Ode to Leonard Cohen, From a Fellow Zen Monk

by Shozan Jack Haubner, New York Times, 6 December 2016

Shozan pens an exquisite memorial to his fellow Zen monk Jikan (Lenoard Cohen), who died on 7 November.

He had a decades-long relationship with our teacher, the Roshi, and it was my privilege to witness these two powerful men “make relationship,” as Roshi would say.

I think Roshi liked having Jikan around because Jikan did not make any demands on him. They could just sip tea in silence. (Once people start talking, they inevitably start fighting, Roshi said.)

One afternoon, Roshi, 106 years old by then, diminished by both age and a sex scandal that devastated our community and his reputation, had an accident in his adult diapers. As I took Roshi to the bathroom, Jikan filled a basin with warm water, removed his suit coat and cuff links, and rolled up his crisp white sleeves.

“Jikan, I can do that part,” I said.

“I wouldn’t think of it,” he said.

I helped Roshi stand while Jikan knelt behind him and gently wiped him clean.

Watching Jikan serve our teacher, unobsequiously and with intelligence, care and respect, helped take the sting out of my own failures as a writer and as a man. You learn that there is something greater than artistic success when you see a great artist humbling himself. Jikan, like any good monk, was devoted to what his teacher was devoted to.

He and Roshi had a similar project, a shared vision: Roshi taught it, Leonard sang it. With none of Leonard’s eloquence or Roshi’s wisdom at my disposal, I would describe it as the union of contrary things — and then their separation again, and the struggle in between.

In different ways, they each gave their lives to breaking and maintaining silence on what Buddhists call the Great Matter and what Roshi called True Love. Was Leonard an artist consumed by despair? No, his work was shot through with the opposite of despair.

But in Leonard’s world, the opposite of despair was not hope — it was clarity. From this clarity came the vision of a prophet: “I’ve seen the future, brother/It is murder.”

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