Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (Phaedrus, #1) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance discussion

Robert M. Pirsig

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Will Durant In my opinion ,this book is the same as Orlando by virginia woolf cause both of them are concentrateing on the quality of life but in diffrent occasions.

I can say that in this book the motorcycle is like man and the road that they are travelling on is like his lifetime which in the end when u saw life and experience everything in your life u become disappointed because u discover
that life is just an illusion .

Others ideas :

I ask people about it but no one seems to have read it. I can see why -- it's intimidating and takes a great deal of thought to understand. Introduced me to philosophy and conflict between West and East, classical and romantic, and the Church of Reason.
The present-time musings of Zen and motorcycle maintenance, however, are clear and simple instructions on how one might find elusive, but seemingly obvious answers in their own life.
There's a lot of great discussion of philosophy in here. I think it's great for anyone who has or hasn't done a good amount of studying or pondering on the construction of the self and the potential shortcomings of their understanding of the universe.

message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 12, 2008 08:46AM) (new)

I was better able to understand the interelationship between what is aesthetic and what is functional after reading. Pirsig gave the barbecue grill as one of several examples. We can go back as far as Homo Erectus and the Achuelian tool industry to see the function of form and vice versa.

message 3: by Dw (new) - added it

Dw Ha! I was supposed to read this as a college freshman. I found it boring and rambling and didn't read all of it. Now I'm older and randomly needed a book to read - something made me wonder what it was all about so I went & found it and am now reading. With older eyes, it is fascinating.

David I loved the barbecue grill example. It absolutely floored me when he said that assembling the grill is really just a form of sculpture. It's amazing how we've come so far away from reality that we can't see the grill as more than a sum of its parts.

I've been thinking about this example and how I could apply it to my life. Let's say that I buy a grill and am faced with the issue of assembling it. Sure, I can say "this is art, let me sculpt it" but without the instructions I would be worthless. I understand that this is the split between Classical and Romantic thinking. But it still doesn't help me to assemble the grill. =)

Really what I need is a deep Zen-like understanding of the grill. Unfortunately I don't think I can acquire such an understanding on the short ride back from Home Depot =) Did anyone else notice this gap or have any ideas as to how one can close it? Maybe I just need to hire a grill-assembling Zen master.

Camden Drash A grill-assembling Zen master would do you some good there David. Great insights. I'm not done with the book yet but look forward to the grill part.

Matt Lundquist There are a lot of great insights in this book: "The real motorcycle we're all working on is ourselves." In order to work on anything, you need a clear picture in mind (Schematic) of the ideal. Only when you have the perfect motorcycle in mind can you troubleshoot the workings of the real machine. I don't remember the grill example but I do remember the quote "Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind." Only when you have form and function in mind and understand the interrelation of the parts can you achieve peace of mind when you put something together. Especially when it's a car or motorcycle that you may be riding or driving at freeway speeds. Pirsig says that the important thing is to really care about what you're doing. Whether it's maintaining a vehicle or keeping yourself healthy (body & soul) this involves taking responsibility, learning about how things work, rather than relying on someone else to tell you how to do it or fix things for you.

David Kirk Very well put, Matt.

message 8: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 29, 2012 07:37AM) (new)

What I got from Z & TAOMM was the insight into activities that are relevant, i.e. Quality, and those that just waste time. As a carpenter I derived great satisfaction from designing and constructing things. It involved both mind and body to work in harmony. These were my Quality experiences that Pirsig talked about.

I have read other books of philosphy, but none of them have helped in such a practical way as this book.

