Chapter 31: Pema Pera Interview

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    Adams Rubble: As we start, I want to acknowledge your role not only as the founder of Play as Being but also your continued support without which Play as Being could not continue to exist.

    Pema Pera: Thank you, Adams!  And while I indeed started PaB, I do think PaB can now continue to exist without my involvement; in fact, it has done so very effectively during the last year.

    Adams Rubble: Yes, I agree that the leaders of Play as Being have done a great job of keeping things together. I also am amazed that some guardians have been hosting sessions continuously since 2008. Of course, for your part, I was thinking of your behind the scenes support which provides the platform for Play as being as well as Kira activities including the museum.

    I think that the pre-history and early history has been well covered either in the Chronicles or in other documents already linked to the Chronicles.

    The one question I have about the pre-history, or the events before Play as Being, is kind of personal. You have noted that you read TSK as early as 1980. As human interest, I think people would be interested in knowing how you met up with Steven Tainer.

    Pema Pera: I met Steven Tainer in some way by reading the TSK (Time, Space and Knowledge) book that he wrote on behalf of his teacher, Tarthang Tulku, back in 1980.  Much later, in 1996, I heard from someone in an email forum about TSK that Steven still lived in Berkeley, so I contacted him. We met soon after.  We have been meeting and collaborating for the past 18 years.  By the way, the term "Play as Being" I took from the last full page of that book.

    Adams Rubble: What have you learned from Play as being?

    Pema Pera: Oh, that's a big question!  I could write a whole book about that.

    Most importantly, I learned to simplify what I had learned myself, given the format of on-line chats where you have to answer off the cuff, and you have neither time nor space to give detailed answers to any question.  I have found that kind of limitation in fact to be a form of enrichment, where we are forced to distill what we know into a very condensed form, like one does while writing haiku; which, by the way, also was one of the group's activities early on.

    So that is one aspect.  Another equally important aspect of PaB is the great variety of people we can meet there, often people we would not normally encounter in our own social and professional circles. I have both enjoyed and benefited enormously from that way of enlarging my horizons.

    Adams Rubble: When we started you stated that you thought Play as Being would need about three years. It is now about six and a half years old. Do you think Play as Being accomplished what you expected it to accomplish?

    Pema Pera: Hahaha, note that I also stated that I had no expectations in any shape or form, that I would just be happy with whatever would come out. :-)  Perhaps the most amazing thing is that PaB still continues. Other than that, I'm just pleased to see that there have been so many meaningful encounters between so many people, both on the level of social chatting in respectful ways, which is important and significant in itself, as well as through the many larger and smaller gems of insight that have been exchanged.

    Adams Rubble: It was inspiring to us that you engaged with people of so many spiritual and non-spiritual traditions. Some of these discussions have inspired me to read further on some of ideas raised. .

     Is there more to do?

    Pema Pera: There always is. (^_^)  I would rephrase the question: whenever there is an interest in doing more, there are always many ways to do so. So far, PaB has always been very relaxed, like meeting in a cafe, in contrast to meeting in a study club, or hobby club, in which there are stronger shared interests.  PaB could go that way, as indeed some subgroups have done from time to time, but perhaps that is not PaB's signature atmosphere.

    Adams Rubble: It seems you tried the study group approach with some of the Kira workshops. At the height of the workshop era, it was a very exciting time to be in Second Life. I often am sorry that I was not able to take more advantage of all the workshops.

     "Being" was at the center of our explorations. I remember that I, and a few others, tried to get you to define Being. At the time you indicated that the definition would come later but we never seemed to get around to it. I find my own understanding of Being always shifting from God to the universe to sub-atomic particles. Maybe some of us want to be overwhelmed and have a little bit of Arjuna in us in wanting to ask Krishna to reveal himself in all his glory.. Dare I pose the question to you again? :) What is Being?

    Pema Pera: The simplest answer is "Being is what IS".  This answer is correct, it can be evocative, but without further context or background it may simply seem puzzling.

    Adams Rubble: So it is everything?

