July 30, 2004

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into values/ Robert M. Pirsig

A fellow Seeds O'Light member mentioned this book in one of the email discussion. The title made me curious (I mean, Zen and Motorcycles?) so I quickly obtained a copy from my public library.

I found it to be about attitudes towards life. It weaves a story of a father's journey with his son on a motorcycle trip, ending in a re-awakening and discovery of the author’s real sense of self.
coverFirst published in 1974, the book is Philosophy explained using the analogy of motorcycle repair and maintenance, interspersed with a series of "lecture-essays" - Chautauqua (explanation on p.15: a form of traveling tent-show in early America).

It's quietly brilliant - I'd honestly say it's a timeless classic. Thoughtful, metaphysical (a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of existence, truth and knowledge), movie-like quality, reflective, and insightful.

But it's not an easy read. Parts of it are heavy going. But hey, skip the tough parts and go to parts you like - but stay the course! The ending is worth it. There's a feel-good quality to it.

The 25th edition that I'm holding has a Reader's Guide at the end. I particularly enjoyed the excerpts of correspondence between Robert Pirsig and his editor, James Landis. The letters are a mini-story by themselves, telling you how the book was shaped and eventually published (from June 1968 – Aug 1973).

In the Afterword section, Pirsig shares more about the writing of the book. He also tells of the murder of his son and his eventual closure (p.415 – p.418), much like the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, explained from another perspective.

My favourite passages:
P.61: The idea that people get upset because it's an intrusion into their reality. "It just blew a hole right through his whole groovy way of looking at things and he would not face up to it because it seems to threaten his whole life style." I think that's why people resist change and/ or get upset when proven wrong, or told of what to do etc.

p.152: "You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow... When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt." Hmm...

p.272: What I'd consider as the best advice any parent can give to their child.
Son: "What should I be when I grow up?"
Man: "Honest".
Son: "I mean what kind of job?"
Man: "Any kind."
And I think to myself, it's really just as simple as that.

p. 314 (on the "Trap of Ego"): "If you have a high evaluation of yourself then your ability to recognize new facts is weakened. Your Ego isolates you from the Quality reality. When the facts show that you've just goofed, you're not as likely to admit it. When false information makes you look good, you're likely to believe it... You're always fooled, you're always making mistakes..." - Sounds exactly like the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes"

There's a related discussion forum - http://www.moq.org/

If you enjoy this book, you might like Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (1995):

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