Karen I must have read this book 35 years ago or so. Parts of it still stick with me. As Christopher mentioned, I liked the emphasis he put upon pride in one's output--signing things that one created, etc. I liked this book enough to try to pass it around, but most seemed overwhelmed by the effort it might take to read it. ::sigh::

Edward This book is pure unadulterated gore and ugliness. But it's a place we all go in our minds sometimes. Some of us find it so engaging we stay there longer than is good for us. I'm glad I read it, but not sure about how it left my outlook.

message 11: by Edward (last edited Nov 01, 2012 12:46PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Edward By the way.... Zen was a book I started because it mentioned motorcycles. I abandoned it after the first few chapters. Then, years later, took it up again. It was well worth it. My life is all about QUALITY now. So few people appreciate this. My daughter (who has acquired brain injury) is reading it on my recommendation. She's taking it all in. Hope she retains the same values I did. Brilliant book. Thanks so much Robert.

tmurphy4 This book actually changed my life. I read it as a late teenager, when I had just completed a year of college. The paradigmatic example of the philosophy of the book, in my mind, is the episode of the brazing of the chain guard. The simple quality of the work performed by the welder, which was truly an act of beauty and art, showed me the value of everyday actions. I have carried this belief to the present day, 35 years later. I strongly recommend this book to all of my young acquaintances, especially young men. One can find inspiration for even the most menial of tasks.

message 13: by John (last edited Aug 21, 2013 04:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Mayfield I first read this book in 1975 on a Pan Am flight from LA to Singapore. It was my first experience in reading a book of Philosophy by way of an Author's experience. I probably would never have finished it except there was nothing else to do on a Pacific cross ocean flight. I can see why it took so long to find a publisher. I did however come to love the book and it's story of redemption from Insanity against all odds. I too was experiencing grave psychological difficulties and a need to escape into some other reality. I was reading two books at the time, the other was a book by Colin Wilson on the Occult. I think reflecting back over these 30 plus years that I must have confused the two stories because unlike Dr. Pirsig I never "cured" my way out of Insanity, I just kept reading the books by the "Wild People" of Wilson's book such as Helena Blavatsky,Oscar Wilde, W.B.Yeats, Rudolph Steiner,Gurdjieff,Aldous Huxley, etc. Naturally I am only part way through the list so check back and I'll let you know how my story came out.********************************BACK after a Month and still a bit nutty but compared to my Wife I am sane as a badger. I will keep adding on to this post as a way of giving a little Chautauqua about my Life and the bike I am on and the road I am traveling.....

message 14: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will On my personal "Top Ten Books of the Twentieth Century" list. I couldn't put it down 35 years ago, and still use some of its philosophy. "I don't know how to define Quality, but I know it when I see it".

I would say "Don't miss it".

message 15: by Christopher (new) - added it

Christopher Campbell Hi guys, newbie here. I'm glad to see a discussion like this.

I too loved the book.

But... I still don't know what QUALITY is. ;)

I understand that was Pirsig's intention -- QUALITY is undefinable. That we have a Zen-like understanding of it. That it's something we just KNOW.

What does this mean to you?

I'm not yet sure what it means to me. I'd love your insights...

message 16: by Henry (last edited Aug 22, 2013 10:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Henry Le Nav I have run into two classes of people regarding ZAMM, those who read it and find that it is one of those watershed experiences of their lives, and those who read it (usually as a college lit assignment) and regard it as a complete waste of time. I am in the former category.

I read this during my mid-life crises years, instead of buying a red sports car and making an ass of myself. I read ZAMM and dreamed of telling my boss to go f--- himself, jump in the car, and go to Montana. Fortunately enough common sense remained through the dropping testosterone levels, and middle aged angst, that the question THEN WHAT? was asked not only by myself but by my loving wife, a realist who fought menopause with far more aplomb than I battled mid-life crisis. My wife saved me from making a bigger ass of myself. I owe my life to her.

