Zen and Leonard Cohen

LEONARD COHEN – My Zen Whispererby John "Krishna" BushI met Leonard again, looking like this, at two different week-long Zen sesshins with Sasaki Roshi in the early 80’s. Ram Dass and I traveled to one the year before and it was profound. Now Leonard, an old student of Roshi, was serving as Shoji, an officer of the zendo and fellow practitioner who cared for our physical needs, like getting me some aspirin.leonard-cohenHis kind approach helped ease me into the rigor of waking at 3:30 am and meditating through the day til 10 pm, in black robes, two rows facing each other, sitting straight up, cross legged, hands in mudra, no movement allowed, no closing of eyes, meals taken in silence still on the pillow. Walking meditation in line like a centipede.

Leonard deepened my sense of the protocols around meeting the zen master twice a day for koan testing. In a soft voice he said that when around Roshi he “hears tiny silver bells ringing in the air.” Already hugely successful, and able to do anything, Leonard chose to do this for more three decades. Roshi died at 107.The other zendo officer, the Jikijitsu, walking with a bamboo sword to keep you awake when nodding - with a deep bow, a few thwacks to each shoulder blade, followed by another bow. How the samurai were humbled into becoming monks.At the end of the week, ego was parked in the corner and I was opened up inside, the dualism had fallen away and I was looking forward to entering the world anew.The last night, after the sesshin ended, Leonard went out and came back with two large bottles of Cognac. Not my usual Buddhist retreat. Those of us who remained got pretty well lubricated, telling stories and singing songs. Yet it still seemed ritualized, so I asked Leonard what was the purpose. He said with kindness “to wash away the stench of enlightenment.”The next morning I left with a major hangover and an understanding that true perfection was greater in its apparent absence.

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