“If you look at that Sermon on the Mount, no-one has really carried that out… ‘Blessed are the poor, the downtrodden…’ I tried to say that, ‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.'” Leonard Cohen

From Interview With Leonard Cohen. France- Inter, October 6, 1997.Transcription Of The Radio Program Synergie With Jean-Luc Esse And Leonard Cohen. Translated From French By Nick Halliwell, UK. Found at LeonardCohenFiles.

The Spiritual Versatility Of Leonard Cohen

blessing-screenshotLeonard Cohen was born into a distinguished Jewish family of priests (kohen).1  According to Leonard Cohen himself

I had a very Messianic childhood.  I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest.2

Indeed, he has repeatedly and emphatically identified himself as a Jew and closed his 2009 Tel Aviv concert with the Priestley Blessing.

Leonard Cohen – Closing and Blessings (Tel Aviv Sept 24, 2009)
Video by PetSounds69

He nonetheless speaks well of Jesus:

I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of this earth. Any guy who says “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek” has got to be a figure of unparallelled generosity and insight and madness…A man who declared himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion.3

Leonard Cohen has also displayed an affinity for Roman Catholic perspective, which pervaded the culture of his native Montreal, often utilizing its imagery into his work, e.g., the lyrics in Suzanne reference the chapel of the church overlooking the entry to Montreal, Our Lady Of The Harbour.

lofh-2900Note the angels, one of Cohen’s favorite allusions, that are prominent around the pedestal in the photo below.

ladyofharbourmon1900

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour

In addition, Leonard Cohen has been ordained a Zen Buddhist monk, awarded a Senior Dianetic, Grade IV Release Scientology certificate, studied Hinduism with a guru in India and chanted the Hare Krisna mantra,

Now, watch as he morphs into Reverend Leo, the TV evangelist – “Put your hand on the screen … .”

Montreal – 1993
Video by

Credit Due Department: Photos of Our Lady Of The Harbour by Sally Hunter.

______________________

  1. “His mother, Marsha Klonitsky, was the daughter of a Talmudic writer, Rabbi Solomon Klonitsky-Kline of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. His paternal grandfather, whose family had emigrated from Poland, was Lyon Cohen, founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress.” Source: At 80, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish roots ‘very much intact’ by Robert Gluck. JNS.org: May 15, 2015 []
  2. Beautiful Creep by Richard Goldstein. Village Voice: Dec 28, 1967 []
  3. Leonard Cohen (1988), from ”Leonard Cohen in His Own Words” by Jim Devlin []

“Find the positive values between the black and white; non-judgemental values based on real values; a position that acknowledges complexity, yet takes a strong stance.” Leonard Cohen’s Guide To Spirituality

Not least of Roshi’s positive attributes, Leonard stated, was that he “hates religion.” There is, Roshi finds, “something ugly about it. The armor of religion places people in hateful situations.” What is required, Leonard believes, is for people “to find the positive values between the black and white; non-judgemental values based on real values; a position that acknowledges complexity, yet takes a strong stance.”

From Prophet of the Heart by Loranne S. Dorman and Clive L. Rawlins. Omnibus Press: 1990.

“A monastery is rehab for people who have been traumatized, hurt, destroyed, maimed by daily life that they simply couldn’t master.” Leonard Cohen

quoteup2
[The other monks are] not saints, and you aren’t either. A monastery is rehab for people who have been traumatized, hurt, destroyed, maimed by daily life that they simply couldn’t master. I had been studying with Roshi for thirty or forty years, but when I actually decided to live with him and really commit myself to the daily life—I always did that for several months of every year—but when I decided to do it full-time, I had just come off a tour in 1993, and yes, I felt dislocated. I had been drinking tremendous amounts on the road and my health was shot.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From He Has Tried in His Way to Be Free by Sarah Hampson (Lion’s Roar: Nov 1, 2007).

“It is essential to my own survival: those values that my family gave me, which are Torah values, are the ones that inform my life.” Leonard Cohen

On how his Jewish roots affect his life

quoteup2
I grew up in a very observant family so it’s not something I ever felt any distance from. It’s not something I have to publicize or display. It is essential to my own survival: those values that my family gave me, which are Torah values, are the ones that inform my life. I never stray very far from those influences.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Leonard Cohen: ‘I’m a closet optimist’ [a report on the Sept 16, 2014 London Press Preview Of Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems] by Andy Morris. Gigwise, Sept 16, 2014. Photo of Leonard Cohen’s Montreal synagogue, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, by Maarten Massa.

“Democracy is a faith, and it is an ideal and I think it is the greatest expression of western experience, this notion that there is a fraternity of men and women is a very, very high idea. It involves a deep, deep appetite that cannot be denied.” Leonard Cohen (1995)

quoteup2
Democracy is the religion of the west and perhaps the greatest religion that the west has produced because it affirms other religions. Most religions have a lot of trouble affirming other religions. A great religion affirms other religions and a great culture affirms other cultures, and democracy is a faith, and it is an ideal and I think it is the greatest expression of western experience, this notion that there is a fraternity of men and women is a very, very high idea. It involves a deep, deep appetite that cannot be denied.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

 

Leonard Cohen, interviewed by Cindy Buissaillon for CBC Radio on August 26, 1995. Originally posted April 13, 2011 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Hear Leonard Cohen Talk About Poetry, The Soul, & Book Of Mercy + Recite The Captain: 1984 Interview

In June 1984 I sat with Leonard Cohen in his room at the top of Toronto’s Sutton Place Hotel where we talked about his newest collection Book of Mercy. I confessed an uneasiness about love poems because of how often other kinds of love beyond the romantic are overlooked or are treated in a puerile fashion. Not so one poem coming three months after my son’s birth… Even more interesting is what he had to say about poetry and the shift away from traditional lyric to language poetry.

David Godkin’s YouTube Description

A few key quotes from Leonard Cohen’s interview follow:

  • Book of Mercy can only be conceived as a book of prayer… it is different from my other books
  • I’m comfortable [using] the name of God
  • There are many superstitions afoot; one is that there is no soul.
  • You only address the problem of soul when you feel that you’re losing it
  • [Referring to Snow Is Falling by William Carlos Williams] That kind of accuracy is present on every page of Book of Mercy; it’s just about a landscape that’s unfamiliar

 

 

Photo by Daniel Bastida.