ZAMM was a story within a story within a story. On the surface was a guy and his kid on motorcycle trip. Then within that frame work was Pirsig telling Chautauquas about Quality. Within that was Phaedrus, Pirsig's brilliant philosophic internal demon, whose victory over the chairman cost Pirsig his sanity and his family. I suspect that within Phaedrus there may be even deeper embedded stories that are too deep for the likes of me--rhetoric and dialectic. One thing I learned from ZAMM and some of my other readings in life...one can have intellectual pursuits and interests, mount them on your ego like a veneer on cheap furniture, but unless there is some IQ horse power embedded in one's skull, understanding evades one. Such it was with the philosophical battle of Phaedrus and the chairman. I doubt that the analogy of the two horsed chariot will ever sufficiently explain the difference of rhetoric and dialectic to me. I had to be pretty much satisfied with Phaedrus catching the Chairman, the guy who writes articles in Britannica about dialectic, pompously bullshitting the class.

"Were he a real Truth-seeker and not a propagandist for a particular point of view he would not."

Pirsig, Robert M. (2009-04-10). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (p. 383). HarperTorch. Kindle Edition.

Rather than getting some huge overlying philosophy of life from ZAMM, I picked up bits and pieces. I loved the concept of the Chautauqua, a dialogue to not only edify but to entertain. I love the idea of Quality, don't know what the hell it is, but you can recognize it...some mysterious property that defies explanation yet is obvious. Then there was the idea that problems were opportunities for growth. Don't despair at intractable difficulties, do the work to solve them, and learn from it. Problems then become Chautauqaus in the pursuit of Quality. Beware of the gods, the bullshitters in life like the chairman who use power, influence, and position to bullshit their way past Truth and Quality.

Or from the bumper sticker:

Trust those who seek the Truth. Doubt those who find it.

Learn to learn...in the beginning of the book, the narrator makes a big production about the advantages of the motorcycle trip for bonding with his son...horsepower, wind in your face, one with the road and the natural beauty flying by. At the end of the book Pirsig realizes the trip would have been far better in a car. He and Chris were isolated by the noise and the wind...they became prisoners to the motorcycle, conversation and bonding being impossible on the bike, and nights around the campfire spent in exhaustion from having the shit beat out of them by hundreds of miles on the bike.

The final lesson of the book for me was in the afterward. In real life Chris was murdered in 1979. Pirsig then asks:

Where did Chris go? He had bought an airplane ticket that morning. He had a bank account, drawers full of clothes, and shelves full of books. He was a real, live person, occupying time and space on this planet, and now suddenly where was he gone to? Did he go up the stack at the crematorium? Was he in the little box of bones they handed back? Was he strumming a harp of gold on some overhead cloud?

Pirsig, Robert M. (2009-04-10). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance . HarperTorch. Kindle Edition.

I read ZAMM during my mid-life crises, perhaps I should read it again now that I am on the threshold of the "golden years." Perhaps I could gain further insights. I had hoped for such an understanding from John Jerome. His Stone Work: Reflections on Serious Play and Other Aspects of Country Life was another book that greatly affected my life. Zen and the art of rock wall building. Jerome and Pirsig said many of the same things, but Jerome was far easier to understand. I was delighted to find Jerome had written On Turning Sixty-Five: Notes from the Field. Just the thing I needed on the eve of an impending retirement that I was pretty sure I didn't want. Stay and go crazy and die before you are 65, leave and go crazy and die before you are 65. So Jerome was putting this into context. About half way through the book, I thought "gee I wonder what Jerome is doing now?" A quick google search and I was shocked to find out that Jerome, a fitness buff, died two years after the book was published of lung cancer. I tried to go back to the book, upon reading of plans for his future together with his wife, trips and intellectual pursuits designed to stave off mental decline, I couldn't do it. I could not sit and read of optimistic hopes for he and his wife when they were in their 80's knowing full well that he never saw 70.

I am not sure that ZAMM will do for me at 64 what it did at 39. It is a middle aged book. Perhaps I should dust off Jerome and pretend that the golden years will be golden.

Richard Toscan This has been one of those "college reads" for decades, but maybe Zen... is really a book (and a journey) that makes much more sense when we're older and have a broad base of life experience. After all, that was true of Pirsig when he wrote it.

