How dim sum taught me about consciousness, awareness, suffering and, maybe enlightenment.

Arka Bani Maini
Jul 17 · 9 min read

“Mom, you cry because you don’t want to cry.”

“Wha….t the hell are you exactly talking about?!”

This was a conversation I was having with my mother over a phone call, where I was trying to explain to her why there is suffering in the world. I am not entirely sure how we ended up there, but I think it all started with a story about someone she was missing.

Every evening, after reaching home from work, I order an evening snack and while waiting for it to get delivered, make my customary call to my mother. And that day, like most days of recently, she started wailing about how Puski was suffering from anxiety issues. Puski is our ferocious tiny terrier whose sheer audacity led her into trouble recently when one fine evening she decided to go after our extremely timid and shy German Shepherd and show her who the boss was. What happened after that, is too gory to talk about in an article concerning the Buddha, but she did manage to survive and is now being put up in a different house. And now my mom was terribly missing her. Yes, that is how it all started.

And before I disappoint you with yet another cliched climax, the snack I ordered that fateful evening was indeed dim sum.

-Aren’t we having this same conversation again and again now mom?

-What do you mean?

-I mean there is nothing we can do about it, right? So why keep lamenting over it every day? It is what it is …

-Ya, I know that…but still… I feel bad about what happened. I can’t help that..I talk about it so that it helps me relieve some pain. Is that a bad thing to do?

-No, but doing that doesn’t help Puski in any way right? I mean…either you do something about it…take action..and if you can’t then you need to let that go…

-I get that…but what about memories? You can’t get rid of them right? Those memories make you suffer…

-You suffer from memories because you want to get rid of them.

Silence.

I guess both my mother and I were taken aback by the sudden poetic brevity of my words. Needless to say, she did not get what I meant ( not sure I myself do, but anyway) When the conversation resumed, I tried explaining my self-authored adage to her. And boy! How I failed. My dim sum got delivered, the cricket match I planned to watch while eating them was half over, yet the conversation kept going on. After a while, when we started running in loops, and my mother’s patience for philosophical balderdash started withering away, we mutually called it a day and bid our adieus.

Now with serious self-doubt over my own understanding of suffering, I turned on the TV to watch whatever was left of the match and opened my freshly packed dim sum sealed in a tamper-proof and supposedly insulating container.

Why did my words fail? The question started haunting me.

We feel pain because we resist it. ……..Resist. Resist?

-So you are telling me I should want to feel pain?! Nobody wants to feel pain right?! Nobody wants to cry?! — My mom replied.

-No buttttt….seee….you are already perceiving pain as a bad thing right?! So you essentially don’t want a bad thing…so you involuntarily end up resisting it.

-Ok…So in a way you are saying I should accept pain…see it as a part of life…accept my reality… is that what you are getting to?

-Not really…I mean… when you say you ‘accept’…it still means you see it as a ‘not-so-good thing’, but you are okay living with it… so ‘acceptance’ is not the right word here….

[Silence for a few seconds ]

-So you are saying don’t resist it but also don’t accept?

I finally realized why philosophy is always explained through fables.

The biggest challenge with language is that it always carries an implied context. And that context always carries numerous connotations: either positive or negative. Precisely where poetry works. And philosophy struggles.

Let’s take an example: I am making a cup of tea. I am also boiling water to cool it and drink it later. Now let’s look at these two statements:

  1. The tea is cold
  2. The water is cold

Exactly the same statements with only the nouns varying. Exactly the opposite feelings associated with each.

The first statement is a ‘bad’ thing. It has a very clear negative connotation ( unless you wanted iced tea). You wanted a hot cup of tea. Now, it’s cold. BAD

The second is a ‘good’ thing. You wanted to drink water. You boiled it so you can drink it when it cools down. Now, it’s cold. GOOD.

This implicit association with either a negative or a positive emotion is what you can’t get rid of. The psychological rubric of ‘good and bad’, ‘right and wrong’ always sneaks in between every line we read.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

— Rumi

Where language ends, metaphors begin. I needed a metaphor. Something to put my vague ruminations into deciphered prose. This will need some work — I concluded. For now, let’s turn down the lights and watch the game.

Television, dim sum and a good ole crystal glass of 60 ml whiskey poured over 3 ice cubes and mixed with some generous amount of freshly brewed procrastination: the only true solution to any real problem in the world. Always stirred. Never shaken.

Keeping the glass on the armrest and holding my plate of dim sum, I slumped into my sofa and tuned in to the sports channel. India was cruising ahead of Pakistan. Finally some good news.

Like a harbinger of abandon, the night breeze chimed the windchime in the balcony and made its way into the living room. Cool wind waves kept crashing against my face. I took a healthy sip of whiskey and sinking further into the sofa, shut my eyes. Somewhere far away, two sports commentators’ voices kept floating in the wind like a distant lullaby.

Metaphors help eliminate what separates you and me — Haruki Murakami.

When I woke up, a bodacious sports journalist was giving the post-match analysis. India had won. And I was very very hungry.

Lying right next to me on the sofa, was my plate of dim sum. And they were hard and cold.

Fuck! What a waste! Why didn’t I eat it before all this bullsh…

My typical train of terrible thoughts started running but then almost immediately came to an abrupt halt as I saw an illuminating white shape standing right at the end of the tunnel.

