Leonard Cohen was a riveting man who was fascinated with the concept of religion as a tool of healing. Despite being described as a Sabbath-observant Jew, this didn’t stop him studying other religions and walks of life which he could learn vital life lessons from.
Speaking about his relationship with different religions in a 2007 interview for BBC Radio 4’s, Cohen disclosed: “My friend Brian Johnson said of me that I’d never met a religion I didn’t like. That’s why I’ve tried to correct that impression [that Cohen was looking for another religion besides Judaism] because I very much feel part of that tradition and I practice that and my children practice it, so that was never in question.
“The investigations that I’ve done into other spiritual systems have certainly illuminated and enriched my understanding of my own tradition.”
One religion that really stood out to Cohen was Buddhism and he even ended up narrating a two-part documentary which explores the ancient Tibetan teachings on death and dying. The captivating film tells the story of how in Tibetan tradition, the time spent in the between supposedly lasts 49 days after a person’s death. The film provides the viewer with an up-close and personal insight into the Tibetan ceremony which traditionally performed following the death of a villager.
The second chapter of the series, The Great Liberation, follows an old Buddhist lama and a thirteen-year-old novice monk as they guide another deceased person with the text of the Bardo.
The series was produced by The National Film Board of Canada which explains Cohen’s inclusion in the project as he is a prominent Canadian who has a fascination with Buddhism. Two years following the release of this film he was then ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk at the wise age of 62 but he still remained as a firm believer in Judaism.
Speaking to NPR in 2006, Cohen was asked whether he identified as a Buddhist to which he refuted however, he did speak about the things he has gained from the religion that has opened his mind and his open-mindedness towards other cultures is nothing short of inspiring.
The legendary artist disclosed: “I bumped into a man many years ago who happened to be a Zen master. I wasn’t looking for a religion. I had a perfectly good religion. I certainly wasn’t looking for a new series of rituals or new scriptures or dogmas. I wasn’t looking for that. I wasn’t looking for anything exalted or spiritual. I had a great sense of disorder in my life of chaos, of depression, of distress. And I had no idea where this came from. And the prevailing psychoanalytic explanations at the time didn’t seem to address the things I felt.”
Cohen then poignantly added: “So I had to look elsewhere. And I bumped into someone who seemed to be at ease with himself. It seems a simple thing to say he seemed to be at ease with himself and at ease with others. And without ever deeply studying at the time what he was speaking about, it was the man himself that attracted me.”
Watch the captivating film in full, below.