Dennis Cogswell This book holds the world's record for selling more copies than any other philosophy book.

Do you all know about his second, and only other book, "Lila?"

Henry Le Nav Dennis wrote: "This book holds the world's record for selling more copies than any other philosophy book.

Do you all know about his second, and only other book, "Lila?""

I read Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals when it first come out in hardback. I was disappointed. That is not to say that the book didn't have value, but I think I was expecting ZAMM II or the Son of ZAMM, and Lila just didn't live up to my expectations for it. That was undoubtedly the problem...I had expectations.

Scott I liked Lila but I think also had the wrong expectations for it. It is certainly worth reading.

Henry Le Nav Scott wrote: "I liked Lila but I think also had the wrong expectations for it. It is certainly worth reading."

Indeed, I would agree that it is well worth reading, but realize that it is its own work and have no expectations for it from the onset.

I really should read both books again...I think I am too lazy.

message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

What I like about ZATAOMM is that it conveys complex philosophical ideas in straightforward ways by weaving them into the storyline of the book. It is like a 'Pilgrims Progress' for our times, although instead of a overtly Christian message, it is an atheist one. We have all experience times of QUALITY and Pisig draws our attention to the fact that this is worth pursuing.

message 23: by Richard (last edited Aug 29, 2013 01:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Richard Toscan About Lila, Pirsig says in his introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of ZAMM (and included in the 2009 digital edition):

"For more on the real Phaedrus, who is not a villainous ghost but rather a mild-mannered hyperintellectual, let me recommend Lila, a sequel that has been properly understood by very few. Let me also recommend http://www.moq.org on the Internet, a group that is among those few that understand it."

Nicholas Scott wrote: "I liked Lila but I think also had the wrong expectations for it. It is certainly worth reading."


George Jempty Richard wrote: "About Lila, Pirsig says in his introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of ZAMM (and included in the 2009 digital edition):

"For more on the real Phaedrus, who is not a villainous ghost but ra..."

This sort of attitude is precisely the reason I will never read Lila despite having read and enjoyed ZAMM more than once, first as a teenager. To publish writing in the expectation that others should understand it only in a way that you yourself approve, seems delusional and pretentious to me.

George Jempty Henry wrote: "I had to be pretty much satisfied with Phaedrus catching the Chairman, the guy who writes articles in Britannica about dialectic, pompously bullshitting the class.

"Were he a real Truth-seeker and not a propagandist for a particular point of view he would not."

See my previous comment. Pirsig has proven himself to be anything but a truth seeker, but rather apparently a propagandist for his own point of view, and therefore either a blatant hypocrite, or incapable of self-examination.

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

That seems a bit harsh, George. Pirsig had a unique philosophy and story to tell. One of the biggest fears an author can have is that their readers misunderstand what they have to say, and then say disparaging things about the book. As an artist I've had people rubbishing my work just because they couldn't be bothered to do a bit of work towards understanding the content. The reason ZATAOMM is such a best seller is because the book is such a rewarding read. It was a hard act to follow but Lila still has a lot to recommend it.

message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

However, here's another thing that nobody has picked up on. Don't you think that Pirsig is a bit harsh on his son, Christopher? There are times in the book when the poor lad is just feeling lonely and confused, but what does his father do but give him a lecture on Zen, when a hug and being told his dad loved him would have sufficed! I think Pirsig lacked the ability to show human warmth towards anyone, instead internalising it into intellectual dogma.

Henry Le Nav Christopher J wrote: "However, here's another thing that nobody has picked up on. Don't you think that Pirsig is a bit harsh on his son, Christopher? There are times in the book when the poor lad is just feeling lonely ..."

It has been a long time since I read the book, but I thought that was somewhat resolved at the end of the book when Pirsig realized in opposition to his "one with the road" (and wind and noise) thoughts about the motorcycle trip, he realized that the bike had isolated them rather than drawn them together.

