April 25, 2017

"The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower."

"To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha — which is to demean oneself."

Wrote Robert Pirsig, the author of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," who died yesterday at the age of 88.

49 comments:

antiphone said...

Heavy

Fernandinande said...

Suffering from pantheism? Relief is on the way!

MadisonMan said...

Back when I worked in the local library in High School, I would check that book out when I was near it in the stacks, reshelving other books. I learned nothing.

Michael said...

VroomVroom Safe journey and RIP

traditionalguy said...

No wonder the damn things are so dangerous to ride.They need deliverance.Especially the Tibetan model Harleys.

Original Mike said...

Never could get through that book. I tried two or three times. Should probably try again.

Original Mike said...

MadisonMan - my first job (other than paper boy) was shelving books at the Pinney Branch library. I had a hard time being productive; I was always reading the books.

buwaya said...

Leave Buddha out of it and he was perfectly correct about God.
Engineers deal with Gods creation, there is no man-made vs natural.

"Zen and ... " is interesting and worthwhile, if a bit self-indulgent in form. It was a sensation in its day (the 1970s), which is itself interesting, because its hard to imagine anything like it becoming so popular today, which says a lot about public tastes then and now.

Henry said...

Buddhists believe that all things have Buddha nature. So Pirsig's comment is commonplace -- as commonplace as the golden rule. All else is commentary.

Sebastian said...

"I learned nothing." The Buddha would approve.

Ann Althouse said...

The quote evokes the old question thought of by many children and often asked outright to flummoxed parents: If God is everywhere, is he in the toilet?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I tried to read that book when it was newly written. I should probably try again. Maybe this time I'll understand it or at least finish it.

Currently I am a volunteer librarian at our local community non-profit owned library. The county didn't think we rated a library or even a bookmobile.....so we made our own library from donations, fund raisers and 100% volunteers. Not government connected at all so we can do what we want. We have a big building that was purchased and donated to the foundation (used to be a lumber/hardware store), large barn type building (was the storage for the lumber,plywood etc) on 2 acres on the main highway. The library houses over 20K books or more, audio cds, internet, computers for the public, a big selection of paperback books that are on the honor system (not checked out...just take some and bring them back when you are done). We have very! generous patrons.

The best part of being a librarian, other than the cute kids who are thrilled to get books to read, is seeing what books are coming and going. I find many interesting books that I may not have noticed otherwise. Some of my duties are to re-shelve books, straighten out the non fiction/dewey decimal area which is always a mess, go through the donated books to determine if we already have the book or not. I always find something that I hadn't seen before....ooooooh....that looks interesting...I'll check it out!

I'll look up Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on our computerized library system....hope we have it :-)

Fernandinande said...

Dust Bunny Queen said...
The county didn't think we rated a library or even a bookmobile.....so we made our own library from donations, fund raisers and 100% volunteers. Not government connected at all so we can do what we want.


Congratulations on doing something excellent.

urbane legend said...

When it is clogged at 5 AM on Sunday and overflows, the toilet becomes the object of adoration and sacrifice; it is a god.

Fernandinande said...

"To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha — which is to demean oneself."

IOW, the semi-standard "If you don't believe the same ludicrous shit I believe, then you're fundamentally worse than me."

Just another crazy asshole. (Heh - him too).

Rusty said...

DBQ @ 10:12
Save you some time.
The key to learning anything is attitude.

M Jordan said...

I kinda read this book back in the day. I don't think I finished it. Didn't get it. But this hat you gave quoted, Ann, speaks deeply to me about how self-congrulatory and virtue signaling it all was. What a pile of horseshit.

Original Mike said...

While in college, I drove the public library delivery truck, shuttling books and whatnot between the branches. I loved that job. Got outside in all kinds of weather and was in great shape; books are heavy!

Pianoman said...

Loved Zen. Lila was good, but wasn't a "solid sequel", and it was clear that Pirsig didn't have much more to say on the subject of quality and values.

I found Zen difficult to get through the first time I read it. In the book, Pirsig describes a hike up into the mountains, and how difficult it can be to breathe at such altitudes. The same is true of reading the book; you can get light-headed trying to understand the things he is saying. You have to go slowly, otherwise you might pass out.

I was at a men's retreat once, and one of the guys there saw that I was reading it. He became incensed, believing that it was the "work of Satan" or something. Being younger and a lot more rebellious, it made me want to read it all the more. When I finished the book, I wondered, "What was he so angry about?" Made no sense to me at the time.

tim in vermont said...

I didn't agree with him, in fact I believed him to be deluded and wrote tons of notes in the margin, but one thing he did in his book was to clearly explain the way those idiots thought. He basically believed that the Sophists were right and the Empiricists were wrong.

The modern left buys the crap he was selling. Just look at the case for global warming, much of it is simply rhetorical, not logical, and they don't actually see that as a flaw. The Hockey Stick is a rhetorical graph, for example, not based on any settled interpretation of either math or science.

tim in vermont said...

Wish I had time to go into it. Everybody should read his book, but nobody should believe it.

Michael said...

DBQ

Congratulations on the library! Pioneer work. Absolutely the best of what we are.

The Cracker Emcee said...

God, what a boring book. I read it one cannery-labor-camp summer when I found it laying around and it hadn't yet occurred to me that I could go get a library card from the tiny, but surprisingly good, Milton-Freewater library. Herrigel's book is far superior. Shame about the Nazi thing.

