Bringing Dhammakaya Temple to the world with Zoom
With Zoom Meetings, Dhammakaya Temple was able to create immersive experiences for virtual attendees and expand its reach around the world.
Challenges: Implementing a reliable, scalable platform that could handle large virtual events, enhancing attendee engagement during online events, reducing costs associated with hosting online events
Solution: Zoom Meetings
Benefits: Immersive experience for participants who are unable to attend events in-person; more interactive online courses; multi-language programs to expand reach around the world
“The platform allows participants to take part in online programs and, most importantly, to meditate more, which is the goal of the temple. For large events, we would also continue to project participants’ Zoom videos on the LED screens so online followers from far away can become an integral part of the ceremonies.”
Dr. Sith ChaisuroteProgram Coordinator, Dhammakaya Temple
“When we have Zoom, we are able to communicate and see people’s faces. It feels more real, like we are here in the same room.”
Venerable John Paramai DhanissaroDhammakaya Temple Representative
Located on the outskirts of Thailand, the Dhammakaya Temple (or Wat Phra Dhammakaya) is the largest Buddhist temple in the country.
Since its establishment more than 50 years ago, Dhammakaya Temple has grown from a small temple to a large complex of buildings, including the Dhammakaya Cetiya, which can accommodate up to 1 million people for large-scale events.
The temple aims to promote world peace through the cultivation of inner peace.
“People come to Dhammakaya Temple to develop themselves and become better persons. And that journey of self-development begins with mental development through meditation,” explained Dr. Sith Chaisurote, Program Coordinator, Dhammakaya Temple.
The practice of meditation has been instrumental to the success of the temple. Currently, the temple has nearly 100 overseas branches offering mediation sessions and courses all year round.
Serving the Buddhist community during pandemic
In the past, up to one million people would gather at the temple’s Dhammakaya Cetiya to meditate. But like many organisations around the world, Dhammakaya Temple had to put its on-site events on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. To continue serving the Buddhist community during this critical period, the temple decided to pivot to online events.
“For large ceremonies, Dhammakaya Temple has many domestic and international followers who join the events. The number of people can sometimes reach hundreds of thousands, so the reliability of the technology platform is a primary concern,” noted Venerable John Paramai Dhanissaro.
Scalability and usability are two other factors to consider. “It is costly to pay for a big server that stays idle when the load is relatively low for smaller or daily events. Ease of use is also essential because our users can range from primary schoolers to elders with limited IT skills,” he added.
The temple is no stranger when it comes to using technology for its programs.
Satellite television and video streaming via streaming services and websites have been used to broadcast meditation classes. Chat apps such as Skype and LINE have also been used to facilitate interaction between instructors and students. The temple has even developed apps that students can use to practise meditation.
However, Venerable John Paramai Dhanissaro, the Dhammakaya Temple Representative, pointed out that many of these platforms lacked interactivity.
“With certain technologies, it was like a closed group and the experience was not as good. I didn’t really like just reading the chat and not being able to see people’s faces,” said Venerable John, who teaches meditation.
The temple began searching for a technology platform that would enable it to organize large-scale online events for major festivals like Makha Bucha Day and Earth Day, as well as support daily programs. It found the best of both worlds in Zoom.
Bringing the temple to the world
With the assistance of the Zoom sales, support, and engineering teams, Dhammakaya Temple began to integrate the Zoom platform with its operations.
The temple began by investing in hardware and software to ensure that they had the infrastructure to support day-to-day operations, as well as mega-events on Zoom. This included building local private servers and supplementing them with cloud-based ones when necessary to ensure sufficient internet bandwidth for larger events.
For instance, for its Earth Day 2022 celebrations, the temple projected Zoom videos from around the world on a massive LED wall installed around the Dhammakaya Cetiya. A total of 128 LED screens, spanning 300 meters in length and 5 meters in height were used, and over 25,000 Zoom participants were shown on the LED screens simultaneously.
Venerable John praised Zoom’s ability to bring people closer. “When we have Zoom, we are able to communicate and see people’s faces. It feels more real, like we are here in the same room,” he said.
Agreeing, Dr. Chaisurote added, “By using Zoom, people can join the ceremonies from anywhere in the world without having to travel to the temple. It is a low-cost approach to introduce new members to the temple and our various events. We are also able to gain new followers through the outreach programming via Zoom.”
The temple has a Full Moon Meditation program for its American audience and hosts a 24-hour online meditation program that lets instructors from around the world host their meditation sessions. There are also multi-language programs including meditation for kids, Dhamma teachings, relaxation exercises, and morning and evening chanting sessions.
“Because the Zoom platform is a de facto standard for many people worldwide, we do not need to ask them to install or teach them how to use it,” said Dr. Chaisurote, who shared that Zoom’s live messaging feature has been especially popular among students and instructors.
“Learning about meditation experiences from fellow practitioners during the Q&A session helps participants to improve their own meditation practices. The teachers can also address any questions right away after viewing the messages. Additionally, reaction icons are also helpful in measuring user engagement and enable teachers to gauge users’ interests and reactions in real-time.”
Uniting minds to unite the world
In fact, the temple’s online programs and events have become so sought-after that it has had to increase its Zoom licences by 50% to cope with the demand.
“They (the devotees) enjoy using Zoom very much. Many, especially elders who visit the temple every weekend, have developed a habit of ‘Zooming’ every day and want this online feature to continue, even after the pandemic,” noted Venerable John Paramai Dhanissaro.
“The platform allows participants to take part in online programs and, most importantly, to meditate more, which is the goal of the temple. For large events, we would also continue to project participants’ Zoom videos on the LED screens so followers from far away can become an integral part of the ceremonies.”
In line with Dhammakaya Temple’s focus on meditation, the theme of its Earth Day 2022 event was “One Mind, One World.” The belief is that when everyone obtains inner peace within our mind, the world itself will be at peace, explained Venerable John Paramai Dhanissaro.
Reflecting on the temple’s aim to bring about world peace by achieving inner peace through meditation, Dr. Chaisurote pointed out that Zoom has transformed what used to be an individual activity into a social practice.
“People can meditate with individuals across the world from the comfort of their own homes and feel spiritually connected with one another. Zoom has made this spiritual connection possible.”