This philosophy book follows the author on a motorcycle trip across the US. The trip is used to unpack ideas ranging from exploring what is ‘Quality’, classical vs. romantic understanding, and the possibilities within the ‘high country of the mind’.
I’ve never read anything quite like it. It’s not really about zen or motorcycle maintenance but yet it is. The author unpacks a litany of ideas I’ve never remotely considered or thought could be explored.
So the thing to do when working on a motorcycle, as in any other task, is to cultivate the peace of mind which does not separate one’s self from one’s surroundings. When that is done successfully then everything else follows naturally. Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.
Select quotes from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance follow.
- You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. Plans are deliberately indefinite, more to travel than to arrive anywhere.
- We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on “good” rather than “time” and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes. I’ve wondered why it took us so long to catch on.
- We saw it and yet we didn’t see it. Or rather we were trained not to see it.
- The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling.
- The main skill is to keep from getting lost.
- You always suppress momentary anger at something you deeply and permanently hate.
- Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted.
- When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.
- I just want to get at it slowly, but carefully and thoroughly, with the same attitude I remember was present just before I found that sheared pin. It was that attitude that found it, nothing else. You just sit and stare and think, and search randomly for new information, and go away and come back again, and after a while the unseen factors start to emerge.
- A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance.
- Romantic understanding is directed toward the handful of sand before the sorting begins. Both are valid ways of looking at the world although irreconcilable with each other.
- A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself.
- 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 logical statements entered into the notebook are broken down into six categories: (1) statement of the problem, (2) hypotheses as to the cause of the problem, (3) experiments designed to test each hypothesis, (4) predicted results of the experiments, (5) observed results of the experiments and (6) conclusions from the results of the experiments. This is not different from the formal arrangement of many college and high-school lab notebooks but the purpose here is no longer just busywork. The purpose now is precise guidance of thoughts that will fail if they are not accurate.
- The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know.
- In Part One of formal scientific method, which is the statement of the problem, the main skill is in stating absolutely no more than you are positive you know.
- An experiment is never a failure solely because it fails to achieve predicted results.
- An experiment is a failure only when it also fails adequately to test the hypothesis in question, when the data it produces don’t prove anything one way or another.
- By far the greatest part of his work is careful observation and precise thinking.
- A lesser scientist than Einstein might have said, “But scientific knowledge comes from nature. Nature provides the hypotheses.” But Einstein understood that nature does not. Nature provides only experimental data.
- “Evolution has shown that at any given moment out of all conceivable constructions a single one has always proved itself absolutely superior to the rest,”
- The purpose of scientific method is to select a single truth from among many hypothetical truths. That, more than anything else, is what science is all about.
- And until this genetic defect is cleared, the crises will continue.
- Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.
- laterally. That’s a word he later used to describe a growth of knowledge that doesn’t move forward like an arrow in flight, but expands sideways, like an arrow enlarging in flight, or like the archer, discovering that although he has hit the bull’s-eye and won the prize, his head is on a pillow and the sun is coming in the window.
- Lateral knowledge is knowledge that’s from a wholly unexpected direction, from a direction that’s not even understood as a direction until the knowledge forces itself upon one.
- This a priori motorcycle has been built up in our minds over many years from enormous amounts of sense data and it is constantly changing as new sense data come I notice things about the cabin too, which I point out to Chris. The windows are all double-hung and sash-weighted. The doors click shut without looseness. All the moldings are perfectly mitered.
- “Peace of mind isn’t at all superficial, really,” I expound. “It’s the whole thing. That which produces it is good maintenance; that which disturbs it is poor maintenance. What we call workability of the machine is just an objectification of this peace of mind. The ultimate test’s always your own serenity. If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.”
- “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. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.
- the solution to the problem isn’t that you abandon rationality but that you expand the nature of rationality so that it’s capable of coming up with a solution.”
- I’ve heard it said that the only real learning results from hang-ups, where instead of expanding the branches of what you already know, you have to stop and drift laterally for a while until you come across something that allows you to expand the roots of what you already know.
- During periods of root expansion things have always looked as confused and topsy-turvy and purposeless as they do now.
- Hundreds of itsy-bitsy rules for itsy-bitsy people.
- Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships.
- “A lot of us got together outside of class to try to figure out how to beat this system. Everyone decided the best way was just to figure you were going to fail and then go ahead and do what you could anyway. Then you start to relax. Otherwise you go out of your mind!”
- Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself.
- To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.
- “No one ever travels so high as he who knows not where he is going,”
- Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster.
- When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it.
- What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him.
- THERE’S AN ENTIRE BRANCH OF PHILOSOPHY CONCERNED WITH the definition of Quality, known as esthetics.
- The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality.
- When you live in the shadow of insanity, the appearance of another mind that thinks and talks as yours does is something close to a blessed event.
- The true work of the inventor consists in choosing among these combinations so as to eliminate the useless ones, or rather, to avoid the trouble of making them, and the rules that must guide the choice are extremely fine and delicate. It’s almost impossible to state them precisely; they must be felt rather than formulated.
- your mind gets stuck when you’re trying to do too many things at once.
- Traditional scientific method has always been at the very best, 20–20 hindsight. It’s good for seeing where you’ve been. It’s good for testing the truth of what you think you know, but it can’t tell you where you ought to go, unless where you ought to go is a continuation of where you were going in the past. * Creativity, originality, inventiveness, intuition, imagination—“unstuckness,” in other words—are completely outside its domain.
- The difference between a good mechanic and a bad one, like the difference between a good mathematician and a bad one, is precisely this ability to select the good facts from the bad ones on the basis of quality. He has to care!
- when you’re really stuck it’s Quality, not any subjects or objects, that tells you where you ought to go.
- Romantic reality is the cutting edge of experience.
- The cutting edge of this instant right here and now is always nothing less than the totality of everything there is.
- Value, the leading edge of reality, is no longer an irrelevant offshoot of structure. Value is the predecessor of structure. It’s the preintellectual awareness that gives rise to it. Our structured reality is preselected on the basis of value, and really to understand structured reality requires an understanding of the value source from which it’s derived.
- If you want to build a factory, or fix a motorcycle, or set a nation right without getting stuck, then classical, structured, dualistic subject-object knowledge, although necessary, isn’t enough. You have to have some feeling for the quality of the work. You have to have a sense of what’s good. That is what carries you forward. This sense isn’t just something you’re born with, although you are born with it. It’s also something you can develop. It’s not just “intuition,” not just unexplainable “skill” or “talent.” It’s the direct result of contact with basic reality, * Quality, which dualistic reason has in the past tended to conceal.
- Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding.
- It’s this understanding of Quality as revealed by stuckness which so often makes self-taught mechanics so superior to institute-trained men who have learned how to handle everything except a new situation.
- The way to solve the conflict between human values and technological needs is not to run away from technology. That’s impossible. The way to resolve the conflict is to break down the barriers of dualistic thought that prevent a real understanding of what technology is—not an exploitation of nature, but a fusion of nature and the human spirit into a new kind of creation that transcends both. When this transcendence occurs in such events as the first airplane flight across the ocean or the first footstep on the moon, a kind of public recognition of the transcendent nature of technology occurs. But this transcendence should also occur at the individual level, on a personal basis, in one’s own life, in a less dramatic way.
- In each case there’s a beautiful way of doing it and an ugly way of doing it, and in arriving at the high-quality, beautiful way of doing it, both an ability to see what “looks good” and an ability to understand the underlying methods to arrive at that “good” are needed. Both classic and romantic understandings of Quality must be combined.
- Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real Quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.
- You can’t live on just groovy emotions alone. You have to work with the underlying form of the universe too, the laws of nature which, when understood, can make work easier, sickness rarer and famine almost absent.
- classic understanding should not be overlaid with romantic prettiness; classic and romantic understanding should be united at a basic level. It’s been necessary since before the time of Socrates to reject the passions, the emotions, in order to free the rational mind for an understanding of nature’s order which was as yet unknown. Now it’s time to further an understanding of nature’s order by reassimilating those passions which were originally fled from. The passions, the emotions, the affective domain of man’s consciousness, are a part of nature’s order too. The central part.
- Peace of mind isn’t at all superficial to technical work. It’s the whole thing. That which produces it is good work and that which destroys it is bad work.
- The reason for this is that peace of mind is a prerequisite for a perception of that Quality which is beyond romantic Quality and classic Quality and which unites the two, and which must accompany the work as it proceeds.
- The way to see what looks good and understand the reasons it looks good, and to be at one with this goodness as the work proceeds, is to cultivate an inner quietness, a peace of mind so that goodness can shine through. I say inner peace of mind.
- It involves unselfconsciousness, which produces a complete identification with one’s circumstances, and there are levels and levels of this identification and levels and levels of quietness quite as profound and difficult of attainment as the more familiar levels of activity.
- The mountains of achievement are Quality discovered in one direction only, and are relatively meaningless and often unobtainable unless taken together with the ocean trenches of self-awareness—so different from self-consciousness—which result from inner peace of mind.
