Zen and longing

Everything about Leonard's 2006 book of poetry and Anjani's album
User avatar
Posts: 25386
Joined: Thu Jun 27, 2002 8:57 pm
Location: Florida, U.S.A.

Re: Zen and longing

Post by lizzytysh » Mon Jan 14, 2008 9:27 pm

Forgive my aphoristic tone, friends; darkness has descended like some terrible otter, and I am alone.
Poetic, Alyosha. I've just enjoyed reading both of your intelligent posts. Welcome to the Forum 8) .

It seems that the Western consumerism seeks to sustain the saudade by continuing to move the goal posts and extending the carrot out further. Interesting to me how Portugal has come into my personal view of late. I very recently bought at a thrift store an album indicated as "STEREO" ;-) on the Monitor label and simply titled "Portugal" ~ the narrow street scene showing the four, youngish boys [11-13 y.o.a., I'd guess], the woman opposite them dressed up for the evening and leaning against the wall with her hands clasped, and the man in pants, suit jacket, and hat, carrying something that looks electronic, walking up the streetway from behind her... the scene was so appealing and the notation of "Portugese Fados and Folk Songs" on the front led me to the back, where it went into a somewhat lengthy description of saudade.

The first two paragraphs are:
If you would understand the fado, and for that matter the Portugese people, you must first know about saudade.

Pronounced sou~da~de, this distinctively Portugese word means yearning or longing. But in the Portugese language saudade has a deeper meaning that permeates the whole Portugese attitude toward the past. It is a kind of wistful nostalgia for old and fondly remembered things now lost. Saudade touches on the full range of human emotions, but love -- usually a lost love -- is always the underlying theme.
I can see how this word would also be used to describe the Western obsession with consumption, causing people to fall in 'love' with their belongings and to feel they must work as hard to get or to keep them, as they might a romantic partner. A love of stuff and the feeling of longing and missing something [as though something very important has or may be lost] if you don't have it. A very powerful tool of manipulation.

~ Lizzy
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
~ Oscar Wilde
Posts: 2140
Joined: Tue May 03, 2005 12:32 am

Re: Zen and longing

Post by Steven » Mon Jan 14, 2008 10:35 pm

"I can see how this word would also be used to describe the Western obsession with consumption, causing people to fall in 'love' with their belongings and to feel they must work as hard to get or to keep them, as they might a romantic partner. A love of stuff and the feeling of longing and missing something [as though something very important has or may be lost] if you don't have it. A very powerful tool of manipulation." -- Lizzy

Hi Lizzy,

Manipulation? Okay. What also comes to my mind, is the word "enchantment" (as used in a
meditation retreat by the facilitator to refer to a kind of distraction that takes
people out of present moment awareness).
User avatar
Posts: 25386
Joined: Thu Jun 27, 2002 8:57 pm
Location: Florida, U.S.A.

Re: Zen and longing

Post by lizzytysh » Tue Jan 15, 2008 12:36 am

Hi Steven ~

Manipulation came to mind because of the subliminal images and messages used in advertising... the unspoken promise that if you smoke Virginia Slims, you'll be surrounded by young, technically beautiful [my own emphasis on technically], men... etc. However, had I been in that meditation retreat... or any meditation retreat, for that matter, the word "enchantment" with its appropos meaning would likely also have come to mind... and I'd have at least included it along with manipulation; in that it's the manipulation that creates the visuals and verbals of the given "enchantment"s. [Well, to my way of thinking, anyway.]

~ Lizzy
"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
~ Oscar Wilde
User avatar
Posts: 43
Joined: Thu Nov 18, 2010 2:29 am
Location: Australia

Re: Zen and longing

Post by lindyasimus » Wed Jan 08, 2014 11:34 am

In That Don't Make It Junk - Leonard "closed the book of longing".

That's a powerful and useful action.

I'll take a leaf from that book.

User avatar
Jean Fournell
Posts: 291
Joined: Thu Jun 20, 2013 4:09 pm
Location: Provence

Re: Zen and longing

Post by Jean Fournell » Thu Jan 09, 2014 9:55 pm

Zen & Longing.jpg
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target
to say nothing of the horse.

... for a while
... for a little while...

(Just a filthy beggar blessing / What happens to the heart)
Posts: 104
Joined: Fri Dec 05, 2014 8:45 pm

Re: Zen and longing

Post by AlexandraLaughing » Sat Apr 04, 2015 7:41 pm

Just caught up with a copy of the Book of Longing last month, so thought I'd add to this long-quiet post. Really interesting and perceptive comments from people on here.

As a Catholic who spent seven years in a convent, I would say that spending a few weeks there does not really give you an idea of what it's like for those who are there longer term. It's a little world with its own rules and its own society, with its own human weaknesses, some of which the structure helps to deal with, and some of which it makes worse. There are important differences with the type of monastery Mt Baldy is- that's mainly for the young, as far as I can see, and people are not necessarily intending to stay for life. Plus the fixation on one guru is quite different from the Catholic monastic tradition (except at the very beginning, with the fourth-century desert Fathers and Mothers). It's more about community and less about one person being the fount of all wisdom.

Partly for these reasons, I found the Book of Longing fascinating. I certainly felt, as LC describes, the joy of being able to be completely selfish once you leave, so that every cup of coffee outdoors in the sun, every minute of doing whatever the hell you want, and going wherever the hell you want, feels like a delicious liberation. All through LC's life, it seems to me, longing is matched by a feeling of being trapped and wanting liberation- running away and savouring the feeling of liberation, and then starting to feel guilty and longing once more. I've known people join a Catholic religious order because they thought it would help them be the best they could be, and I've known people join it as the nearest thing they could find to joining the Foreign Legion. My suspicion is that LC went to Mt Baldy in the spirit of joining the Foreign Legion, and that eventually he realised he had done his time, doused his existential agony enough to be going on with, and that Mt Baldy had ceased to be the solution, or even the medicine, and had itself become the problem.

