First song he made was Villanelle For Our Time, a jazz improvisation on FR Scott’s poem, with Anjani, on May 6, 1999 . In June he published this drawing on The Files: (read The Webmaster’s Note also).
Cohen entered the Mount Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles in 1994, shortly after his tour promoting The Future. In 1996, Cohen was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk,2 taking the Dharma name Jikan.3 (Cohen frequently refers to himself as “Jikan The Useless Monk” in “The Book of Longing.”)
By his own account, Cohen was chiefly motivated by his desire to be in contact with the Zen Center’s founder, Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, Roshi.
Published in Buzz in April 1998, the year before Cohen left Mount Baldy, Leonard Cohen Unplugged by Pico Iyer provides a sense of Cohen’s life during his stay at the Zen Center as well as Iyer’s thoughts on how the Zen Center experience integrates with Cohen’s career and personal history. Excerpts follow:
Then, since I will need some clothes to join him in the austerities for which he has invited me, this Talmudic-looking gentleman leads me off into the chill, unlit night to collect a gown and cap and pair of canvas sneakers for me. His home is a markedly simple place, with a small black WELCOME mat outside its door. Inside, a narrow single bed, a tiny mirror, a dirty old carpet, and a picture of some puppies cavorting under the legend “Friends Are All Welcome.”
Farther inside, a pair of scissors, a few Kleenexes, a small shoulder bag with a Virgin airlines tag around it, and on a chest of drawers, a menorah. “This place is really quite a trip,” he says, smiling. “You enter a kind of science-fiction universe which has no beginning and no end.” His own ragged gown, I notice, is held together with safety pins. The small Technics synthesizer in the next room is unplugged.
Of course, he says impatiently, he can’t explain what he’s doing here. “I don’t think anybody really knows why they’re doing anything. If you stop someone on the subway and say, ‘Where are you going – in the deepest sense of the world?’ you can’t really expect an answer. I really don’t know why I’m here. It’s a matter of ‘What else would I be doing?’ Do I want to be Frank Sinatra, who’s really great, and do I want to have great retrospectives of my work? I’m not really interested in being the oldest folksinger around. …
“Would I be starting a new marriage with a young woman and raising another family? Well, I hated it when it was going on” – signs of the snarl beneath the chuckle – “so maybe I would feel better about it now. But I don’t think so.
“What would I be doing? Finding new drugs, buying more expensive wine? I don’t know. This seems to me the most luxurious and sumptuous response to the emptiness of my own existence. “I think that’s the real deep entertainment,” he concludes. “Religion. Real profound and voluptuous and delicious entertainment. The real feast that is available to us is within this activity. Nothing touches it.” He smiles his godfatherly smile. “Except if you’re courtin’. If you’re young, the hormonal thrust has its own excitement.”
Before I leave, he catches my eye, and his voice turns soft.
“We are gathered here,” he says, “around a very, very old man, who may go tomorrow. So that gives an urgency to the practice. Everybody, including Roshi, is practicing with a kind of passionate diligence. It touches my heart. It makes me proud to be part of this community.”…
“I think that’s real deep entertainment,” he concludes.
“Religion. Real profound and voluptuous and delicious entertainment.”
Leaving Mt. Baldy
By Leonard Cohen (1999)
I came down from the mountain
after many years of study
and rigorous practice.
I left my robes hanging on a peg
in the old cabin
where I had sat so long
and slept so little.
I finally understood
I had no gift
for Spiritual Matters.
‘Thank You, Beloved’
I heard a heart cry out
as I entered the stream of cars
on the Santa Monica Freeway,
westbound for L.A.
A number of people
(some of them practitioners)
have begun to ask me angry questions
about The Ultimate Reality.
I suppose it’s because
they don’t like to see
old Jikan smiling.
Credit Due Department:
- Tom Sakic, who is responsible for A Thousand Kisses Deep, a primary Leonard Cohen reference site, not only generously allowed the materials he had posted on LeonardCohenForum to be used in this Heck Of A Guy entry but also provided valuable background information about Cohen’s departure from Mount Baldy and its implications. [↩]
- Wikipedia [↩]
- “Silent One” [↩]