From Cohen Heads Back to The Future by Spencer Bright. London Daily Mail: December 11, 1992. Photo by Cynthia Krause from Whittier, California – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikipedia Commons.
[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.
From He Has Tried in His Way to Be Free by Sarah Hampson (Lion’s Roar: Nov 1, 2007).
Is [Leonard Cohen] drawn to the [military] field of action?
I don’t really have any desire to shoot anyone’s face off. But, given how lazily undisciplined, wild and greedy we all are, when you actually manage to get a few people organized into clean clothes, graceful marching patterns and a habit of discipline and obedience, I guess it’s really some kind of miracle. And those are exactly the same methods used in monasteries, or in any form of training. That notion of training has always interested me, and the army has traditionally been a place where young men are trained.
From Tortoise-Shell Hero by Biba Kopf. New Musical Express, March 2, 1985.
I always consider myself an extremely bad monk – a sloppy monk, compared to some of the very admirable people up there. Real monks. I have been associated with that community for more than 30 years. It’s an existence where the emphasis is on the ordinary. But it’s the least-easy place to lose track of time in. During the day, you hear bells and they tell you to go somewhere – that’s the nature of those places. They are kind of hospitals for the broken-hearted and for people who have forgotten how to walk and talk. It wasn’t just touring that left me feeling this way. I often do.
From I Never Discuss My Mistresses Or My Tailors by Nick Paton Walsh. The Observer, October 14, 2001
I really like that life, it’s very regulated and it has some kind of a military crispness to it. And then, you’ re doing it for a reason. It’s not to build up your muscles, it’s not just a macho exercise, it’s to kind of cook your mind so that you can hear what you’re saying, because you can’t hear what you’re saying if you’re full of yourself. If the daily life hasn’t emptied you out a bit through fatigue or eh… just what would I say, the routine, the routine softens you, you stop thinking about yourself, your plans and you’re too tired to accuse yourself of many things and you’re not bright enough to think about the things around – you kind of smooth out. That’s what the daily life does to you. So that you’re open to hear something, you know most of us are not open most of the time, we pretend that we are open, but mostly you’re running your own dramatic event of which you are the hero or the heroine. Usually that’s what we are doing most of the time. So there you get so tired that you can’t pretend, and that’s all that a monastery is. They make you so tired that you give up pretending.
Leonard Looks Back On The Past: Interview With Leonard Cohen by Kari Hesthamar. Los Angeles, 2005 (Unedited interview for Norwegian Radio). Found at LeonardCohenFiles
Note: Originally posted June 30, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
When did you first come into contact with Buddhism and Zen?
I never came into contact with them directly, they didn’t interest me. But I met a man twenty years ago, whom I enjoyed very much. He was older than me, and he seemed to know more than me. One of the things he knew was how to drink. I learned from him how to drink. It turns out he was an old Zen monk. And as he told me a few years ago: ‘Leonard, I’ve known you for eighteen years and I’ve never tried to give you my religion. I’m just using sake.’ This is what my relationship with Buddhism has been, I have no interest in Buddhism, no interest in Zen. What interests me is drinking with my old friend and to be in his company. I enjoy sitting in the meditation room because there is no phone, the incense is sweet, it’s very quiet and I can hang on my piece of wood very well when I sit there in the morning. You have the opportunity to study your self, how it rises and how it falls. But what the Buddhist theologians have to say on the issue does not interest me much.
What are you talking about with this monk?
Well, he does not speak English, so it is very difficult to discuss theology with him. He tells me ‘Do you know the difference between a Rémy Martin cognac and a Courvoisier?’ ‘I do not know,’ I tell him. I try it. Hum… He tastes. Hum… Remy Martin may have a more feminine taste? That’s the kind of conversation we have. He has a tendency not to particularly like religion. It is difficult not to have an aversion toward religion when you see what it does to people, at what point they become satisfied with themselves, to what point it separates themselves from others. Generally speaking religion has a pretty disagreeable odor. The love of God, that’s a different story. At least two times a year I go to Mount Baldy. It looks like a monastery; it is a very intensive center for Zen training. The days are filled with meditation and manual labor. In the kitchen, in the garden, we dig, we paint. I like being part of a community once in awhile. There is nothing extra, you live the day, no theology, no dogma. You live a religious life on the inside, not on the outside. You get up at three in the morning, you sit for two hours in the meditation room, you prepare breakfast, you clean, you polish, you garden, then you meditate again. And you study yourself in your own way with the help of a teacher but not one of theology.
From Comme Un Guerrier by Christian Fevret (Les Inrocks: Aug 21, 1991). Via Google Translate.
From Angst & Aquavit by Brendan Bernhard. LA Weekly: September 26, 2001