Richard Toscan Just came across Stephen Hawking's comment on Pirsig's book:

"I was rather flattered to have my book [A Brief History of Time] compared with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I hope that like Zen, it gives people the feeling that they need not be cut off from the great intellectual and philosophical questions."

Henry Le Nav I think I found A Brief History of Time easier to understand! Both are excellent books.

message 32: by Charles (last edited Nov 03, 2013 11:50AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Charles Bechtel Following Persig's thinking I eventually discovered that one cannot adequately comprehend the value of quality without assessing elegance, and to a degree, grace. Once I got onto elegance as a factor in quality, I began to see that it shifted the inherent aspect of quality to an assessment. The reason for this is that quality cannot have meaning without thinking on it in the way the Heisenberg uncertainty principle intimates that the object observed is changed by the observation.

I began to pursue elegance, and realized that elegance altered quality. To achieve elegance, one must do, and in doing anything, parts will have a function. Can Quality exist without a function in any other way than as a judgment call? Here's what I mean, and what I deduced (reverse that order):

Quality may be an assessment of a part's function as determined by elegance, and elegance is the employment of a part in time and space, with regard to the minimal amount of resources wasted and the maximal amount of benefit derived in completing the task.

The example is this: Although a Mercedes Benz is often referred to as a quality vehicle, if the task at hand was to move manure from one field to the next, there are no parts to an MB that can be exercised in terms of elegance that are not better served by other parts. A more sublime elegance would be to use an old, beat-up Toyota four-cylinder truck, giving all of its parts respect for the qualities it has. Without the function involved, the quality of rustiness would never be assessed, nor identified, and would not/could not exist.

Any takers?

message 33: by Charles (last edited Nov 03, 2013 12:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Charles Bechtel As for 'Lila,' I found it even more clarifying, but not on something so distant and as abstract as Quality. What I got from Lila is that there are four strata to living creatures, each having its demands, each having its triumphs, and each having its necessities. I also learned that the more "primitive" the level, assessed in terms of complexity, the more its qualities will trump those of the more "superior" levels. At the base lies the elemental. Above that is the biological, above that the social, and above that the intellectual. He suggests yet an even farther plane of existence, the spiritual, but that may be only an aspect of the intellectual.

What I got from this assessment is that the requirements of the lower levels always will destroy the existence of the higher if it has needs not met. A society will tear apart an intellectual if it threatens that society. A biological element will destroy a society of the biologic is to survive (think viral plague.) An elemental will destroy a biologic (think of the effect of chlorine on the lungs.)

However, by understanding the roles of the four levels, both parity with each level and coexistence can be achieved. An intellect will prosper so long as it understands the society it lies within; a society will thrive so long as it carefully manages the biological, and the biological will remain so long as the elemental is contained.

It also clarified the impossibility of the three appeals to human reasoning, logic, morality and passion, from ever influencing the others. That's why it is impossible to talk sense to someone who uses a moral system to make decisions, and why preaching a morality to a person passionately determined to act never works. Logic determines is or isn't (or will or won't work) while Moral determines right or wrong; Passion determines good or bad (for the impassioned.)

This triangle of reasoning systems taught me to avoid discussions about abortion, politics and religion, because one can either agree with a morality or not. One can attempt to reason with the moral, but it's a losing proposition, because the moral consider themselves superior to Reason as Right and Wrong are choices, not eventualities. Passion merely wants what it wants, and brooks no interference. Ask Hamlet.

This is the three-fold "lesson" behind 'Romeo and Juliet.' The Prince makes a proclamation which the passionate children cannot obey, and the parents are caught between their passion for their children, their moral obedience to the Prince, and their intellectual understanding of the dichotomy. R&J is not a love story, it is a destruction story, a ruination caused by thinking these any of these three aspects could ever guide the others.

And that's why George should read 'Lyla.'

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