Online Sangha: Virtual Parisa
In the Tipitaka the word Sangha (meaning "group" or "assembly") is usually used in two ways. It is used to refer to the community of ordained monks and nuns (Bhikkhu-Sangha and Bhikkhuni-Sangha, respectively), and it is also used to refer to the community of "noble ones" (Ariya-Sangha) who have attained at least stream-entry (the first stage of awakening/enlightenment). As such, the Sangha is one of the three jewels of Buddhism. In Buddhism, parisa means "following" or "assembly", and refers to the four groups of the Buddha's following that include monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen.
Sometimes it's hard to find an accessible group to practice Buddhism with - due to location, physical handicap or health concerns, childcare, etc. However, there are some online resources which provide a virtual Buddhist community to help us deepen our practice.
Visit the virtual meditation room for a session right now. A simple meditation you can use right now, anywhere you are, is mindfulness of in-and-out breathing (anapanasati) and mindfulness immersed in the body (kayagatasati). These play complementary roles on the path as they are the two primary themes for developing tranquility (samatha-bhavana) and insight (vipassana-bhavana) leading to strong concentration (samadhi-bhavana) in terms of the four jhanas (or meditative absorptions). The development of these jhanas gives added power to tranquility and insight in leading the mind to release.
If you wish to solidify your commitment to practice by having your refuge and vows certified by a practicing Buddhist monk and joining a Sangha, Bhikkhu Samahita will bear witness and offer endorsement at his "virtual Sangha" called the Saddhamma Sangha. For daily teachings from Bhikkhu Samahita, visit his Daily Dhamma Drops. The Dhammaloka Community also provides an online 5 precepts ceremony which will receive endorsement and blessing from Ajahn Brahmali. They also offer an Ask a Monastic feature which allows you to receive answers to your questions from a Buddhist nun or monk.
For those more inclined towards meditation and Zen Buddhism, the Treeleaf Zendo is an online Buddhist Sangha in the Soto Zen tradition. It includes an interactive meditation timer, weekly zazenkai (meditation retreats), discussion boards, and more. The Plum Village Online Monastery offers livestream teachings from the Order of Interbeing. Buddhism Connect is the online home of the Awakened Heart Sangha, founded by Lama Shenpen Hookham in 1998. She studied under such teachers as Karma Thinley Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche. In 1978, HH the Karmapa, head of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, instructed her to return to the West to teach. Buddhism Connect offers distance learning courses and weekly teachings by email, generally in the form of questions from students and Lama Shenpen Hookham's response.
Buddha's teachings always begins with the practice of "dana", which means generosity or charity. However, dana is not just about providing resources and money - it is also lending a helping hand or even a kind word for those who need it. The greatest gift of all, however, is the gift of Dharma, which means sharing Buddha's teachings for those who are interested. However, when giving, one should not give with any ulterior motives or a discrimminative mind. Generosity should be accompanied with empathy, conviction, compassion, and kindness. The practice of giving helps to weaken one's habitual tendencies to cling - to views, to sensuality, and to unskillful modes of thought and behavior.
There are five rewards of generosity: 1. To be dear and appealing to people at large 2. To be admired by good people 3. To have one's good name known 4. Not straying from the rightful duties of the householder 5. With the break-up of the body at death, one reappears in a good destination, in the heavenly realms of the devas.