (as many of us do without VR!) then we will believe that reality. As I said, that's an ever unfolding exploration.
But that first question..."I wonder if I could have Sangha in VR?"...that one is a resounding YES! Shortly after purchasing my Meta Quest (called Oculus Quest back then) I discovered a meditation app called TRIPP. It wasn't my preferred way to meditate, as I tend to meditate with eyes closed and silently, but it was proof that people were already thinking of this. I should also point out that there have been online communities such as Second Life for many years, including one very well established Zen order. TRIPP was more of a sort of solo-guided-concentration-object type of experience that I wasn't personally looking for or in need of, but certainly a great starting point for a new meditator.
I kind of let go of the idea for a while, and a few months later when Covid hit I went looking for community again. This time I wandered into Altspace and found this charming and interesting gentleman named Tom doing an event called "Saying Goodbye" as part of a community called "EvolVR". I had no idea how that night would change my life for the better! In this virtual valley, with campfires in the cardinal directions for breakout groups, under a moon that slowly slid across the sky, there was a platform in the center where Tom stood. People's Virtual avatars were gathered around him listening and sharing.
Tom wasn't so much giving a talk, as he was enabling talking. He held space in a beautiful way, giving people the space to share about things they felt they had lost or were losing. A way of "Saying Goodbye" to those things and get some closure, and some healing, and some sense of being seen and heard expressing complicated feelings about loss in what turned out to be now three years of Covid life.
Afterward I introduced myself and got connected with the founder of EvolVR, Tom's son Jeremy. Jeremy was as excited about me bringing Recovery Dharma and Meditation events to EvolVR as I was to have found that it was even possible! Now, a few years later, I have become a Buddhist Reverend, and been invited by the community to serve as theirs. I teach the dharma two nights per week, and offer a meditation afterward, with some space for sharing. One night a week in another Metaverse location called "Horizon Worlds" I offer a night of meditation for the moment...meaning that we meditate on whatever the "room" is feeling at that time. I also launched my M.E.A.L.S. (Mindful Eating And Living Sangha) there and offer that on Sunday mornings, as well as many other offerings.
The EvolVR Community is strong and vibrant and always growing. Somewhere along the way the company I mentioned earlier, TRIPP, became aware of us, and also of the desire their own customers had for a social meditation community. Before long, our little community became a part of the TRIPP family and we're in the process now of changing our EvolVR name to "Together with TRIPP", which perfectly represents that we are a part of their family but also what we do...we bring people together in Virtual Reality for meditation and mindfulness!
So...If you'd like to expand your in-person Two Hands Sangha experience to include some Virtual aspects, you can find many of us there regularly. After hearing me sing its praises, several of our community purchased VR headsets from Meta and have found Together with TRIPP to be a very real supplement to their practice, especially with the hectic schedules we all have these days. If you have any questions or need any help I'll be happy to offer my advice. Hope to sit with you in both this "reality" and in the Metaverse!
Relevant Links from this post:
You can use my personal promo link to get a Meta Quest 2 and (for the sake of full transparency) if purchased through this link you and I will both earn $30 credit in the Meta Quest store.
Here's a link to the TRIPP website where you can find the Solo Meditation app in VR. It's great for beginner meditation, or just an incredibly soothing and relaxing experience. I highly recommend their lifetime membership which is super inexpensive!
You can find the community I serve in VR, Together with TRIPP (formerly known as EvolVR), here.
TRIPP also has a really great Mobile app which has grown tremendously and continues to do so. It's a standalone app for your SmartPhone which serves as a meditation timer and resource. If you're familiar with other apps such as the ubiquitous Insight Timer, this serves a similar function but specific to the TRIPP family of resources.