My father and mother met as pen pals during the war. Dad was in North Africa rebuilding things that had been blown up. Mum was in a bunker in England plotting the location of incoming bombers. Both of them painted watercolours.
It seems a group of the ladies started it, each writing a little about themselves in a batch of letters delivered to the boys overseas.
Someone with a stack of letters came into my dad's camp and said, "Harry, this one must be for you - she paints too." And so began a very sweet exchange of letters that lasted until Dad took a posting in England to be closer to Mum. The only catch was he had to dig up unexploded bombs! Happily, none went off, the war ended, and they married soon after.
As a newcomer to the cybersangha, I at first thought this was the crest of a new wave of spreading compassion, a fresh way for bodhicitta to manifest in the wonderful world of our evolving appreciation of our interdependence - Indra's Net on the internet.
I still believe this, however the idea is certainly not new.
In the 1994 Summer issue of Tricycle, Gary L. Ray wrote:
"There's nothing lonelier than a Buddhist in Alabama" is the kind of comment I hear from many Buddhists who live in outlying regions of North America where their sangha is small or nonexistent and information about Buddhist practice and philosophy is scarce. By tapping into computer networks, however, geographic isolation can be overcome. This rapidly expanding "cybersangha" provides support and community for Buddhists around the world. From your home, you can now send a message to anyone (who has a computer, a modem, and a telephone line) within seconds, and usually at the cost of a local phone call.
Old or new, I am constantly touched by the kindness and generosity of those who take the time to write in cyberspace, from little tweets of sympathy for a personal loss, to words of wisdom and encouragement in widely read blogs by practitioners like Marguerite Manteau-Rao, exhortations to compassionate action by socially engaged Buddhists like Maia Duerr, online sermons from our Unitarian Universalist Zen friends James Ford Roshi and Meredith Garmon, and online journal posts by Lewis Richmond and Joan Halifax Roshi, to name only a very, very few. Online meditation communities, like the Online Meditation Crew (#OMCru on Twitter) have sprung up to bridge the gaps of distance and disablility. The Buddhist blogs listed in my blogroll (over 100 at last count) are surely just the tip of a much greater iceberg.
Whatever we call our practice, may it flourish, spreading the wonderful mystery that is kindness, one link at a time.