Going Clear On Leonard Cohen & Scientology

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Leonard Cohen At Scientology Dianetics Course – New York Org

Note: Leonard Cohen’s brief connection with Scientology is periodically rediscovered, triggering a flurry of sometimes contentious discussion and comments. Concerns about mind control are bandied about, lists of celebrity Scientologists are examined, and Cohen’s songs, poetry, and novels are assiduously searched for references to Dianetics. This post summarizes what is known about Leonard Cohen’s experience with Scientology as a convenience to readers. (The principles of Scientology, other than “clear,” are not directly addressed in this post but are easy to research online.)

Going Clear

Question: Some of the articles about you over the years have indicated that you’ve dabbled or more than dabbled in various kinds of spiritual paths. Is the line, “Did you ever go clear?” from Famous Blue Raincoat a Scientology reference?

Leonard Cohen: It was a Scientology reference.1 I looked into a lot of things. Scientology was one of them. It did not last very long. But it is very interesting, as I continue my studies in these matters, to see how really good Scientology was from the point of view of their data, their information, their actual knowledge, their wisdom writings, so to speak. It wasn’t bad at all. It is scorned, and I don’t know what the organization is like today, but it seems to have all the political residue of any large and growing organization. Yes, I did look into that and other things. from the Communist Party to the Republican Party, from Scientology to delusions of myself as the High Priest rebuilding the Temple.2

About that “going clear” thing …

Question: With Scientology, did you ever ‘go clear’?

Leonard Cohen: Probably.

Question: Officially?

Leonard Cohen: No.3

From The Biographies

Cohen’s dislocated situation in New York led him to exploring different sexual, spiritual and pharmaceutical pathways, and one was Scientology. In 1968, as he was driving down Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, with Joni Mitchell, she spotted a building with a number of women wearing saris and handing out material. Above the door a large sign which read “Scientology”. “What is Scientology?” she asked Cohen. “Oh, some crackpot religion,” he replied. A few weeks later, he called form New York to say that he’d joined them and that they were going to rule the world. But a few months later, Cohen told Mitchell he was disenchanted and that he’d had some difficulty extricating himself from it. Initially, Scientology offered the goal of a ”clear path”, (“Did you ever go clear?” he asks in “Famous Blue Raincoat”). Cohen had also heard that it was a good place to meet women. On June 17th, 1968, Cohen received a Scientology certificate awarding him “Grade IV – release.”4

More specifically, Cohen’s certificate confirmed him as a “Senior Dianetic, Grade IV Release.”  In addition to Cohen’s general disenchantment with Scientology, he was also angry that “the organization had begun to exploit his name.”5

It Turns Out The Scientology Center Was A Place To Meet Women

Suzanne Elrod, who is the mother of Leonard Cohen’s children, Adam and Lorca, gives this account of their meeting:

It was early Spring 1969. We both seemed to have signed up for a Scientology class the same day. He was getting into the elevator at the Scientology Center as I was coming out of it and our eyes locked. Some days later, we both took seats near each other. Although I had another person I was living with, I left that relationship immediately for Leonard and moved into the Chelsea with him.6

Scientology As One More Exploration

“I was always going off the deep end” – Leonard Cohen

Question: Your last album, The Future, was successful and you had a fiancee, Rebecca de Mornay — and you left to live in a monastery?

Leonard Cohen: Well, I was always going off the deep end, so it was no radical departure. When I finished my tour in ‘93 I was approaching the age of 60 and my old friend and teacher Roshi was approaching the age of 90, and I thought it would be the right moment to spend some more time with him. So I entered a monastery 6,500 feet up on Mount Baldy and I stayed there for six years as his cook, among my many duties. I’d always been associated with Roshi and his community — for 30 years. He’s 94, in radiant health. He’ll probably outlive most of his students.

Question: What were you looking for?

Leonard Cohen: I wasn’t looking for a new religion or another list of dogma.

Question: Since the ’60s you have often appeared to be enjoying the hunt — I Ching, Scientology…

Leonard Cohen: Yes, I participated in all those investigations. I even danced and sang with the Hare Krishnas. No robe — I didn’t join them! But of course I was interested in all these matters that engaged the imagination of my generation at the time.7

So, Leonard Cohen, the descendent of a long line of rabbis, a frequent attendee at his nanny’s Catholic church, an ordained Buddhist monk who spent five years in a Buddhist monastery, a student of Hinduism with a guru in India, a chanter of the Hare Krisna mantra, and a reader of the Bible and the Bhagavad-gita, was briefly involved with Scientology.8,9 As the man says, “It was no radical departure.”

Credit Due Department: Photo found at Blast From The Past

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  1. The pertinent lyrics from Famous Blue Raincoat follow:

    Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
    She said that you gave it to her
    That night that you planned to go clear
    Did you ever go clear?

    From Wikipedia-Clear: “Clear” is the condition in which Scientologists say a person is free of the influence of unwanted emotions and memories of trauma. Source: Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard (1950) []

  2. Jewish Book News Interview With Leonard Cohen by Arthur Kurzweil And Pamela Roth: 1994. []
  3. Felonious Monk by Sylvie Simmons. MOJO: November 2001. Accessed 27 June 2014 at Speaking Cohen []
  4. Various Positions by Ira Nadel. New York: Pantheon, 1996. P 60 []
  5. I’m Your Man by Sylvie Simmons. Ecco: 2012 []
  6. I’m Your Man by Sylvie Simmons. Ecco: 2012 []
  7. Felonious Monk by Sylvie Simmons. MOJO: November 2001. Accessed 27 June 2014 at Speaking Cohen []
  8. Given that Leonard Cohen seems to have never met a cult he didn’t like, I believe that if he had spent some time in my native Ozarks, there might be an album or two with references to Serpent Handling. Heck, that odd chanting he does in his stage performances of “Darkness” sound a lot like speaking in tongues to me. []
  9. Of course, Mr Cohen has been accused of heading his own cult. See Oh My Cohen! They’re Calling Us A Cult []

2 responses to “Going Clear On Leonard Cohen & Scientology

  1. Darlene Nordstrom

    Last year came across an entire set of “The Basics” and “Clearing Courses” still in shrink wrap. Thought – I can sell these at the local Scientology org. Went down there but no takers. The damn things go for $3,000. Got curious, opened some up, listened and LRH just cobbled together his philosophy from earlier writings and then added his special touch of sci fi – Xenu. Checked out a bunch of exscientologist websites and was amazed at the folks who followed this guy. I especially enjoy Jason Beghe’s youtube video explaining his involvement. So, I’m keeping the CD’s and books for the next billion years; should be worth more then. I’m as clear as it gets and as OT as I’ll ever be! Interesting to see that LC even took a look at Dianetics.

    • Hi Darlene,
      I’m curious for more details on these materials you came across. “The Basics” I presume would be the basic books, which were poshed up and republished a few years back. But the “Clearing Courses”? There is only one Clearing Course and is something one solo-audits and is confidential. If Xenu was mentioned in the CDs, then that would make them OT Level stuff and definitely confidential. But then, if they were, the people at the local org would have confiscated them on the spot, unless the person you spoke with was a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic.