Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

by Robert M. Pirsig

First of all, this book made me cry, which I didn’t expect because I don’t expect anything to do with “motorcycle maintenance” to evoke enough emotion to make me cry, unless it’s the emotion of boredom. Yeah. But I wasn’t crying from boredom, and (you guessed it) this book is not really about motorcycle maintenance.

“You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s 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.”

I mean, it’s in there: the motorcycle. The maintenance. But it’s a METAPHOR. I dig metaphors. There’s a lot of Zen, and there’s a lot of philosophy, and heavy tough thinking, and relationships, and helplessness, and falling apart, and finding peace.

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

A couple of the ventures into the history of philosophical thinking made me sleepy. Or it might have been that I was reading on an airplane after being awake for, like, 40 hours. Who knows!

“But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

This book has been recommended to me numerous times by numerous people, and I don’t know what I thought it was, but I didn’t expect what it is. This was a serendipitous book encounter. It came with the kind of timing that is a little too good, frankly.

Who is planning this? Who’s in charge here? *looks around suspiciously*

“We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.”

If I’d read it a year ago, I’d probably have been like, “Hm, okay, whatever, it’s pretty good,” instead of weeping in an airplane as I read the last few chapters.

Damn.

Maybe it was the sleep deprivation. Maybe it was the recirculated air. Maybe it was the fact that some books speak to your core, at exactly the right time. Some books tell you that—whatever else is happening—you’re not alone. That’s more important than almost anything else.

Here are a bunch of quotes. Read them. Then read the whole book.

“When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process.”

“It’s a problem of our time. The range of human knowledge today is so great that we’re all specialists and the distance between specializations has become so great that anyone who seeks to wander freely among them has to forego closeness with the people around him.”

“…the idea that one person’s mind is accessible to another’s is just a conversational illusion, just a figure of speech, an assumption that makes some kind of exchange between basically alien creatures seem plausible, and that really the relationship of one person to another is ultimately unknowable.”

“In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty, and to the enormous magnitude of questions asked, and to the answers proposed to these questions. The sweep goes on and on and on so obviously much further than the mind can grasp one hesitates even to go near for fear of getting lost in them and never finding one’s way out.”

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.”

See? Metaphor.