Is singer Leonard Cohen Jewish and Buddhist?

Yes, songwriter and singer Leonard Cohen is a Jew. And yes he practices Buddhist meditation, but he says he does not accept Buddhist religious beliefs.

The Times reports and has a more complete audio of an interview with Cohen. The end of their article says:
About the meaning of those songs, Mr. Cohen is diffident and elusive. Many are, he acknowledges, “muffled prayers,” but beyond that he is not eager to reveal much.

“It’s difficult to do the commentary on the prayer,” he said. “I’m not a Talmudist, I’m more the little Jew who wrote the Bible,” a reference to a line in “The Future,” a song he released in 1992. “I feel it doesn’t serve the enterprise to really examine it from outside the moment.”

Mr. Cohen said he hoped to make a new record when the tour ends, and offered to play one of his newer compositions. Tentatively called “Amen,” it features a Farfisa-style keyboard, a trumpetlike solo played by Mr. Cohen on his synthesizer and lyrics like this: “Tell me again when the filth of the butcher is washed in the blood of the lamb.”

Jennifer Warnes, the singer whose 1986 recording of “Famous Blue Raincoat” helped revive interest in Mr. Cohen at a time when he was out of critical favor, said: “He has investigated a lot of deities and read all the sacred books, trying to understand in some way who wrote them as much as the subject matter itself. It’s for his own healing that he reaches for those places. If he has one great love, it is his search for God.”

Mr. Cohen is an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath even while on tour and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. So how does he square that faith with his continued practice of Zen?

“Allen Ginsberg asked me the same question many years ago,” he said. “Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief.”

Zen has also helped him to learn to “stop whining,” Mr. Cohen said, and to worry less about the choices he has made. “All these things have their own destiny; one has one’s own destiny. The older I get, the surer I am that I’m not running the show.”
The Concert was taken off the NPR site -- but you can hear the Times interview at the Times (click on the link on the left for the audio for Zen and Judaism).

NPR Set List

  • "Dance Me to the End of Love"
  • "The Future"
  • "Chelsea Hotel"
  • "Tower of Song"
  • "Suzanne"
  • "The Partisan"
  • "Hallelujah"
  • "Recitation With N.L."
  • "Take This Waltz"
  • "So Long Marianne"
  • "First We Take Manhattan"
  • "Democracy"
If you don't know Mr. Cohen, you may need to develop a taste for him. He's like scotch whiskey. The first time you sip it, you wonder if it's any good. Over time, not much really, you decide that it indeed has much merit.[Cohen was in NYC this week at radio city - reposted from Feb.]

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