An Inquiry Into Values
Life gets busy. Has Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.
We’re scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have the book, order the book or get the audiobook for free on Amazon to learn the juicy details.
“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” is a popular novel by Robert Pirsig. It has been dubbed as “the most widely circulated book of philosophy ever published.” The modern epic by Pirsig was about a man’s quest for meaning. The book subtitled “An Inquiry to Values” isn’t exactly about Zen or motorbikes, for that matter. It’s all about having a happy and fulfilling life. In 1974, the novel, which he wrote while on a motorbike trip with his 11-year-old son and two pals, became an instant hit.
William Morrow, his eventual publisher, handed him a $3,000 advance. He then advised Pirsig to manage his expectations. Instead, it went through dozens of printings in its first year alone. It has remained in print since then. According to some accounts, it has sold more than five million copies worldwide.
Below, we outline the top 10 key takeaways from the book.
Robert Pirsig’s Perspective
Robert Pirsig was a freelance writer and writing professor when “Zen” was released in 1974. The novel’s strange yet interesting title hinted at various themes. That includes the link between people and technology, psychosis, and cultural origins.
“Zen” was followed by another novel, “Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals”, published in 1991, but was less successful.
Mr. Pirsig’s book on significant philosophical challenges in Western culture was a best-seller. It defined the post-hippie 1970s as Don Juan Teachings did in the 1960s.
“Don Juan” sought enlightenment through a hallucinogenic experience. Whereas “Zen” claimed you might find it through the demanding rigors of “Reason.”
StoryShot #1: You never devote yourself to something in which you have entire faith
The book “Zen””Zen” suggests that the journey matters more in life than the destination. While it seems bland, it’s the way Pirsig expresses his view that sets the book apart.
Fear and apprehension are two of the most common ways we’re taught to deal with doubt in our society. In truth, uncertainty may be beneficial if used as a learning opportunity. Like other negative things in life, doubt helps us be resilient and robust. Without a doubt, you have no means to demonstrate your commitment to anything. Suppose you start doubting something vital to you and keep your trust. You’d notice that everything you believe in becomes more important than ever.
StoryShot #2: Awareness of one’s environment, prejudices, susceptibility, and ignorance is critical
Pirsig investigates many ways to define and grasp existence throughout the novel. He eventually realizes that this is impossible.
A scene at the novel’s introduction appears to exemplify this. While riding a motorbike along the road, Pirsig observes how the outside world is encased in a frame. He noted that it is kept at arm’s length from your senses while traveling in a car. But, riding a motorbike requires total absorption in your surroundings.
Pirsig appears to advocate self-compassion, rather than a nihilistic outlook on life. He explains that this helps you figure things out based on awareness.
He thinks he knows everything, only to be driven into a mental state when his illusion is dispelled. He seems to imply that while these are essential questions, answers are elusive. He noted that compassion for this fact is necessary for sanity.
StoryShot #3: Care about the kind of work you do
Find out what is important to you in your personal and professional life.
People tend to focus on results and often overlook the means to those ends and how they feel about those means. For example, many focus on getting rich and overlook their career choice. Worse, they don’t care about how they feel about their jobs.
You do better work and have more fun along the way if you find meaningful pursuits that matter to you. It will help you reach your goals and make you happy in the process.
StoryShot #4: Boredom can be beneficial
Amid the overwhelming negative appraisal of boredom, Pirsig introduced an entirely different thought. It’s subtler and less evident, yet sees some peculiar value in it. According to him, the problem is not so much boredom, as people cannot handle or connect with it. Desperate attempts to avoid boredom could lead to boredom-related disorders. From this perspective, the real question is what happens when we stop attempting to prevent it.
Pirsig writes on the Zen meditation technique of simply sitting,’ musing on it in the book. He noted that the method has something to suggest about boredom. Its core practice of “simply sitting” has to be the most boring pastime on the planet… You don’t do much: you don’t move, think, or care. What could be more uninteresting than that? Yet, it is the same thing Zen Buddhism wants to teach that is at the root of this weariness. What exactly is it? What exactly are you missing at the heart of boredom?
Pirsig’s inquiry seems to have three basic answers – three conceivable virtues of boredom.
- Self-knowledge. Boredom is a powerful instrument for self-discovery. According to Pirsig, at the core of this dullness lies the same thing Zen Buddhism aims to teach. Boredom and discomfort provide vital insights into the mind and self. Such realizations can be both freeing and transforming.
- Creativity. Why do your best ideas come to you while you’re bored and scribbling aimlessly? For centuries, boredom has been viewed as a prerequisite for creativity. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, great artists “need a lot of boredom to excel in their work.”
- Altered time perception. Boredom has the potential to produce even more enlightening alterations in viewpoint. Joseph Brodsky said it “represents pure time in all its monotonous glory.” Boredom, he thought, was a “window into time’s limitless.” He argued that we might gain a new perspective on our place in the universe through this window. It enables us to appreciate our own fleeting existence and inspires us to make the most of it.
StoryShot#5: Find delight in the simple pleasures that life has to offer
There’s just as much Buddha in the cogs of a bike as at the summit. Hence, ensure you know how to service your motorbike before embarking on a wild ride. It was the author’s advice near the opening of the book. The quotation has so many levels of meaning that your imagination can study it endlessly.
En route, the author talks about how important it is to thoroughly immerse yourself in your work. Instead of listening to music while working on a bike, he advised mechanics to turn tools into music.
StoryShot #6: Slow down and be patient
The novel revolves around the author’s motorcycle journey and the repairs he had to make. A novice in bike repair, Pirsig struggled early on. He felt like he had two left thumbs when it came to mechanical things. He could work through this issue by simply giving in to it. He started to slow down and took his time to properly fix the bike. By slowing down, he could focus and see the bike’s issues more. Thus, he could do the necessary repairs to continue on his journey.
