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Jewish Journal

Leonard Cohen Back on the Road, Still Looking for God

by Danielle Berrin

March 4, 2009 | 9:00 pm

Leonard Cohen, courtesy The New York Times

Nothing like having your business manager abscond with all your assets while you’re meditating on a mountaintop. Such was the unfortunate fate of singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen,  according to an article in The New York Times. Cohen spent five years at a Los Angeles Zen Buddhist Monastery only to return to a shadow of a life. Cohen’s complete financial disregard and naive trust of the manager who robbed him, left him virtually penniless. (A court awarded him $9.5 million but he hasn’t collected a dime, wrote the Times).

In an effort to recover what he lost and tout his newfound spiritual zen, Cohen is back on the road after a fifteen year absence, he told The New York Times. This time, the Sabbath-observant Buddhist is looking to reverse his fortunes—quite literally. And instead of using spirituality to transcend worldly desires, Cohen is on a spiritual journey to get them back.

Cohen tells The New York Times:

“It was a long, ongoing problem of a disastrous and relentless indifference to my financial situation,” Mr. Cohen said on Friday of the resulting legal proceedings, which awarded him $9.5 million — money he has yet to collect. “I didn’t even know where the bank was.”

His spirituality, however, has helped streamline his life. There are even similarities, he says, between meditating and touring:

“There’s a similarity in the quality of the daily life” on the road and in the monastery, Mr. Cohen said. “There’s just a sense of purpose” in which “a lot of extraneous material is naturally and necessarily discarded,” and what is left is a “rigorous and severe” routine in which “the capacity to focus becomes much easier.”

However, it hasn’t helped him focus on his business savvy.

“My sense of ownership with these things is very weak,” he responded. “It’s not the result of spiritual discipline; it’s always been that way. My sense of proprietorship has been so weak that actually I didn’t pay attention and I lost the copyrights on a lot of the songs.”

But the confounding question is how he maintains his identity as both an observant Jew (he keeps the Sabbath even on tour) and a practicing Buddhist.

“Allen Ginsberg asked me the same question many years ago,” he said. “Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief.”

Zen has also helped him to learn to “stop whining,” Mr. Cohen said, and to worry less about the choices he has made. “All these things have their own destiny; one has one’s own destiny. The older I get, the surer I am that I’m not running the show.”

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