November 2016: The generosity of Leonard Cohen

Jikan Leonard Cohen was a true mensch, a devoted Zen practitioner, a gracious host, and, perhaps surprisingly, an optimist.  What I remember most is his generosity.  Every time I’d knock on the door of his cabin at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, he’d invite me in, often to read me the latest verse of the song he was working on.

He did the schedule.  He got up at 3 every single morning and went to the zendo with the rest of us.  He sat strong, and long.  

We had a good number of lunches at the Greek restaurant down the hill from the monastery.  I smoked my first and last cigarette with him there, talking about Greece, his family, my family, practice.  He was always so easy to be with.  

For his ordination I was the head monk, and he wanted to serve Kentucky Fried Chicken and champagne afterwards. That was so like him–to put two seemingly opposite things together and to make something beautiful out of it.

We stayed in touch every now and then after I left Mt. Baldy to come to Vashon.  I saw him last two years ago at Roshi’s funeral.  He said what a nice scene we had up here.  He was bummed we didn’t produce paper newsletters anymore-he always enjoyed reading them.  He was one of this Zen Center’s most steadfast and generous supporters.  

25 of us gathered at the Zen Center this Sunday to sit together, discuss the recent election, and to chant the Namu Kara Tan for Jikan. We sat zazen while listening to “Anthem”.

Leonard Cohen’s music isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Some people find it too dark, and they might find Zen to be too dark as well.  But it was a deep conviction for him, of which his Zen practice was a part, that it’s darkness that gives birth to the most beautiful light; that brokenness gives birth to wholeness;  that sorrow is necessary on the road to love:

“I will greet you from the other side of sorrow and despair, with a love so vast and shattered it will reach you everywhere.”