None of that, of course, speaks to his relationship with Roshi. Roshi was clearly in some ways the love of his life- at least, he was the person LC spent most time with over the years- but in other ways, that relationship was clearly pretty similar to his relationship with a number of women- initially, Roshi was the miracle, the ice that would meet his fire, the balm on his raw longing, the place of escape from all the existential chains, but eventually he himself became a source of entrapment, wanting to wall him into his life and make him his heir. As far as I can tell from the Book of Longing, LC ended up seeing through Roshi and his schtick, but continued loyal to him (mostly) and protected him out of a sense of honour among professional magicians and out of kindness for a flawed fellow human being, as with Layton Irving. And as still understanding what Roshi was trying to do and what he had to offer broken young men (even if recognising the problems with what he was offering hopeful young women).

Leonard Cohen is the man of a thousand personae, the shape-changer and constant rewriter of his own reality, the professional liar, and yet everything he writes is true, not just superficially so. So even his seduction poem 'To a Young Nun' (basically the story of casually using someone in a vulnerable position and then casting her aside, having got what he wanted and left her distraught) tells the truth at many levels. It only gets annoying when he affects to be so surprised that anyone has taken his previous personae seriously, when he put so much effort into building them up. It's quite amusing to see the two interviews with the same journalist, one at Mt Baldy and one afterwards, in which he is equally sincere and equally definite in taking opposing views.

Having said all that, this is a great collection.
Posts: 3805
Joined: Wed Apr 02, 2003 10:07 pm

Re: Zen and longing

Post by Tchocolatl » Mon Apr 06, 2015 8:20 pm

(...) a sense of honour among professional magicians (...)
That deserves a thread of its own.

Not that the terrible otter of the Karamasov brother does not, in my mind, but for the fact that it is too damp - to me, little cozy nature - and that I prefer the warmth presence of some glowing embers to accompany both darkness and solitude.

I don't know what is in the head and the heart of other people, no matter how exposed and intriguing they may be. No matter what we can say about this, we will be tricked and tricked. And tricked. For our most genuine pleasure and benefit because this is why people are going to magicians.

I don't know if it is the listening of Leonard Cohen's artworks, but the more it goes, the more I tend to be "zen", even in my longing. Which is an indeniable plus - to me. Little cozy nature. That I am.
"He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."

Leonard Cohen
Beautiful Losers
Sandra Tenanten
Posts: 11
Joined: Mon Aug 10, 2015 11:22 am

Re: Zen and longing

Post by Sandra Tenanten » Fri Aug 14, 2015 10:13 am

johnny7moons wrote:The thing is, longing seems to be precisely the opposite of Zen. Pretty much every Zen teacher I've ever come across in print or in person teaches a variation on the same theme - we're unhappy precisely because of our longing, and our addiction to longing. When we can accept that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do or to be or to achieve, nothing to long for, then we become free, and the work of Zen is to make us free in precisely this way.
This is not entirely true. Although I agree that Zen is about peace and balance and longing seems to mean an imbalance out of absence, it isn't exactly the case and the two are not incompatible. Let me elaborate. I think that ultimately we are unhappy because we focus on past or future instead of the present. We focus on what we don't have instead of what we do have. And this is a very human reaction to life.

However, longing motivates us and gives us something to stive towards and something to hope for. Once we no longer long for anything, we are not free, but are slaves to a strange kind of complacency that is stifling. We lose purpose and are therefore off balance. If we have "nowhere to go, nothing to do or to be or to achieve, nothing to long for" as you put it, then we really have NOTHING.

I think Zen is really more about not being a slave to your longing. To hope and dream within a way that does not consume your present with constant thoughts of your future. It is more about enjoying the here and now amd being content, all the while having the confidence that everything will work out just as it should in the future. So, longing is a huge part of living a balanced life and is a huge motivating factor for a truly satisfying human experience. When we stop hoping and dreaming for things, we stop living.

This is my interpretation of the fusion Cohen was going for. True balance and freedom is found within contentment and happiness, but this is not atonymous to longing.
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Oct 15, 2018 8:27 am

Re: Zen and longing

Post by Koan2 » Mon Oct 15, 2018 8:50 am

As others have noted you can long and still be zen, but i think the BOL shows he has rejected the need to live in a zen monastery with a bunch of zealots. He has a poem about hating everyone there. I think the song seemed a better way is a final and complete rejection of the zen precepts at least as they were practiced. I lived at mt baldy and met LC, it was a huge battle between the good meditation brought, the ridiculous attachment to rules at the monastary and the hypocrisy ofnthe roshi mixed with the literally altered states of conciousness brought by sleep deprivation silence and meditation. Its extremely complicated to summarize but its clear he came down from the mountain happy to be longing again and ok with jt but perhaps less attached to the outcomes. Its worth noting that the Roshi LC spent so much time with ultimatly was disgraced as a serial groper of virtually every female sudent he was alone with, this was information that was known to LC even when he was at mt Baldy
This supposed enlightened man i suppose didnt long long, he just reached out and squeezed whatever he liked.
Anyway i think it was a sign of maturity and growth that LC moved on, perhaps acknowledging longing is acknolegding humanness, it is an element that sometimes is suppressed in eastern religions, and western ones too, priests arent supposed to long to be touched but ofbcourse they do. Anyway, i dont regret my time meditating but still dont kniw really what it was all about, i think LC is as like.y as anyone to make sense of it, and i think he expresses a huge variety of opinions, i listen to many of his songs through the lens of meditative monastic experience. Some of his best lines make the best sense there in a spaced out spiritual state.
Post Reply

Return to “Book of Longing”