Review: Matters of Vital Interest

We review “Matters of Vital Interest: A Forty-Year Friendship with Leonard Cohen” by Eric Lerner.

Andrea Miller
13 September 2019

Matters of Vital Interest: A Forty-Year Friendship with Leonard Cohen

By Eric Lerner
Da Capo Press 2018; 304 pp., $27 (cloth)

In 1977, Eric Lerner was doing his very first sesshin—an intensive Zen meditation retreat—when he met Leonard Cohen. Cohen was the jikijitsu, the zendo leader, and he wore a placid expression despite the arduous schedule. On day five, Lerner, taking a quick break, went to an isolated area behind the main building. Cohen happened to already be there, smoking a cigarette, and it seemed to Lerner that Cohen asked him a silent question: What in the world are a couple of smart Jewish boys like us doing here? This exchange marked the beginning of an intimate dharma friendship that is beautifully chronicled in Matters of Vital Interest. For decades, the two men were united in their certainty “that there is something ineffable yet more real to the universe than anything we could touch, taste, or fuck” and they endeavored to uncover it. They also shared meals, joys, sorrows, creative pursuits, and—in my opinion—far too many drinks.

Andrea Miller

Andrea Miller

Andrea Miller is the editor of Lion’s Roar magazine. She’s the author of Awakening My Heart: Essays, Articles, and Interviews on the Buddhist Life, as well as the picture book The Day the Buddha Woke Up.