Leonard Cohen, Spring 96

Leonard Cohen, Spring 96

I grew up with the songs of Leonard Cohen as part of the sound track: they were both mysterious profound and moving, even though they spoke about matters I didn’t properly understand at the time.

Cohen (September 21, 1934 – November 7, 2016) was one of the first celebrity converts to Buddhism, but also one of the most intelligent, first showing an interest in it at the height of his fame in the 60s.

In the 90s though, he dropped out of his regular life as a musician and entertainer, and took to the life of a zen monk for five years in the Rinzai tradition, and served as personal assistant to Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi, who had a monastery at My Baldy near Los Angeles.

This film was recorded in 1996 by the young French filmmaker Armelle Brusq and records Cohen’s daily routine at the monastery, we sit him sitting in the zendo, cutting vegetables, and many times musing on his past and present life.

We also see him in his kuti working on new songs, some of which would be released when he later returned to lay life around 2000.

He seems from the film to have had a strong relationship with his zen teacher, and reads one of his otherwise unpublished poems in the film, Roshi at 89, which I transcribe here:

Roshi’s very tired, he’s lying on his bed,
He’s been living with the living and dying with the dead,
But now he wants another drink, will wonders ever cease?
He’s making war on war, and he’s making war on peace,
He’s sitting in his throne room on his great original face.
And he’s making war on nothing that has something in its place.
His stomach’s very happy, the prunes are working well,
There’s no one going to heaven and there’s no one left in hell.


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