Leonard Cohen's Going Home And The Gifts Of Ramesh Balsekar

Leonard doesn't have the freedom to refuse God's will in the opening track of Old Ideas, and according to the teachings of Ramesh Balsekar, none of us do. The Indian man whom is often credited by the poet for lifting much of his suffering offers a specific window into Advaita Vedanta that can bring about an internal shift. Whether it's God's will or just the "unfolding of the story of Life," as Balsekar's student-turned-teacher Roger Castillo puts it, everything is predestined. More than a mere self-generated reprogramming, the teaching is something that can be verified for oneself, something that accurately describes human experience but in a way that runs counter to our deeply ingrained beliefs. So while Balsekar's teaching may have relieved the poet Leonard from his self-obsession and helped many others, it leaves the student grappling with difficult challenges. Some of these challenges may have forced the terrible Theodicy expressed in Cohen’s final album. Does this same God really "want it darker?”


The song "Going Home," struck Balsekar student (and friend of Leonard) Wayne Liquorman as very reflective of the guru's teachings.  Balsekar's method points to the cause of all human suffering: the illusion on an independent, isolated controller inside us that dictates the course of our lives. What we thought was an independent, autonomous “I," a personal doer within, is simply an error conditioned into us. In essence, we are all the same manifest consciousness functioning through body-minds that act and react automatically, according to factors we've never had any influence over.   This automatic happening of the story of life could be called, in short, God's will. It’s ultimately not an external, strategizing God, though the poet’s characterization of God as such helps drive the point home. 

I love to talk to Leonard…

.…he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He just doesn’t have the freedom to refuse...

He may speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube...
— Leonard Cohen, Going Home

It can seem like bitter deflation to a self-mythologizer, but being the elaboration of a tube is actually good news. We're off the hook, and so is everyone else. Our functioning is automatic, like the beating of the heart, and believing we can control life only drives us crazy.

My own journey paralleled Leonard's, perhaps on purpose. I never learned music, but I did develop develop a taste for coffee, cigarettes, and depression. After hearing of Leonard's time at Baldy, I lived at a silent monastery for awhile. So when I heard that Ramesh Balsekar had brought Leonard some peace, I began to investigate. These paths led to Roger Castillo, a student of Balskear, whose Satsang I attended this past summer. I did an interview with him below.

Further reading:

Joan Tollifson in Psychology Today on the illusion of free will.

Ramesh talks with Leonard

Roger Castillo’s YouTube page

Contemplative Light’s class on Contemplative Practices