    Pema Pera: Another answer is: Being cannot be defined, because any definition delineates what something is in contrast to what it is not.  Given that Being's nature is what is, in the widest sense of the word, it cannot be contrasted to anything else.  If you want to try to be logical about it, you could say: Being points beyond existence and non-existence, beyond what is and is not in our normal use of the word; so Being points to a kind of meta-is, which for clarity we could write with capitals, IS, as I did above.  But again, all this can be at best evocative, in the right setting, and more likely is still puzzling.

    Adams Rubble: Thinking beyond our own existence is puzzling but might help point us toward the "right setting". Are there other ways to define Being then?

    Pema Pera: In short: any simple "answer" I could try to give is unlikely to get us much further.  What we would need is a dialogue in which two or more people engage in a conversation in which they walk around the topic, weaving more and more context in which slowly more and more of the contours of our way of dealing with the notion of Being are outlined to at least some extent.  Being itself can not be outlined, because it does not have a contour or edge or limit; but our ways of dealing with Being can.

    And this is not so strange.  Language uses words and concepts that act as filters or fisherman's nets.  Each word means this and not that, points at one class of things or actions as opposed to another one.  Being as a word that point to the ultimate "what IS" simply cannot be caught in a net, we cannot fish for Being. :-)  Being is as much fish as water as net as fisherman, can't be divided.

    Adams Rubble: Your example brings to mind Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea" but then I have been drawn to struggles. Whoops,  I don't mean to distract, please go on..

    Pema Pera: It would be tempting to guess that Being is a kind of ultimate essence, or ultimate totality of everything, whatever that might mean.  But the word essence is used in opposition to what is less essential; and the idea of totality is only meaningful in contrast to something that is only part of what is.  Given that some notion can point to totality as opposed to something else means that "totality" is less than Being.

    If I were talking to a group of contemplatives, in any tradition, Eastern or Western, I might say something like "Being is in/as everything; every appearance is all of Being; Being is beyond space and time."  But again, this may not be too helpful for a more general audience; and even for a group of contemplatives, it may well raise more questions than answers.  In Europe, Medieval Christians, scholars and mystics alike, have agonized a lot about what Being means, until discussions about Being somehow lost popularity in the sixteenth century, whether because of the reformation or because of the beginning of the scientific revolution or another combination of causes, I don't know.  In Asia, different traditions have used different words, from Nothingness to Tao to other terms, but many of those have had significant overlap with, and have played similar roles as, the way in which I like to use the word Being.

    Adams Rubble: Outside of the virtual world meeting place, one thing that many of the attendees of Play as Being have in common is a love for nature. Often someone would talk about how a walk in the woods was restorative. Could it be this is one way we are contemplatives in the twenty first century, getting away from the world and focusing away from ourselves. There in the middle of nature, we could very well chew on your offering, "Being is in/as everything; every appearance is all of Being; Being is beyond space and time."

    Pema Pera: Yes, nature walks offer a true and tried way to connect more with ourselves, now as well as in the distant past!  But coming back to Play as Being: the only way Being can take on more meaning for a group of players as Being, as a community, is to have a sustained community conversation.  Such a conversation may well draw upon Eastern and Western and more contemporary literature, but more importantly, for such a conversation to be alive and meaningful, I had better draw upon the way each member of the conversation community would see their own life as a laboratory, rather than drawing mostly upon outside authorities, whether scientists or representatives of various traditions.  A definition can at best act as a seed: to produce a plant, a lot more collective nurturing and cultivation is needed.  Somehow that never happened in the Play as Being community. I'm not sure why; perhaps the notion of Being was just to alien or too forbidding.

    To the best of my knowledge, I have always been open to starting and continuing any dialogue about Being, what it can mean, how we can use the term, and why that term and not something else.  At the same time, I have also never pushed a discussion about Being.  I did not want to promote my own hobby horse. :-) I figured that if there would be real interest in what Being can point to, it would come up in conversations. But instead, most conversations where about Play rather than Being, or mostly about altogether different topic, which was fine too.  There were times when in different weeks different words were chosen, such as responsibility or appreciation or quite a number or other terms, but Being was never one of them, as far as I can remember. :)

    Adams  Rubble: Still I find your observation about conversation topics most interesting. Of course in the early years, at your suggestion, many of us did exercises such as YSBS (You seeing Being seeing). Then too was your suggestion APAPB (Appreciate the Presence of Appearance as a Presentation of Being). I know many of us found those valuable. I would like to add an observation that the group was/is diverse in its approach to, and understanding of, Being. In addition to the fact that the medium helped emphasize playing (we come as avatars after all), possibly the play was/is a common denominator. I expect this may be something the group may want to discuss further.

