How Leonard Cohen’s Stint As a Buddhist Monk Can Help You Live an Enlightened Life

There is a cer­tain kind of think­ing that the Bud­dha called “mon­key mind,” a state in which our ner­vous habits become com­pul­sions, haul­ing us around this way and that, forc­ing us to jump and shriek at every sound. It was exact­ly this neu­rot­ic state of mind that Leonard Cohen sought to quell when in 1994 he joined Mt. Baldy Zen Cen­ter in Los Ange­les and became a monk: “I was inter­est­ed in sur­ren­der­ing to that kind of rou­tine,” Cohen told The Guardian in 2001, “If you sur­ren­der to the sched­ule, and get used to its demands, it is a great lux­u­ry not to have to think about what you are doing next.”

There at Mt. Baldy the jour­nal­ist and cos­mopoli­tan racon­teur Pico Iyer met Cohen, unaware at first that it was even him. In his short Bac­calau­re­ate speech above to the 2015 grad­u­at­ing class of the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Iyer describes the meet­ing: After show­ing him fond hos­pi­tal­i­ty and set­tling him into the com­mu­ni­ty, Iyer says, Cohen told him that “just sit­ting still, being unplugged, look­ing after his friends was… the real deep enter­tain­ment that the world had to offer.”

At the time, Iyer was dis­ap­point­ed. He had admired Cohen for exact­ly the oppo­site qualities—for trav­el­ing the world, being plugged into the cul­ture, and liv­ing a rock star life of self-indul­gence. It was this out­ward man­i­fes­ta­tion of Cohen that Iyer found allur­ing, but the poet and song­writer’s inward life, what Iyer calls the “invis­i­ble ledger on which we tab­u­late our lives,” was giv­en to some­thing else, some­thing that even­tu­al­ly brought Cohen out of a life­long depres­sion. Iyer’s the­sis, drawn from his encounter with Leonard Cohen, Zen monk, is that “it is real­ly on the mind that our hap­pi­ness depends.”

Iyer refers not to that per­pet­u­al­ly wheel­ing mon­key mind but what Zen teacher Suzu­ki Roshi called “begin­ner’s mind” or “big mind.” In such a med­i­ta­tive­ly absorbed state, we for­get our­selves, “which to me,” Iyer says, “is almost the def­i­n­i­tion of hap­pi­ness.” Cohen said as much of his own per­son­al enlight­en­ment: “When you stop think­ing about your­self all the time, a cer­tain sense of repose over­takes you.” After his time at Mt. Baldy, he says, “there was just a cer­tain sweet­ness to dai­ly life that began assert­ing itself.” Iyer’s short speech, filled with exam­ple after exam­ple, gives us and his new­ly grad­u­at­ing audi­ence sev­er­al ways to think about how we might find that sense of repose—in the midst of busy, demand­ing lives—through lit­tle more than “just sit­ting still, being unplugged” and look­ing after each oth­er.

Note: You can watch a Euro­pean doc­u­men­tary on Cohen’s stint as a bud­dhist monk here.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ladies and Gen­tle­men… Mr. Leonard Cohen: The Poet-Musi­cian Fea­tured in a 1965 Doc­u­men­tary

Young Leonard Cohen Reads His Poet­ry in 1966 (Before His Days as a Musi­cian Began)

Leonard Cohen Nar­rates Film on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Fea­tur­ing the Dalai Lama (1994)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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