Leonard Cohen Talks To Ramesh Balsekar In 1999 About Roshi, Artists, Salmon Teriyaki, Songwriting, Cognac, Raising Children …

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This is an extraordinary conversation between Leonard Cohen and Ramesh Balsekar that covers a number of topics of interest to those who have followed Cohen’s career.

Those unfamiliar with the connection between these two men may wish to read the next section before going onto the conversation they held. Those who know about the relationship already can safely skip ahead to the heading, “A Resonance between Two Models – Leonard Cohen & Ramesh Balseka.”

Leonard Cohen & Ramesh Balsekar

In her biography of Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man, Sylvie Simmons writes about the period the Canadian singer-songwriter spent in India to learn from Ramesh Balsekar:

Something had happened to Leonard in India. Something–as he told [songwriter] Sharon Robinson–“just lifted,” the veil of depression through which he had always seen the world. Over the space of several visits Leonard would make to Mumbai over the next few years, returning to his room at the Hotel Kemps Corner and making his daily walk to satsang, altogether, he spent more than a year studying with Ramesh–“by imperceptible degrees this background of anguish that had been with me my whole life began to dissolve. I said to myself, ‘This must be what it’s like to be relatively sane.’ You get up in the morning and it’s not like: Oh God, another day. How am I going to get through it? What am I going to do? Is there a drug? Is there a woman? Is there a religion? Is there something to get me out of this? The background is very peaceful.” His depression was gone.

Nina Martyris, reviewing Cohen’s “Book Of Longing” in the Times of India Mumbai, August 20, 2006, notes

But of special interest to his Indian fans is the scattering of poems set in Mumbai, an unlikely Mecca for a man searching for the larger answers to life, but to which Cohen turned after being somewhat disillusioned by his sabbatical in a Zen monastery. Ten years of austerity at Mt Baldy in Los Angeles in the service of his master Kyozan Joshu Roshi came to an end when the troubled troubadour found that the base desires he had sought to escape only thrived on the rare mountain air.

I shaved my head
I put on robes
I sleep in the corner of a cabin
sixty-five hundred feet up a mountain
It’s dismal here
The only thing I don’t need
is a comb

Only Cohen could compress a world of irony into that one bald line “The only thing I don’t need is a comb”. Solace of sorts, even an entry point into understanding the contradictions of life, arrived through an unexpected route — at an up scale Breach Candy apartment, at the feet of the venerable Ramesh Balsekar, a retired banker turned philosopher-guru who didn’t even know who the old man in his morning audience was until his grand daughter hysterically informed him that this was the Prince of Darkness himself. The guru’s robust optimism was more than a match for Cohen’s mournfulness and the two became friends. “Ramesh has saved my life. I was dying in that monastery,” Cohen later told a friend, after many expoundings on Balsekar’s central theory which, like all complex thought, comes disguised in beguiling simplicity — that happiness, which is the human aim, can be achieved if one does not blame oneself or others for any happening, good or bad.

“I heard many interesting and precise ideas, which later I blurred into verse, while in the precious company of Kyozan Joshu Roshi, and Ramesh S. Balsekar. Their compelling concepts were so imperfectly grasped that I cannot be accused either of stealing or absorbing them,” wrote Cohen in the acknowledgments.

A Resonance between Two Models – Leonard Cohen & Ramesh Balseka

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Jane Adams, the author of A Resonance between Two Models – Leonard Cohen & Ramesh Balseka, begins with this explanation:

During my visit to Ramesh in Mumbai, in early 1999, I witnessed the following conversation with Leonard Cohen, and bought the tape. After I got home, I made this transcript.

I’ve excerpted this section as a sampling:

[Leonard Cohen] I’ve been sipping at the nectar. It’s very delicious to be here. On the intellectual level, your model becomes clearer and clear to me – your conceptual presentation – and so does my old Teacher’s. On the experiential level, I feel the weakening of certain proprietorial feelings about doership.

[Ramesh Balsekar] That is a very good word! Proprietorial – me, mine! I see. Now, this weakening – how do you mean this weakening, when did it start? Did it start thirty years ago? Is that what you are saying?

[Leonard Cohen] I couldn’t characterize this seeking as spiritual. It was a kind of urgent …

[Ramesh Balsekar] You mean what started thirty years ago was not really spiritual?

[Leonard Cohen] No Sir.

[Ramesh Balsekar] I see. I see.

[Leonard Cohen] I don’t know if it is today. The description seems to pale in the urgency of the actual search, which is for peace.

[Ramesh Balsekar] Yes. Yes.

[Leonard Cohen] And you know, over the years, especially anyone who hangs around a Zendo meditation hall, is going to get a lot of free samples, as you put it. If you sit for long hours every day, and are subjected to sleeplessness and protein deficiency, you’re going to start having experiences that are interesting. It was a hunger for those experiences that kept me around, because I NEEDED those experiences.

[Ramesh Balsekar] YES! The HUNGER for those experiences. Yes! So?

[Leonard Cohen] I forget where we were. I’m sorry.

[Ramesh Balsekar] You said, experiences happened, and there was a hunger for those experiences.

[Leonard Cohen] There was a hunger to maximize, to continue, a greed to … a greed for those kinds of experiences develops. Which is what happens in monasteries.

[Ramesh Balsekar] I entirely agree, yes. There is a greed for those experiences.

[Leonard Cohen] Very much so. And I must say that my old Teacher puts little value on those experiences.

[Ramesh Balsekar] I see. In fact, did he WARN you against them?

