If you were of a certain age and had any interest in music at all in the 1970s, you couldn't fail to notice Cat Stevens. For a time it seemed his music was played constantly, on every radio station within earshot (this was way before you could listen to music on your phone -- car radios and LP albums were about the only choices you had).
Songs like “Peace Train”, “Morning Has Broken” and “Moonshadow” were part of the fabric of life, and if you were interested in meeting people at parties, you had to know something of the lyrics to at least one Cat Stevens song or you wouldn't get much past hello.
Cat Stevens was on top of the world back then. He played to packed concert halls, sold millions of records, wrote movie soundtracks, was interviewed on all the popular TV shows, and traveled the world in material comfort.
All this time Cat Stevens was not satisfied, however. He wanted something deeper and more meaningful than the material success he'd had, and he started looking for spiritual solace in other religions and philosophies. His songs talked about this spiritual quest, and there was one album, called "Buddha and the Chocolate Box", that summed it up pretty well. He explained that the title of the album came from an incident when he was traveling on a plane, and he saw that he had a small statue of Buddha in one hand and a box of chocolates in the other. He realized that if there were a plane crash and he died, these would be the last objects on his person, and they would symbolize his position, trapped between the spiritual (the Buddha) and the material (the chocolate box). The songs on the album were about this dilemma, and it was one of his most successful albums, eventually reaching platinum status, with one million sales.
The 1960s and 70s were a time when many people were asking the same kinds of questions as Cat Stevens, so it's no wonder that “Buddha and the Chocolate Box” sold a lot of copies. The yearning for the spiritual while feeling the pull of the material are two forces that we all have to reconcile.
Anyone who was raised Catholic will know about this, because during Lent, Catholics are urged to give up such luxuries as chocolate and candy, to show that one can sacrifice the material temptations for the spiritual good of getting our souls ready for Easter. It is a personal way of connecting to one's personal relationship with one's faith.
However, for some of us this is an exceedingly hard thing to do. The rows of chocolate candy bars in the local store look quite tempting, and as Lent progresses it is easy to fall off the wagon; maybe dip into the stash of chocolates Dad gave Mom on Valentine's Day, or pilfer a cookie from your grandmother's cookie jar, or even steal a treat from your little sister, who is too young to give up chocolates for Lent.
Sometimes it is a grueling battle to resist a tasty bite of chocolate. Did they have chocolates in the Buddha's day? No they didn't. Maybe the modern spiritual teachers don't know what they are telling us to give up. And is it really necessary to look at the spiritual and the material as mutually exclusive, like two energies that can't co-exist? Maybe this is where Yin and Yang come to be part of self understanding.
For my part, as a kid, I tried to always make it to Easter without breaking my Lenten resolution to give up chocolate. I would quickly realize that I was certainly not strong enough to be a saint.
I wonder how Cat Stevens views this after so many years? Shortly after releasing “The Buddha and the Chocolate Box”, he converted to Islam, changing his name to Yusuf Islam in the process. He has found his spiritual home, it seems, and he has never wavered in the 40 years since his conversion.
But what about the chocolate box? Does Yusuf Islam reflect on the pleasure of eating a delicious piece of chocolate and that day on the plane? How does he feel about chocolate these days and what is his favorite type?
There is value in spiritual disciplines, and I practice these to this day. However, I also think chocolate is in the world to help us feel happy. It's a great way to add some fun to your day, an explosion of joy in your taste buds.
I don't think there would need to be a choice between Buddha or the chocolate box and so I understand why now the album includes "and" in the title: "Buddha and The Chocolate Box". In fact, I think if Buddha was here now, he'd probably be a huge fan of chocolate. After all, chocolate is a piece of Nirvana that we can experience today.
We’re all striving to reach our own personal Nirvana, and we don’t do nearly as well as Buddha or Jesus or Muhammad or Moses did. When times get hard and you get discouraged, there’s nothing like a piece of rich, delicious chocolate to buck up your spirits and help you carry on.
I think the Buddha would approve.
This is my goto chocolate when I feel down or need a little boost to reach a level of proper meditation: Organic Chocolate I really love taking a handful of mixed white chocolate and dark chocolate basically making my own milk chocolate in the mix... try it sometime. This is a whole new level of chocolate experience. :)