Is This What You Wanted: Things Cohenites Like Most About Leonard Cohen – Spiritual Themes

Introduction: Things Cohenites Like Most About Leonard Cohen

The paradoxical popularity of Things Cohenites Don’t Like About Leonard Cohen has prompted a consideration of aspects of Leonard Cohen’s life and work that are most favored by fans. Based on more than a decade of writing about Leonard on my own sites and turns posting on LeonardCohenForum, Facebook fan groups, YouTube, and the official Leonard Cohen Facebook page, I have determined the three categories of posts that most appeal to Leonard Cohen followers. (For the purpose of this series, I’ve eliminated what could be described as “breaking news,” e.g., announcements about album releases, tours, books, etc.). Today’s focus is

#3 Leonard Cohen On Spirituality

The third most popular category of posts among Leonard Cohen fans is his take on matters spiritual. In this case, “spirituality” extends to Leonard’s thoughts on and musical and poetical allusions to Christianity (especially Catholicism), Zen Buddhism, Judaism, Hindu philosophy, Hare Krishna… or, as Leonard himself put it,

I participated in all these investigations that engaged the imagination of my generation at that time. I even danced and sang with the Hare Krishnas—no robe, I didn’t join them, but I was trying everything.1

It’s notable that Leonard refuted the notion of himself as religious:

I’ve never thought of myself as a religious person. I don’t have any spiritual strategy. I kind of limp along like so many of us do in these realms. Occasionally I’ve felt the grace of another presence in my life.2

In fact, the demand for this species persists in spite of Leonard’s protestations that

I am not an expert on either sex nor spirituality.3

Below are a handful of representative Leonard Cohen quotations in this category that have proved especially popular:

The ideas in Zen, I’m not sure what they are, because I’ve only known one old man [Roshi]. I don’t know how authentically he represents his tradition. I just know that he’s provided a space for me to kind of dance with the Lord, that I couldn’t find in a lot of the other places I went to.4

There was something in it [Judaism] for me. I still had to go whoring after false gods, and maybe I’m still in the bed of one, but there was something about what I saw. I grew up in a Catholic city, and my Catholic friends have horror stories about what Catholicism is, and my Jewish friends have horror stories about what Judaism is. . .I never had them. I never rebelled against my parents. Even when I was taking acid and living at the Chelsea Hotel and feeling miserable about myself, it never occurred to me once to blame my situation on my family, my city, my religion, or my tribe. So, I always thought it was great — what they were practicing — and I’ve tried to keep it up in my own half-assed way.5

The relation between man and the divine represents a hunger that humans have. So there’s always going to be some kind of effort to make sense of the whole affair, and religion seems to have been, until quite recently, the technology with which we tried to comprehend the whole affair.6

Buddhist meditation frees you from God and frees you from religion. You can experience complete at-homeness in this world.7

I grew up in a Catholic city, and all through Quebec the church is very strong. And I had an Irish-Catholic nanny; because my father was sick and my mother was usually at the hospital taking care of him, I was brought up part Catholic in a certain way. The figure of Christ touched me very early in my life. My radical Catholic friends were very angry at me for this Christological infatuation. Because they had really been oppressed by the church. To me it was romance. And there were many georeligious ideas I could speculate on. For one thing, I could see Christianity as the great missionary arm of Judaism. So I felt a certain patronizing interest in this version of the thing. I didn’t have to believe it. But I was talking today to a friend of mine, and it came to me that Christ’s image is just the perfect symbol for our civilization. It’s a perfect event for us – you have to die to survive. Because the personality is crucified in our society. That’s why so many people collapse, why the mental hospitals are full. Nobody can survive with the personality that they want, which is the hero of their own drama. That hero dies, it’s massacred, and the self that is reborn remembers that crucifixion. And we’re doing that every day. This Christian myth at the center of our society is very good. It’s workable.8

I’m not and never have been on a spiritual journey. I recognize there is a greater power. I’m just the secretary taking down notes.9


From ”Leonard Cohen in His Own Words” by Jim Devlin

More Things Cohenites Like Most About Leonard Cohen

#3 Spiritual Themes
#2 The Women In His Life
#1 Photos

Credit Due Department: Photo of Leonard Cohen’s final bow at the Dec 12, 2010 Las Vegas show atop this post taken by J.S. Carenza III. Photo of Leonard Cohen in Indian synagogue by Ratnesh Mathur. Photo of Montreal’s The Lady of the Harbour by Sally Hunter.

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Jun 8, 2018.

  1. From Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker by David Remnick (New Yorker: October 17, 2016) []
  2. From Leonard Cohen Corrects Himself: ‘I Intend to Stick Around Until 120’ by Chris Willman (Billboard: Oct 14, 2016) []
  3. Je Ne Suis Qu’un Poete Mineur [I’m Just A Minor Poet] by Gilles Medioni, L’Express (France): October 4, 2001 [via Google Translate] Found at Leonard Cohen French Web Site. []
  4. “I Am The Little Jew Who Wrote The Bible” — A Conversation Between Leonard Cohen And Arthur Kurzweil held November 23, 1993. Accessed at LeonardCohenFiles. []
  5. Jewish Book News Interview With Leonard Cohen By Arthur Kurzweil And Pamela Roth: 1994. []
  6. From Aurora Online With Leonard Cohen by Marco Adria. Aurora: July, 1990. []
  7. The Profits Of Doom by Steve Turner. Q Magazine: April 1988. []
  8. Leonard Cohen’s Nervous Breakthrough by Mark Rowland, Musician, July 1988. []
  9. A Night With Leonard Cohen by Timothy J., Program Manager, Starbucks: February 21, 2012. []

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