[Leonard Cohen] Warns you, and BEATS YOU, against them!

[Ramesh Balsekar] With his stick? On your shoulder?

[Leonard Cohen] Yes Sir. We are not encouraged to take these hallucinations seriously.

[Ramesh Balsekar] But how effective are those beatings, Leonard?

[Leonard Cohen] Not effective at all. I’ve seen them more effective in the case of other monks than they were in this case. So I respect the system; it’s a rigorous system based on a very useable model, but it wortks for some and does not work for others.

[Ramesh Balsekar] Quite right. I see. And what you’ve been hearing for ten days, has it made some difference, do you think?

[Leonard Cohen] Sweet!

The complete transcript and more drawings of the two men can be found at A Resonance between Two Models – Leonard Cohen & Ramesh Balsekar by Jane Adams. (JaneAdamsArt: Sept 28, 2014)

Credit Due Department: Drawings by Jane Adams. Photo by Herry Lawford

Note: Originally posted Oct 1, 2014 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Best Videos Of 2012 Leonard Cohen Tour: The Future – Helsinki

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Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St Paul
I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

Best 2012 Leonard Cohen Videos: Cohencentric.com features selections from the Best Of 2012 Leonard Cohen Tour Video Setlist, which comprises the best available video of each of the songs performed during the 2012 Leonard Cohen World Tour.

Leonard Cohen – The Future
Helsinki: Sept 2, 2012
Video by Wirebirds

Photos: Leonard Cohen – Always Into Flowers

lc-flower2A very young Leonard Cohen fascinated by a flower he has picked from his family lawn. Thanks to Maarten Massa for access to this image.

nimesLeonard Cohen immerses himself in flowers on state at the 2009 Nimes concert. This vividly romantic scene was captured in this photo by Pirlouiiiit

Thanks, Leonard Cohen, For Coming To The USA – The Video Celebration

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Video: Leonard Cohen USA Concert Highlights

I created the video, “Thanks, Leonard Cohen, For Coming To The USA,” in commemoration of the 2009 Leonard Cohen USA Tour – a triumph and a joy still worth celebrating today.

Heck Of A Guy proudly announces the release of
Thanks, Leonard Cohen, For Coming To The USA

A video offered in appreciation of
Leonard Cohen’s Fall 2009 US Tour
and in celebration of the
2008-2009 Leonard Cohen World Tour,
a labor born of catastrophe and betrayal
that became a triumph of music and spirit

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A Look At The Leonard Cohen Fall 2009 USA Tour

Thanks, Leonard Cohen, For Coming To The USA is a ten minute video with photo and YouTube highlights focusing on the Fall 2009 Leonard Cohen concert series that began in Fort Lauderdale and concluded in San Jose, California. Additional scenes track back to the beginning of the Tour and Cohen’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and extends to the 2010 iteration of the Tour and beyond.

The soundtrack includes segments from “First We Take Manhattan” and “Closing Time” bracketing “Democracy,” the final song at the final concert of the USA Tour.

Thanks, Leonard Cohen, For Coming To The USA

Note: Originally posted Jan 7, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen On His Embracement Of Poetry & His Shift To Pop Music

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I was completely hooked on the stuff [poetry] as a kid. I loved it when I first came across it. When something was said in a certain kind of way it seemed to embrace the cosmos. It’s not just my heart, but every heart was involved, and the loneliness was dissolved, and you felt that you were this aching creature in the midst of an aching cosmos, and the ache was okay. Not only was it okay, but it was the way that you embraced the sun and the moon. I went into pop music. I felt like that’s where I could manifest it. Just on the page wasn’t going to do it for me because I wanted to live it.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Jewish Book News Interview With Leonard Cohen by Arthur Kurzweil and Pamela Roth: 1994. Originally posted July 26, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen Video: Whither Thou Goest & Blessings – Weybridge 2009

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Final Moments Of The Wet, Wonderful Weybridge Show

The July 11, 2009 Leonard Cohen Weybridge concert is a show well worth recalling. As dorsetbays, the photographer who took the above shot  summarized,

Leonard Cohen put on an amazing concert at the Mercedes Benz Arena, Surrey on 11 July 2009. The weather was atrocious, heavy rain and gale force winds, but the atmosphere was electric.

Indeed, by all accounts, the concert was a Tour highlight as the performance of Cohen and his musicians and the response of the crowd simply overwhelmed the impact of the wind and rain. Consequently, I was happy to discover this video of “Whither Thou Goest” and Leonard Cohen’s blessings to the audience at Weybridge.

weybridgeclose2For an account of the show and outstanding photos and videos from the concert, I immodestly recommend two Cohencentric posts, Photos: Leonard Cohen’s Wet, Wonderful Weybridge Show – 2009 and Video: Leonard Cohen’s Stellar Performance Of Closing Time At The 2009 Weybridge Show/Storm,

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The Blessings Of Weybridge1 Video

Leonard Cohen – Whither Thou Goest
Weybridge: July 11, 2009
Video from albertnoonan

Note: Originally posted Jan 17, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

  1. Wouldn’t “The Blessings Of Weybridge” be a dandy name for a BBC sitcom?” []

Q: [Why are there] a lot of Jesus references in your work? Leonard Cohen: “Jesus — Why would anybody want to avoid Jesus?”

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Leonard Cohen in 1988 interview with Mr. Bonzai. Photo of Leonard Cohen by Roland Godefroy (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Originally posted May 15, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric