Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums

Would you say that Leonard's lyrics are influenced by Buddhist thought?

Yes, throughout his career
26
76%
Yes, since Mount Baldy
5
15%
No, not even after Mount Baldy
1
3%
I have no idea
2
6%
 
Total votes: 34
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remote1
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby remote1 » Tue Apr 13, 2010 11:56 pm

Hi Humbled

Thanks for your thanks, you're most welcome, and also for the book suggestion; much appreciated!
humbled wrote:. . . it was not a consideration relative to culture and the myths that informed them.
I am not sure I fully understand your argument, so I apologise if this is totally beside the point. I am wondering what you make of texts such as The One Thousand and One Nights or Solomon's Song of Songs, to pick a couple.

I am not sure that "romantic" love is actually a cultural invention (unlike arranged marriages, monogamy, polygamy etc.); I tend to see love, as well as sexual desire, as pretty universal and essential human attributes...
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby holydove » Wed Apr 14, 2010 4:30 pm

Remote 1, thank you for your post. I also wish I knew who I am. . . what I would say is that the study/practice of Buddhism has helped me to be more comfortable with the not knowing - I'd say that's part of its purpose - because a major focus of the meditation is to become more familiar with your own mind, & in that process you also somehow become more familiar/comfortable with the very tenuous nature of a reality that we usually perceive as pretty solid; &, obviously, our minds/knowledge/sense of self are part of that reality. . .

I was also thinking about how we have all gotten a little bit off topic in this thread (ultimately, I think maybe it's alright, & maybe not REALLY off topic, as it is still connected to wanting to understand Our Wondrous Man), but if you ever want to discuss something that you feel is not appropriate for "public" post, please feel totally free to send me a PM or an email - I'll always be happy to discuss anything you wish. . .
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby remote1 » Wed Apr 14, 2010 6:12 pm

Hi Holydove
Thanks for your kind offer. 8)
Perhaps we should also have a thread in the "Everything Else" section entitled "What is Buddhism?" :D
But for now, I agree, let's go back to the lyrics!
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby humbled » Wed Apr 14, 2010 9:03 pm

Hi,
Based on the last two posts it appears the idea is to move this back to the post title topic. So I will refrain from answering the questions recently brought up. I will help lead it back to the topic by saying simply that I think understand a bit better why people see a Buddhist influence when I didn’t, at least not specifically.

I couldn’t understand for example why duality, or the ineffable, or reincarnation, etc. are seen as Buddhist when they are really seen in most Eastern-based mythologies and in fact came to Buddhism at a very late stage of that mythological base’s history. It appears to be two reasons: personal experience/inclination and/or knowing Cohen’s history with Buddhism. However we have also seen demonstrated that what one person can see coming straight from Buddhist texts another can see coming straight from the texts of Judaism. So again, how is it Buddhist in nature? I was assuming people were being much more literal; which would have been more interesting and informative for me.

To get back to the lyrics I don’t see how many can see anthem as obviously Buddhist influenced with these lines:

The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free…


It would seem to me to be using the Holy Spirit as metaphor, hardly directly from Buddhism. But, taking the “broader view” I could interpret these (seemingly) Christ-facing lyrics:

And when He knew for certain
Only drowning men could see Him
He said,"All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them

But He, Himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone…


As being Buddhist influenced. Jesus on “Holy Rude” is Buddha under the “Bodhi Tree” the metaphors are EXACT! You can go much further: Jesus with three temptations the Buddha with three temptations; even to the point of followers: you don’t need to be Federico Fellini to see that St. Peter and Ananda are the same character. So, for me, taking it pedantically enough to see it as one vs. the other misses the metaphor and taking it “broadly” enough to see it both ways dissolves the Buddhist or Christian inflection!

I am beginning to think maybe you guys are just waaaaay smarter than me. Don’t worry that is usually the case!
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby holydove » Thu Apr 15, 2010 4:47 pm

Humbled, I don't think the verses you mentioned in your post have any connection to Buddhism at all.
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby humbled » Thu Apr 15, 2010 5:31 pm

Hi,
I was wondering if you see any similarities in the mythologies of the Christ figure and the Buddha. Even the age when they began teaching is very close. There is a range if you look across Christian writing but mostly it is given as 33 years. I believe the Buddha was 35 years old, is that correct? This age has an enormous mythological significance. Did you see the influence in Cohen’s songs before you knew he was interested in Buddhism, was it because of your interest or did it just seem obvious regardless?

I really like the ideas here, even if I don't really agree with them and am struggling to understand what you all are seeing.
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby remote1 » Thu Apr 15, 2010 7:12 pm

Hi Humbled

Perhaps your first quotation from Anthem refers back to one of my first posts: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=21054#p218919
I would be interested to hear about the Holy Spirit as metaphor idea, if you're happy to expand on that... My idea was that Buddhism, from what I gather, teaches that wars, and the whole destructive side of humanity, is not something that will go away, and it has to be accepted as intrinsically part of the human condition. But there again, I may have got that wrong. As I have said many times, I know very little about Buddhism...

As for your question regarding the relation between Christ and the Buddha, it is probably one for Holydove or possibly someone else. I have no idea! :D

Cheers!
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby humbled » Fri Apr 16, 2010 12:43 am

Hi Remote:

I was directing it at Holydove but wanted anyone who cared to reply so I resisted directing it to her.

To answer you:
The reason I specifically pointed to the obvious Holy Spirit based metaphor is because that idea is western in nature. This is why it just could not fit in a song that was entirely based in Buddhist thought. A Buddhist just would not know what to do with such a concept.

Just to go off on a little tangent here; if you want to take the song as having just some Buddhist inflection then the song can really be looked at in a deeper sense, in that Cohen may have been using the HS ideology against the Buddhist inflection in the song and you would get a whole new layer to investigate.

Basically the idea of the Holy Spirit is that which is the “go-between”, between God and man. Man and God are forever apart and since the fall in the garden apart in two ways. Through Christ we have been reunited with God (at least been given the personal chance now). You still cannot, however, aspire to be God in western mythology -- that would be blaspheme and got the devil into Dutch as you recall. So we need an intercessor – the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine a Buddhist using an intercessor between God (them) and them (them). It’s like “In God We Trust” what can a Buddhist make out of that? What about a Hindu: Shiva Hung, I am Shiva is the prayer you pray! I am God! or tat tvam asi: YOU are THAT!

So the Holy Spirit intercedes BUT is part of the Trinity of the Godhead (is God!). Which is why in Catholic school the basic explanation of the Trinity is: ‘think of a Shamrock…OK, get it? No? That’s the need for faith…ahhhh… Next on to the lesson on sin!’ They can detail that for you boy! It is tough enough to have the faith to understand it as a Christian.

It becomes absolutely essential in that Christ is born from a woman but is really God. How does that happen? Because the Holy Spirit impregnates her through the ear in a Virgin Birth. Man is not involved so God can remain God and apart. This is a clear Greek influence since in Greek mythology you can’t chuck a rock without hitting a virgin who gave birth. You get the idea that ancient Greek men must have spent a lot of time fishing or something. ;-) It also is seen only in the Gospel of Luke (who WAS Greek) and Mathew. It is generally believed what we know as the "Synoptic Gospels" (this excludes John) were written in Greek and this is why the virgin birth idea was incorporated. Nietzsche said "Wasn't it clever of God to learn Greek in order to write his Gospel, and not to have learnt it better." A swipe at the imperfectness of the grammar; you would have thought God would have know better!

It also helps in an important way in bridging Judaism with Christianity. Christianity is far more different from Judaism at the base (from where it comes?) than with Buddhism. It may have even become a westernization of Buddhism had the Gnostics won the cultural war. This is why the old and new testaments seem to be two completely different things. Read Deuteronomy and then read Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and try to bridge that gap!

Well that is the Readers Digest version of the Holy Spirit from an amateur mythologist. I think you can see how someone like Cohen could play with these ideas.

(Seek not for illumination unless you seek it as a man whose hair is on fire seeks a pond) current translation: Sorry you asked?
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby remote1 » Fri Apr 16, 2010 1:06 am

Wow! Do you get all that from:

The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free…


Very impressive! Thanks for taking the time to explain your thoughts in detail.
No, I'm not sorry I asked. Having said that, it is true that my hair is not on fire! :lol:
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby humbled » Fri Apr 16, 2010 1:21 am

Sorry thought you were asking about the general mythological base. :oops:

As it relates to the song: Cohen is saying (to me) don’t wait for the perfect in all these cases. In the case of the HD it is don’t wait for God to intercede for you to God…go for it! Don’t wait for the “perfect union” with God. That to me is what the song is about and why alluding to the Dove fits wonderfully.

There is a saying “fear the passage of Jesus for he does not come this way again.” If you miss your epiphany it won’t be back. Don’t wait till you’ve got the perfect line figured out to get the girl because “closing time" may come first. Give her your imperfect offering, she probably isn’t waiting for the perfect line and if she is she may miss you (the passing of Christ).

To me Cohen can be very deep.
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby holydove » Fri Apr 16, 2010 9:40 pm

Humbled, sorry my previous post was so brief - I was exhausted & it probably would have been better to not write at all that day. You know sooo much about mythology - wow! And I'm glad you brought up Anthem again, because I think that song contains elements of Judaism, Christianity, and Buddhism. I see that song as a truly monumental work of art (as all of LC's works are, but this one somehow seems especially monumental and Sacred, & so I hesitate to even touch it, but. . .let's perhaps try to do some gradual exploration)

For now, I'd like to just look at the "holy dove" verse/imagery: I think this is both Judaic & Christian, it is a multi-faceted image, & as used in the verse, encompasses more than one level, as it does in the teachings of the religions. So: "the wars they will be fought again/the holy dove/she will be caught again/bought and sold. . . the dove is never free"

The wars can be any wars: religous, political, etc. In Judaism (ancient Jerusalem), white doves used to be sacrificed in the Temple, & because of the Noah story, represent God's love for his people, & is a symbol of purity. The use of the dove for sacrifice would connect with the "bought & sold" reference, because people usually had to buy the animal that they intended to sacrifice - that would be the earthly/historical level.

The spiritual/symbolic level is more complicated. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit (which the dove represents here, as well as in the New Testament) is identified with Sophia, who is identified as Wisdom, & is the partner of Jehovah/God. In Kabbalah, this entity is represented as Hockmah/Wisdom on the Tree of Life (depictions of the tree of life often show a dove sitting on a branch). The Old Testament refers repeatedly to the Hebrew word "ruah" - which is defined as the divine breath/wind/spirit; the spirit of inspiration/truth/prophecy; the spirit which inspires Prophets (one can see how LC, being the Prophet that he is, would connect strongly with this, can't one?) Carl Jung (mystical psychologist & author) saw the union of Jehovah & Sophia as the union that gave birth to Jesus, thereby producing the Trinity.

I also see the holy dove as representing the divine within all of us. As Jesus said: the kingdom of heaven (or God) is within; depending on one's belief system, it can be one's inner connection to God (whatever your concept of God may be); or it can be the realm of divinity/eternity/highest truth that lies within one's own heart. The holy dove being "caught", "bought and sold", "never free", therefore, would refer to how we distort, even imprison, this infinite divine realm - & we do this by distorting the essential teachings of the religions, by turning it into something that it was never meant to be; and we do this by constructing concepts of all kinds, some of which lead to murderous emotions/actions, & some of which lead to outright savage war.

Alot more to be said, but I am now late for an appointment - talk to you later. . .
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby holydove » Tue Apr 20, 2010 8:09 pm

To continue: before I go back to the holy dove imagery, I want to say that the first verse of Anthem contains a practically word-for-word quote of something the Buddha reportedly said; here is one transcription of the Buddha's words (different texts may vary slightly): "Do not dwell in the past/ do not dream of the future/ concentrate the mind on the present moment"; I remember reading something Pema Chodron said about this, that seemed so poignant to me that it still comes into my mind eleven years later: she said that the saddest thing is that, because we are constantly thinking either of past events (which are now gone), or future possibilities (which do not exist), we miss our whole lives, because our minds are never in the present moment. Anyway, back to Leonard's lyrics: "start again/I heard them say/don't dwell on what/ has passed away/ or what is yet to be" - seems like a pretty direct allusion to the words of the Buddha.

Interestingly, the opening lines of the song (right before the "Buddha" words): "The birds they sang/ at the break of day/ start again/ I heard them say" - these lines have the narrator receiving this message from birds; various cultures & religions have seen birds as bearers of heavenly/divine messages, or even as divine revelations in themselves. The bird has also been seen as representing the soul when released from the body, as well as immortality/godliness/transcendence/etc.

Which brings us back to the holy dove imagery in the next verse: turns out this imagery is not only Judaic & Christian. But first to recap for sake of clarity: in Judaism, white doves were sacrificial offerings, offered for purification, at the Temple; they also represent, in Old Testament - the love of God, & divine inspiration; & the dove was also used as a poetic image, many times, in Song of Songs to convey affection/endearment, because it was observed that they mate for very long periods of time.

In Christianity, obviously, it represents the Holy Spirit, or again, "heavenly messenger". Interesting to note here, is that the Holy Spirit is the "entity" in the Trinity that is debated the most, & has the most variations, between different sects, regarding what exactly it is. The Pentecosts have a very interesting take, in that they see the Holy Spirit as directly interacting with, & affecting the lives of individuals; they don't see it as representing, or functioning as, the Church; they say that when people are baptized with the Holy Spirit, the power of the Spirit is released in the lives of the individuals, in the form of natural & supernatural gifts, e.g., tongues & prophecy (so here again, is the Holy Spirit as divine inspiration, or spirit which inspires prophets).