    There is another huge area we have not yet covered and that is love/compassion. Contemplations about Being soon make one realize that one is not at the center of the universe,  but a part of it.. Many of the spiritual traditions encourage a concern for our fellow beings and the environment as well. As one begins to think more about ones fellow beings, it seems to lead to a greater understanding of Being. Is it possible that knowledge of Being on the one hand, and development of love/compassion in ourselves on the other, might have a symbiotic relationship?

    Pema Pera: This is not an easy question to answer, just like any question about Being is not easy to answer.  To talk about what cannot be talked about, but only hinted at after a lot of shared understanding has been built up, is a huge challenge!  I can give a short answer, which may well be mystifying . . . but let me try anyway, quoting Stim:

        "When talking about the totality of Being, true insight means seeing that there ultimately is no problem, and consequently true compassion means pointing out to others that there ultimately is no problem".

    Adams  Rubble: I have experienced you doing that with myself and others especially when we did not "get it". I have also seen and experienced your generosity beyond that.

    You have often said that there is no path or that we are starting from the end. You also have said we do not have to do anything. It does seem that some kind of practice tends to be beneficial. Would you comment a bit on practice?

    Pema Pera:  From time to time we have joked in PaB sessions that the opposite of a great truth is also a great truth.  I could have said that there is a path and that there is something to do. It all depends on what one means with such a short sentence.

    To say that there is no path is to point to the tendency we have to misunderstand the notion of what a path is.  So "no path" is short hand for "no path of any type that you could imagine". Similarly "don't do anything" could mean something like "stop doing the things you normally would try to do, get out of your comfort zone and try to see what new options might open up if you give up your habitual running after the goals you know in the way you know how to".

    Adams  Rubble: A long time ago you gave me a koan, “WHO is impatient?” At the time I was eager to find a path to reach a goal of mine. In the intervening years I revisited the koan, focusing on the WHO and coming to slightly different conclusions each time. Recently, I was surprised at my ability to cope with what could have been a stressful event. In thinking about what I had learned in the past few years, I settled on calmness. Then the koan popped into my mind. I smiled as I thought “maybe not me”. “Wu wei” also came to mind in that this happened without any conscious effort on my part.

    Is love of one's fellow beings a kind of practice in itself?

    Pema Pera:  Yes, of course. :-)  And love of yourself too, when directed in the right way.  The Christian "love your neighbor as yourself" holds in both directions.  And it doesn't have to be anything heavy-handed or complicated.  Several deep thinkers, artists and philosophers and others, came to the conclusion, towards the end of their life, that they could summarize many of their views as "just try to be gentle."

    Adams  Rubble: What question that has not been asked would you have asked yourself?

    Pema Pera:  What is the nature of reality?  Or, to unpack that a bit more: what is the world like, that it offers so many different perspectives to different individuals, or even to the same individual at different times?

    It's this question that has led me to start PaB, among other activities. Trying to learn more about the nature of reality is for me the most interesting thing to do, just for myself, and also to share with others. Playing as Being for me means: playing as explorers of reality, without any preconceived notions of limitations, letting all that is be part of the play, all of Being.

    Adams  Rubble: How would you answer your question to yourself if I had asked it?

    Pema Pera:  The short answer: this is an ongoing project.  A somewhat longer answer: it is pretty clear that any answer that has been proposed, whether by science or by another tradition, East or West, has only come up with answers from particular angles, based on the kinds of questions that were asked and how they were asked.  I see humanity's homework for the twenty-first century, and beyond, as starting to integrate the piecemeal answers that have been obtained, winnowing out what is more universal from the more tribal parts of the answers so far.  Whether such a more and more enlarged view of reality will be called science or philosophy or by other names is less important than the fact that it is high time to start this kind of global effort, interdisciplinary, international, inter-just-about-anything; in other words, as a grand play on the grandest scale, that of Being.

    Adams  Rubble: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with all of us.

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