Pirsig teaches us to slow down and be patient when trying to fix something. Impatience, he said, is often to blame for overlooking the obvious and the simple.
StoryShot #7: Nothing is too difficult if you have the right mindset
The author’s struggle to define “quality” is recurring throughout “Zen”. Many times, the answers to life’s issues can be found by adjusting one’s thinking. According to Pirsig, personal outlooks have a significant impact on someone’s living standards. It’s impossible to solve a problem without first addressing how it came to be in the first place.
A good solution addresses the immediate problem and the root cause of the problem. And at the root of all issues is a general mindset that can and must be changed. Changing your view can make a world of difference. This holds whether you’re dealing with global peace or canceled plans due to a wet day.
StoryShot#8: Avoid passivity at all costs
Passivity is one of Pirsig’s most heinous transgressions. Being a passive observer is OK, but not learning from and engaging with the world around you is not. Only by paying attention to what’s happening can a person grow and progress. Your outlook could remain unchanged if you do not take the time to learn new things.
It is the most excellent way to learn what “quality” means in philosophy. Insanity might result from obsessively pursuing the best quality of life possible. It’s because you’ll always think about how to improve your situation. But if you focus on what you can do to improve your quality of life, you will find a lot. It is yet another reminder that life’s journey, not its destination, is where you learn the most.
StoryShot #9: Mediocre work results from a careless attitude toward what you do
It’s a no-brainer. Even though the task is simple, you won’t get anything done until you are involved.
A lack of participation, though, isn’t the problem. It’s due to a lack of understanding.
When it comes to keeping one’s cycle, there are two competing views in the book.
When it comes to fixing his old motorcycle, Pirsig does everything independently. His good friend John is on the other side of him. A guy who is consciously avoiding considering why he should maintain his bicycle. Because of this, he went for a BMW. A machine that has already demonstrated its worth. John’s rationale is that you must have high-quality possessions. Yet, he believes you should rely on others to maintain them—a specialist.
“It’s not my issue if anything doesn’t function. The technician has to figure things out.” That’s how John feels about his bike.
The idea of Pirsig is on the opposite side of the equation. “It’s up to me to figure out how this works, and it’s my responsibility to look after my belongings!”
It takes time and effort to keep a machine running smoothly, no matter how good it is. You won’t go far if you simply hope nothing terrible happens.
The book demonstrated this desire to be accountable for what you own in a later scenario.
It is where we first learned about these “experts” from the narrative. Who had to take care of the bike of the narrator.
The author described the horror shop patrons as “spectators” who “butchered” his bike.
The idea is that if you don’t identify with what you’re doing, you’ll perform like a chimp hammering bare metal. A lack of engagement hinders thinkers. And the results suffer due to the lack of freedom to think.
It is a common occurrence in our day. We’re looking for high-quality goods, but we’re avoiding the responsibility of maintaining them. It’s all we can do – we suppose – to keep them going.
Besides, we don’t feel connected to what we’re doing. When we talk about our jobs, we don’t say, “I’m a mechanic,” but rather, “I work here.” Something that isn’t us.
There’s a state of complete detachment when we no longer have any connection to our work. Nothing of value comes out of this. While we spend most of our time doing something, it has little to do with us.
StoryShot #10: Putting your heart and soul in whatever you do helps regain the gumption
Pirsig had been with a group of black Americans years ago and learned about “squareness” from them. A person with too much intellect but not enough spirit was square. It meant they couldn’t distinguish between good and evil. Nothing was real to them unless it was categorized and defined. Before being thought about or categorized, quality is simply ‘reality.’ Knowing what quality is all it takes. Even discussing ‘quality’ wasn’t good enough! The individual who can sense quality has what Pirsig calls a “beginning mind.” It’s a mind that can see things as they are in the moment without attaching meaning.
The novel is full of road trip agony, weariness, and boredom. Yet it is also inspiring in other ways. In a more relaxed America, the party goes west towards California. Pirsig noticed ego-driven folks motoring along with sad faces. Its massive motorways and megastars make people think the essential things are elsewhere. Your mind shifts when you regain the gumption. It occurs when one stays silent long enough to see, hear, and feel the actual world. It not only entails one’s own stale beliefs about it, though. Pirsig used the term ‘gumption,’ an old Scottish term meaning a zeal for life that many people have lost nowadays.
Pirsig suggests that if we put our hearts and souls into whatever we do, it will have a purpose. We are not thoughtless because we are thinking about anything else. It is genuine, high-quality living.
Final Summary, Review and Criticism of Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The book contains many profound and life-changing teachings. Pirsig advises us to live honest lives to improve our skills, ethics, and professions. The three pillars of science are all equally important in terms of product quality. A strong product is built on the foundation of these elements. Take motorcycle maintenance, for example. By this standard, the author claims General Motors achieved pure art, but Picasso did not.
To do this kind of work, a guy must have the same mental state as a fervent worshiper or someone in love. The everyday effort comes from the heart, not any conscious goal or program.
The novel is a battle between the mechanical and mundane, and the vivid and fantastic. One is a drag, while the other is lighthearted. The classical vs romantic dispute is a fundamental subject that the author raises. Yet, it does not address definitively.
After reading his account of his mental collapse, you might be left wondering about one thing. Was Pirsig the one insane or the society and its meta-narrative and collective thought?
According to the book, the reasoning mind alone will not lead us to the truth of life. A reasonable explanation for everything was something the narrator craved. Yet, he eventually realized that science and philosophy are only maps of reality. Realities that can’t be hacked include love, nature, and a feeling of communion with God. Consider how technology impacts our culture and where quality and spirituality live. Gumption-depleted lives don’t truly exist.