- When one isn’t dominated by feelings of separateness from what he’s working on, then one can be said to “care” about what he’s doing. That is what caring really is, a feeling of identification with what one’s doing. When one has this feeling then he also sees the inverse side of caring, Quality itself.
- So the thing to do when working on a motorcycle, as in any other task, is to cultivate the peace of mind which does not separate one’s self from one’s surroundings. When that is done successfully then everything else follows naturally. Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.
- I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts it at the end and presumes the end is the place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.
- A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.
- Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in this whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption.
- A gumption trap, consequently, can be defined as anything that causes one to lose sight of Quality, and thus lose one’s enthusiasm for what one is doing.
- Of the value traps, the most widespread and pernicious is value rigidity. This is an inability to revalue what one sees because of commitment to previous values. In motorcycle maintenance, you must rediscover what you do as you go. Rigid values makes this impossible.
- If you get caught in this gumption trap of value rigidity, is slow down—you’re going to have to slow down anyway whether you want to or not—but slow down deliberately and go over ground that you’ve been over before to see if the things you thought were important were really important and to…well…just stare at the machine. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just live with it for a while. Watch it the way you watch a line when fishing and before long, as sure as you live, you’ll get a little nibble, a little fact asking in a timid, humble way if you’re interested in it.
- That’s the way the world keeps on happening. Be interested in it. the most striking example of value rigidity I can think of is the old South Indian Monkey Trap, which depends on value rigidity for its effectiveness. The trap consists of a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The hole is big enough so that the monkey’s hand can go in, but too small for his fist with rice in it to come out. The monkey reaches in and is suddenly trapped—by nothing more than his own value rigidity.
- 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. On any mechanical repair job ego comes in for rough treatment. You’re always being fooled, you’re always making mistakes, and a mechanic who has a big ego to defend is at a terrific disadvantage.
- Impatience is close to boredom but always results from one cause: an underestimation of the amount of time the job will take. You never really know what will come up and very few jobs get done as quickly as planned.
- Impatience is the first reaction against a setback and can soon turn to anger if you’re not careful. Impatience is best handled by allowing an indefinite time for the job, particularly new jobs that require unfamiliar techniques; by doubling the allotted time when circumstances force time planning; and by scaling down the scope of what you want to do. Overall goals must be scaled down in importance and immediate goals must be scaled up. This requires value flexibility, and the value shift is usually accompanied by some loss of gumption, but it’s a sacrifice that must be made. It’s nothing like the loss of gumption that will occur if a Big Mistake caused by impatience occurs.
- When your answer to a test is indeterminate it means one of two things: that your test procedures aren’t doing what you think they are or that your understanding of the context of the question needs to be enlarged. Check your tests and restudy the question. Don’t throw away those mu answers! They’re every bit as vital as the yes or no answers. They’re more vital. They’re the ones you grow on!
- Buy good tools as you can afford them and you’ll never regret it.
- Good tools, as a rule, don’t wear out, and good secondhand tools are much better than inferior new ones. Study the tool catalogs. You can learn a lot from them.
- Apart from bad tools, bad surroundings are a major gumption trap. * Pay attention to adequate lighting. It’s amazing the number of mistakes a little light can prevent.
- You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.
- That’s the way all the experts do it. The making of a painting or the fixing of a motorcycle isn’t separate from the rest of your existence. If you’re a sloppy thinker the six days of the week you aren’t working on your machine, what trap avoidances, what gimmicks, can make you all of a sudden sharp on the seventh? It all goes together.
- But if you’re a sloppy thinker six days a week and you really try to be sharp on the seventh, then maybe the next six days aren’t going to be quite as sloppy as the preceding six. What I’m trying to come up with on these gumption traps, I guess, is shortcuts to living right. The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be “out there” and the person that appears to be “in here” are not two separate things. They grow toward Quality or fall away from Quality together.
- The media have convinced them that what’s right around them is unimportant.
- Or if he takes whatever dull job he’s stuck with—and they are all, sooner or later, dull—and, just to keep himself amused, starts to look for options of Quality, and secretly pursues these options, just for their own sake, thus making an art out of what he is doing, he’s likely to discover that he becomes a much more interesting person and much less of an object to the people around him because his Quality decisions change him too. And not only the job and him, but others too because the Quality tends to fan out like waves. The Quality job he didn’t think anyone was going to see is seen, and the person who sees it feels a little better because of it, and is likely to pass that feeling on to others, and in that way the Quality tends to keep on going.
- We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption.
- The Quality which creates the world emerges as a relationship between man and his experience. He is a participant in the creation of all things. The measure of all things—it fits.
- We always condemn most in others, he thought, that which we most fear in ourselves.