Leonard Cohen Talks About “Learning What The Inside Of A Religious Tradition Is” From His Work With Roshi (And How His Yoga Injury Leads Him To “Start Studying Judaism”)

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Leonard Cohen

Excerpt from Leonard Cohen of Montreal: Interview by Michael Benazon. Matrix: Fall, 1986.

DrHGuy Note: This was not Leonard’s only injury secondary to his embracement of a hallowed ritual. A month before the scheduled March, 2010  start of his European tour, he announced that those shows would be delayed while he underwent a four to six month course of physical therapy for a compression injury in his lower back suffered during a Pilates session.

“It’s called A Book Of Psalms – not that we need another. But I just wanted to sing and dance before the Lord.” Leonard Cohen


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And I just brought a new book to Jack McClelland. It’s called A Book Of Psalms – not that we need another. But I just wanted to sing and dance before the Lord.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Leonard Cohen Mixes Movie-Making And Zen by Paul King. The Gazette, July 16, 1983. DrHGuy Note: The “Book Of Psalms” to which Leonard Cohen refers is his Book of Mercy.

“What happened to me was not that I got any answers, but that the questions dissolved.” Leonard Cohen On His Time With Ramesh Balsekar

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He spent a year studying with Balsekar

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The model I finally understood suggested that there really is no fixed self. The conventional therapeutic wisdom today encourages the sufferer to get in touch with his inner feelings – as if there were an inner self, a true self, the real self that we have glimmerings of in dreams and insights. . . . There is no real inner self to command your loyalty and the tyranny of your investigation. What happened to me was not that I got any answers, but that the questions dissolved. As one of Balsekar’s students said, ‘I believe in cause and effect, but I don’t know which is which.’quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Also see

Quotation from Leonard Cohen: Remembering the Life and Legacy of the Poet of Brokenness by Mikal Gilmore (Rolling Stone: 30 November 2016) The entire article – an excellent read – is available at the link. Photo by Herry Lawford

“I think there really is a power to tune in on. It’s easy for me to call that power God. Some people find it difficult.” Leonard Cohen On Using The Word “God”

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I think there really is a power to tune in on. It’s easy for me to call that power God. Some people find it difficult. You mention the word God to them and they go through a lot of difficult reactions, they just don’t like it. I mean that there’s certainly no doubt about it, that the name has fallen on evil days. But it doesn’t have those evil associations or those organizational associations for me. It’s easier for me to say God than ‘some unnamable mysterious power that motivates all living things.’ The word God for me is very simple and usable. And even to use the masculine pronouns He and Him, it doesn’t offend me as it offends many; so that I can say ‘to become close to Him is to feel His grace’ because I have felt it.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

An Interview with Leonard Cohen by Michael Harris. Duel: Winter 1969.

“What is a saint?” Three Observations On Saintliness By Leonard Cohen

Yesterday’s post, New York Times Rhetorically Asks “Is Leonard Cohen the New Secular Saint of Montreal?”, calls to mind Leonard Cohen’s thoughts on saintliness.

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What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is a caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape.1quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

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Do you consider yourself either religious or mystical?

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I think I went through a saintly phase where I was consciously trying to model myself on what I thought a saint was. I made a lot of people very unhappy and I made myself very unhappy.2quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


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When there’s a complete wipe-out, there’s a renewal. In that book [Beautiful Losers] I tried to wrestle with all the deities that are extant now – the idea of saintliness, purity, pop, McLuhanism, evil, the irrational – all the gods we set up for ourselves.3quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

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  1. Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen []
  2. An Interview with Leonard Cohen conducted by Michael Harris. Duel, Winter 1969. []
  3. Leonard Cohen quoted in “After the Wipe-Out, A Renewal” by Sandra Diwa, published in The Ubyssey (the student newspaper of the University of British Columbia), February 3, 1967. []

“Christ’s image is just the perfect symbol for our civilization. It’s a perfect event for us – you have to die to survive.” Leonard Cohen

For someone who’s Jewish, your music often seems obsessed with Catholicism. Why?

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I grew up in a Catholic city, and all through Quebec the church is very strong. And I had an Irish-Catholic nanny; because my father was sick and my mother was usually at the hospital taking care of him, I was brought up part Catholic in a certain way. The figure of Christ touched me very early in my life. My radical Catholic friends were very angry at me for this Christological infatuation. Because they had really been oppressed by the church. To me it was romance. And there were many georeligious ideas I could speculate on. For one thing, I could see Christianity as the great missionary arm of Judaism. So I felt a certain patronizing interest in this version of the thing. I didn’t have to believe it. But I was talking today to a friend of mine, and it came to me that Christ’s image is just the perfect symbol for our civilization. It’s a perfect event for us – you have to die to survive. Because the personality is crucified in our society. That’s why so many people collapse, why the mental hospitals are full. Nobody can survive with the personality that they want, which is the hero of their own drama. That hero dies, it’s massacred, and the self that is reborn remembers that crucifixion. And we’re doing that every day. This Christian myth at the center of our society is very good. It’s workable.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Leonard Cohen’s Nervous Breakthrough by Mark Rowland, Musician, July 1988. Photo of statue of Christ taken in Montreal by rik-shaw (look 4 light)

“Religion can be a purification system…that allows you to pass from the ‘not clean’ world to the ‘clean’ world [and back]” Leonard Cohen

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What is your idea of sin?

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There is a difference between what is ‘clean’ and what is not. The notion of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ today would be called vibrations. It is the feeling that tells you where you should be and where you should not be. But as we cannot always be in the ‘clean’ world, sometimes we touch the ‘not clean’ world. Religion can be a purification system, a technique, a method that allows you to pass from the ‘not clean’ world to the ‘clean’ world. A system to prepare you for the ‘clean’ world and once you are there, another system to give you enough strength to pass again to the ‘not clean’ world. Because man cannot always be in a ‘clean’ world nor in a ‘not clean’ world. For me, religion is that movement between the two worlds. quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Leonard Cohen Words And Silences by Constantino Romero. Vibrations 2 (November 1974). Republished in Rockdelux 356 (December 2016). Via Google Translate. Photo by Pete Purnell