It was my metaphor.

What you seek is seeking you. Rumi, you f*cking genius.

Without noticing the giant digital clock on my mobile home screen, I dialed my mother. It was almost midnight. She picked up, probably full of ominous thoughts.

“I think I finally understood what I was trying to explain to you!” — I said.

Probable responses from her included “Seriously?!”, “SHUT UP!”, “Please! not again” to involuntarily hanging up the phone. Ok…go on. She calmly said.

Why do we suffer? Even when we know we can’t change our reality? Even when we understand it will be the way it is from now on? Why is it so hard to let go? Why do we regret every mistake we made and wish every perfection was a little more perfect?

I woke up and realized my dim sum was cold.

There are three levels of consciousness from which I could have reacted in that situation:

Level: Beginner — Resistance

This was my immediate default response: Why did I fall asleep? Why did I not eat it when it arrived? Why am I so absent-minded? Why am I so incompetent? Why am I… The cycle goes on.

This level also signifies the curse of consciousness.

We are conscious of our past. We are conscious of our imagined future. And everything that happens in our present will always be analyzed based on our consciousness of our past and of our desired future. Being conscious of the past is more than just remembering it. Just like being conscious of our imagined future is more than just simple imagination. It is remembering and imagining with the weight of all its overbearing connotations.

The dim sum came on time and I forgot to eat them. — This is being conscious of the past.

I imagined myself eating dim sum while they were hot. — This is being conscious of the desired future.

It would have been so lovely to eat those hot and juicy dim sum while watching the thrilling cricket match! Now it sucks to eat them cold without the game — This is consciousness with the curse of presuming one outcome as good and the other as bad.

“ So should we ‘accept’ our reality instead of ‘resisting’ it?” — My mom had asked when we spoke about it the first time.

This brings us to our second level:

Level: Pro — Acceptance

I know what could have been, but I accept my reality. The dim sum is cold and there is nothing I can do about it. Everyone has bad days. Somedays you get hot dim sum and somedays you don’t. So I’ll let that go and make my peace with cold dim sum.

If you can get to this level, you can satisfactorily deal with the curse of consciousness. You are still within the realms of its connotations: You still feel it would have been good to have them while they were hot, but you are not bothered with what might have been. You choose to focus on the present.

This level is what most people sometimes, and very few people most of the time operates from.

Dogs don’t though. Dogs, and probably Buddha.

Ever seen a street dog sit outside the window of a posh pet store with woeful eyes gazing at all the plush lounger beds and wonder why fate was so cruel to her that she has to sleep under a rusty truck that’s dripping oil parked next to a sewage drain while being wrapped in dirt and fresh scars, every fucking day of her life?

Or you believe maybe she has made peace with the fact that she is an orphan and that is her reality. Maybe she has learned to find joy in the little things in life: a half-eaten biscuit thrown at her by some pitying passerby; or frolicking around random vagabonds; sometimes getting a pat, sometimes a kick.

No. She doesn’t ‘resist’ her present. Nor does she ‘accept’. She just is.

There are a lot of colorful things inside that room…There is something crawling inside my ear…The scar on my left leg is itching a little…A ragamuffin is walking down the road…He smells funny…Run! Bark!… Ragamuffin is running away…Wait, that cat looks funny…

Imagine Rain.

Imagine a young girl slouched against a window holding a cup of coffee and a book, lost in the blissful pitter-patter on the glass. So what if I miss my yoga class because of the rain? I can just accept my reality and be content with what I have — a cup of steaming coffee and a lovely novel. Through the drizzle, her eyes meet a passerby with a blue umbrella crossing the road. She offers him a gentle smile. The privilege of acceptance.

The passerby with the blue umbrella looks at her and frowns. He is fucking pissed. Shit! Not today. I will surely be late for my interview now. My shirt is already getting wet. Will the bus even come on time? Gosh! This sucks. The burden of resistance.

Now imagine a dog named Buddha crossing the road the other way. — Water is falling on me. I crawl under that parked car. I look at the raindrops falling and bouncing off puddles, scruffy feet, leather shoes, sandals, and high heels all briskly walking by.

For Buddha, the rain is neither a prelude to joy nor an omen of hardships. He doesn’t accept nor reject it.

For him, the rain is just the rain. All that there is, and all that there ever will be. And all he is, is be fully aware of it.

Level: Buddha — Awareness

The dim sum is cold. Period.

Period with a capital P.

Nothing to regret. Nothing to yearn for. And nothing to accept. Just be simply aware of the present. Period.

Maybe monks spend years meditating to fully eternalize that ‘Period’.

That ‘Period’. Easy to write about it. Extremely difficult to actually put it to practice.

To dip a cloth in water and start removing all the brush strokes of past hopes, expectations, plans, and scars with care and attention. To keep that canvas stretched and spotless. And then, on it, to write your oeuvre in a sentence. A sentence that starts with your present and ends with a Period. And then to clean it again write anew.

One sentence and a Period.

One thought and a Period.

A new meditation for every moment.

A fresh poem with newborn words.

Written and erased.

Written and erased.

The dim sum is cold.

The Ascent

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Arka Bani Maini

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I would prefer not to.

The Ascent

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