In ancient Babylon, the dove was the symbol of a female deity of love, fertility, war & sex, called Ishtar; there were analogous Semitic goddesses, of Ancient Egypt, Sumeria, & other parts of Ancient Middle East, who were ymbolized by the dove, & represented love & fertility. For the Ancient Greeks, the dove was a symbol of Aphrodite, the goddess of love & beauty, & thus also had erotic connotations. As related to the fertility goddess in these cultures, the dove also became a symbol of love between human beings, & between the deity & the worshipers. The Romans sacrificed doves to Venus, the goddess of love & fertility. A dove whispered in the ear of the prophet Mohammed & was his oracle. It goes on and on. . .

There is also (you guessed it) a Buddhist story called "The Eagle & The Dove", in which Sakra, the King of Gods, turned himself into a dove (& one of his gods into an eagle), in order to test the King of a certain country (Siddhartha Gautama in a previous life), to see if he was indeed the future Buddha, as many people of that civilization were claiming that he was.The dove is not, however, as widely used as a symbol in Buddhism, as compared with other religions/cultures. I find it interesting that in Christianity, the Holy Spirit is male, whereas in all the other religions/cultures that I have read about so far, it represents a female energy.

No more time now, but the next verse, which is also the chorus, has strong allusions to Buddhism, in my view; I will come back to that, probably tomorrow. . .
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby TineDoes » Wed Apr 21, 2010 12:31 am

Thank you Humbled and Holydove for the very interesting and detailed references you have given for the images in Anthem.

Maybe I missed it, or it is too obvious, but I did not read that in general the ‘dove’ is known as the symbol for ‘peace’. In this stanza it relates to ‘the wars’, all wars. Buying and selling of the ‘dove’, could represent ‘betrayal’. Does this stanza not say that peace will always be betrayed and sacrificed over and over?
And that in knowing this we should follow the instruction in the previous stanza: Don't dwell on .....
holydove wrote:back to Leonard's lyrics: "start again/I heard them say/don't dwell on what/ has passed away/ or what is yet to be" - seems like a pretty direct allusion to the words of the Buddha.

I look forward to your coming back to the next verses.

humbled wrote:that would be blaspheme and got the devil into Dutch as you recall.
Humbled , I dont recall. To what are you referring?
"There’s no forsaking what you love ...."

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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby humbled » Thu Apr 22, 2010 2:17 am

Tine Does:
Isaiah 14:14
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High."

This is the blasphemy. In western religion you can try to imitate God you cannot equate yourself with God. Where in Hinduism one prayer is Shiva Hung! I AM Shiva. I am God.

This is the "party" line; the devil suffers for his ambition and arrogance. There is another more “mythological” view in which Satan has been made to suffer because he was in fact God’s greatest lover.

Holy Dove:
I wish this were a thread on mythology, I have so much to say in response to your last posts but I don’t want to turn the thread away from Cohen. I often disagree with you but always find your posts interesting. I guess it is hard to learn much from those we agree with. I especially wish I had the space to speak to your Sophia mention, you actually chose what I consider the most anachronistic verse in the Old Testament. Remember there may never have been a religion that so despised and so completely annihilated the idea of the Goddess as did the Jews. Virtually every line in the OT that speaks of destroying was aimed at peoples who worship a female divinity.

To me you find too many ideas as coming directly from religious texts. I think this has far more to do with coincidence than with process. There are a limited amount of symbols (archetypes of the unconscious, if you want a Jungian perspective) to choose from in dealing with mythology so it is rather easy to see them coming directly from something you have read. For example find a creation myth that does not include water as a main element. I would be surprised if Cohen worked in that way. But I know very little about Cohen nor do I want to. It is too hard for me to gain my own interpretations if I have the artist’s interpretations in mind.

If you could sum up the meaning of the song in a single word and have all the lyrics fit into that meaning what word would you choose?

LOVE your posts!!!
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Re: Are Leonard Cohen's lyrics influenced by Buddhism?

Postby remote1 » Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:38 pm

holydove wrote: No more time now, but the next verse, which is also the chorus, has strong allusions to Buddhism, in my view; I will come back to that, probably tomorrow. . .
Hey Holydove, Looking forward to the chorus, when you have the time. I know it's a lot of work so don't worry too much, but your posts and this thread in general are a pleasure to read. Unfortunately, I can't contribute much at the moment as I have literally ran out of knowledge. But I may have some more questions soon! ;-)
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