Situated on a former vineyard estate in the Rhine Valley, Villa Sachsen is a historic 19th-century villa that has served as the main center of SGI-Germany since 1994. While the center hosts regular concerts and cultural events in cooperation with the local town of Bingen, the Europe-wide Heritage Site Open Day is an important moment in the year when it draws in hundreds of visitors from the wider public. When the pandemic threatened this event, it became an opportunity to create encouragement out of crisis.
Buddhism sees all life as interconnected . . . As human beings, we cannot always see or sense this total connectedness. Our vision is too blurred by our sorrows and our fears, our lives too sunk in our problems and challenges . . . In some special moments, the awareness might flicker up in us—during a walk in the woods, during a pause for breath in a sun-drenched glade. Or perhaps in the midst a family celebration, surrounded by loved ones and warm cheer; perhaps in the moment when we regain our health after a long illness, or when we are rewarded after a bout of hard work. But these moments of lucidity are often short-lived, and we struggle to hold onto them as the current of life moves us on and drives us into new depths.
— From the SGI-D 2020 Heritage Site Open Day video presentation on connectedness
We began getting together to plan the annual Heritage Site Open Day as early as January of 2020. As in previous years, we were full of anticipation to develop a joint vision for this special day in the calendar of SGI-Germany (SGI-D). And then the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Contact restrictions in March and April made it impossible to meet in person. Hoping to be able to meet in June, we began gathering ideas and inspiration for a theme. The Heritage Site Open Day is an activity that brings together all the divisions and groups within our organization for a common goal, so we wanted everyone to be able to contribute their ideas and creativity.
It soon became clear that the social conditions imposed by the coronavirus would themselves provide inspiration for the theme of the event, together with our wish to pursue the topic of sustainability. Thus, the theme “Living Connectedness” emerged. Out of the feeling of being connected with everything, we can repeatedly find hope and courage.
We agreed on a shared vision: Regardless of external circumstances, this activity would send waves of hope and encouragement throughout Germany. And that the connectedness we were promoting would be reflected in our team.
Soon it was clear that no large-scale events would be taking place in the autumn either. The open day would have to take place virtually. But how, we wondered, would it be possible to carry out such a special activity virtually? The orchestral performance, guided tours through the villa, children’s activities, heart-warming presentations, the personal contact and the conversations that people appreciate so much about the event—how would we translate all of this, a truly special atmosphere, onto a computer screen?
We needed creative inspiration, we needed all involved to come together. And so, we gathered over Zoom to hear everyone’s ideas, and pretty soon, we had a lot of them. Many of them required a lot of technical know-how to pull off, but this was about all of us doing an activity together, not just the technical experts. So, after long consideration, we had a plan.
Actualizing the Vision
On our public website there would be material for people who would like to know about the villa and/or Buddhism, including a performance by the SGI-D Orchestra. But, also, in the members’ area of the website, there would be content providing encouragement, which SGI-D members could watch with their guests.
Additionally, we would create avenues for members throughout Germany to contribute, such as by submitting photographs depicting our theme of “Living Connectedness” and of “hope stones”—stones collected and colorfully decorated by children.
Furthermore, we wanted to illustrate how the vision of Daisaku Ikeda, third Soka Gakkai president, is reflected in Villa Sachsen through the sharing of personal accounts and experiences—how the villa was purchased, memories of President Ikeda’s visits, how members contributed to the renovation work, how Buddhist courses and activities in the villa have pushed us forward in our human revolution and in becoming absolutely happy.
The team decided that we would chant together for the success of the activity from our respective homes at specific times. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo transcends physical separation, connects people with each other and emboldens us to follow unknown paths.
Since 2020’s open day was completely different from previous years, there was no established workflow, and we had to find new paths together with a pioneering spirit. As you might imagine, great obstacles accompanied this process. Time was running out, videos needed to be reshot for technical reasons, cameras did not work . . . But we encouraged each other to persevere.
At the same time, it was not always clear if it would be worth all of the effort. Would it be possible in the end to reach our goal and convey the heart of all involved through this medium that was so new to us all? Again and again, we reminded ourselves of the determination we had made at the very beginning and, together, step by step, geographically dispersed throughout Germany but united in our hearts, we were able to overcome every obstacle.
In the end, from the comments received, it was clear that our video presentations moved everyone and that we were able to achieve all of our goals. As a team, we feel we truly won.
From the video presentation on the theme of connectedness:
However transient and fragile this sublime beauty and dignity might seem, the Buddha perceived that this wonderful, majestic condition actually always exists in our lives, in the same way that, although we can’t always see it, the sun continues to illuminate our solar system . . . The life force of the universe wells up within us and flows into the world, connecting us to ourselves and to everyone and everything. We shine like a sparkling jewel suspended in Indra’s net. We awaken within us the power and the wisdom of the Buddha, the courage and compassion—just as we are right now; just where we are right now. Now we can live the connectedness, recognize the jewel in our neighbor, our colleague and the driver of the car in front of us. We feel humanity as our family, we gratefully embrace nature as our greatest treasure, we see our fate, the universe, life itself as our allies.
Never lose hope, even during times of crisis, and even believe in a positive future, a bright destiny, for all humanity on planet Earth.
Adapted from issue 353 of Express, October 2020, SGI-Germany.