There’s a French chocolatier in Santa Barbara at whose shop you can buy all sorts of unusual and delightful creations: red chocolate lips filled with tangerine liqueur, truffles with Sichuan pepper and orange peel, and oblongs of dark chocolate infused with Earl Grey tea or encasing a compelling mix of caramel and balsamic vinegar, to name a very few. They are pricey little indulgences, but a worthwhile treat if one doesn’t overdo it, and I find myself heading to the place whenever I am in the neighborhood. My unequivocal favorite is a round-bellied Buddha filled with salted caramel.
“He’s everyone’s favorite, hands down,” the proprietor told me.
It has occurred to me that the Buddha is an odd shape in which to mold an edible treat. It reminds me of the chocolate Easter bunnies of my childhood, where you’d look at the cute little thing and then bite off its hollow head.
But this isn’t a bunny … it’s a Buddha.
“You probably shouldn’t make one of Mohammed,” I said stupidly. “Or Jesus. Or anything like that.”
“That never would have occurred to us,” said the chocolatier’s wife. “It’s different with the Buddha. In all the time we’ve been making these, only one person ever expressed ambivalence. She was a devout Buddhist, and she said she kept looking at it, wondering if she should eat it, and then finally she decided instead to just place it on a little shrine she has in her house. It’s been sitting there for two years now.”
I shared this anecdote with my Chinese friend Margaret one morning as we walked together in the hills. Margaret is a thoughtful person, and she knows a thing or two about Eastern philosophy. “What a waste,” she said. “The most Buddhist thing would be to eat it and enjoy it.”
We paused to look at patches of wildflowers in bloom on the ridge and watched a wild boar traverse a distant field with a string of little piglets following closely. White clouds moved across the sky, casting their shadows on the yellow hills.
“I don’t have a lot of words for things,” said Margaret, gazing out toward the shine of sea. “I think all that matters is to have a pure, devoted heart, and eat your chocolate while you can.”