Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is not specifically about orthodox Zen Buddhist practice nor does if specifically teaches how to repair a motorcycle. It does, however, dig into the inner structure of the thought process to form a foundation to support any form of logic. This is accomplished by means of a trek through the author’s mind as he recounts his past in attempt to rediscover who he once was. As the author comes to term with his duality, the reader is conditioned to understand the author’s philosophical ideas, which are the underlying beams of his value system.
Pirsig presents his message through lectures to the reader. These lectures are comprised of history, philosophy, and common sense. The author purposely uses the term chautauqua to define these lectures. He describes a chautauqua as “an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer” (p.17). Throughout the story Pirsig breaks from his incomplete lecture to focus on the current situation of his motorcycle trip. As the story continues, some nonspecific aspect triggers the author’s mind to restart a new lecture, and eventually, they all tie together. The most common reoccurring lecture themes include the purpose of institutions, the search for quality and the need of balance between two extremes. These are interesting highlights of the book, but it is not the author’s intention to convert his audience to his value system. Rather, it is Pirsig’s goal to present how he created his value system as an example to show how to tackle such a complex and abstract subject. In fact, the reoccurring themes themselves are complex and abstract subjects, and Pirsig breaks each of them apart to analyze the system, just how one would tear down an engine to understand how a motorcycle functions.
Institutions and their role obviously weighed heavily upon the author’s mind. He explored the system from the whole down to its most minute parts. First, he chose one type of institution, education. From past experience as a student and professor, Pirsig naturally had formed an opinion on the matter. He observed that students are taught to imitate, and the result is a drone modeled after the instructor. This is done to please the instructor so a higher grade can be received. The n...
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...y harm him. The narrator did not understand who he was until he saw that Chris finally realized it. “I knew it” (p. 370). Phaedrus let go and submitted in the mental hospital for the love of his son. The narrator was abandoning Chris for the same reason. It was not until both identities had racked themselves apart that they could be brought back together, and the quality of their lives change.
Suddenly the introduction seems fitting.
“And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good–
Need we ask anyone to tell us these thing?”
Pirsig did not want to mold our minds. Instead, he showed us the way. He taught his audience how to think and to learn. That was the author’s hidden intent all along, and if he were to just come out and say it, it would lose its meaning. The reader has to tear himself apart to find out what makes him tick. What is the driving force that is the basis for his actions? What does the reader hold important and why? What values should he possess and when should they hold? Once we do understand ourselves, we can understand our surroundings, and our quality of life increases.
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