Robert Cook said...

"Back when I worked in the local library in High School, I would check that book out when I was near it in the stacks, reshelving other books. I learned nothing."

Were you supposed to learn something?

Robert Cook said...

I read it sometime back in the 80s. I remember liking it very much.

Charlie Martin said...

Good book. interesting book. Started the unfortunate habit of applying the word "zen" to pretty much anything you want to make cool and mystical.

Bad Buddhism.

tim in vermont said...

And Cookie makes my point.

Rusty said...

TIV @10:35
Or just save yourself the trouble and read "Moby Dick" instead.

Ann Althouse said...

I've never even considered reading this book. I putup this post because I guessed that some of you fellas have a soft spot for it.

Rusty said...

The book had very little to say about either subject. Zen or motorcycle maintenance. Unless you believe the guy that works on your Subaru has zen-like powers. It had more to do with Persigs personal decent into madness and his subsequent clawing his way out. Using what he percieves to be zen and the routine of motorcycle maintenance. Which is hardly and art by any streach. It's dated. Much like reading "The Crying of Lot 49" is dated as to be silly today.
But if you do crack it open and have a read the most important technical and zen like bits can be found at the very beginning. In these words," Assembling Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind'"

tim in vermont said...

I have read Moby Dick. It won't teach you about the rabbit hole the left is currently spelunking.

Rusty said...

Althouse @ 12:15
Not really.
It did engage me into reserching the process of deep drawing aluminum, How Bauxite is mined and smelted and the recycling of metals. Which in turn forced me to realize that 99.8% of environmentalists are full of shit.
So there's that.

tim in vermont said...

Reading Moby Dick again might be fun though.

Bob Matthews said...

I am searching for quality in these comments. Do you think I am finding it?

Ficta said...

I liked it a lot when I read it back in the 1970s, it was the first adult non fiction book I read on my own (well, if you don't count the book on Etruscan archaeology I read in 4th grade). I wonder what I'd think of it now. My brother has been trying to get me to read Lila for years.

I do remember that I thought this passage (from the very beginning of the book) was lovely, and I don't think a month goes by that I don't recall it:


I'm happy to be riding back into this country. It is a kind of nowhere, famous for nothing at all and has an appeal because of just that. Tensions disappear along old roads like this. We bump along the beat-up concrete between the cattails and stretches of meadow and then more cattails and marsh grass. Here and there is a stretch of open water and if you look closely you can see wild ducks at the edge of the cattails. And turtles. -- There's a red-winged blackbird.

I whack Chris's knee and point to it.

"What!" he hollers.

"Blackbird!"

He says something I don't hear."What?" I holler back.

He grabs the back of my helmet and hollers up, "I've seen lots of those, Dad!"

"Oh!" I holler back. Then I nod. At age eleven you don't get very impressed with red-winged blackbirds.

Robert Cook said...

"It had more to do with Persigs personal decent into madness and his subsequent clawing his way out."

Yes. Anyone who thinks it is some sort of guide to Zen is mistaken. It's about Persig's personal ruminations while engaged in a motorcycle journey with his son.

Sigivald said...

Much like reading "The Crying of Lot 49" is dated as to be silly today.

Huh.

It's been a while (a decade?) since I read it, but I don't think it could've been much more dated now than then, and I didn't find it problematic.

(But then I'm one of the relatively rare set who actually likes Pynchon per se.)

David Begley said...

I bought a BMW motorcycle because of that book 25 years after I read it.

Paddy O said...

"I am searching for quality in these comments."

Maybe the quality you sought was to be found at 12:35. Do you think you found it? The quality that you seek is a quality that can only be found within, yet you cling to the illusion that it is others who will satisfy your longing.

sparrow said...

I was into Zen at the time I tried to read it and found it shallow. If you want accessible Zen read Charlotte Joko Beck.

virgil xenophon said...

A MUCH better book that was popular with the same sort of terminally hip crowd that was published approx the same time was Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me by Richard Farina. All about sex, drugs, and m'o cycles 'Twas FAR funnier but now reads as a dated "of that time and of that place." First read it in 1967..

Kent Wood said...

Never liked that book. Loved the promising title and loved reading about Buddhism and eastern philosophies elsewhere, but that book always rubbed me the wrong way and I could never get through the first few chapters. Dour, self-absorbed father drones on about 'Phaedra' while ignoring his own son because the darn kid is just too worldly for his highly attuned enlightened senses. Joy!

Henry said...

Thanks, sparrow. Just searched on Amazon and you can buy the Kindle version of Nothing Special for 99 cents.

Remember to click through the Althouse portal!

Roughcoat said...

I commented on this book in response to an Althouse post on the same subject from a few years ago.

I maintained then, and still do, that this book was a chronicle of profound mental illness. It was not about Zen Buddhism: it was about the author's progressive mental collapse and sickness.

Sebastian said...

"I am searching for quality in these comments. Do you think I am finding it?" Not unless you discover the unbearable quality of being.

See? We're happy to help. Keep on searchin'.

The Bear said...

And Christ would be just as cool and collected on a Harley as on a donkey.

tim in vermont said...

I think you guys are missing it. He believed that humans should trust their intuitions, and that logic was flawed. Of course this POV seems profoundly deluded to us, but there are lots of people who buy it. His thing about the motorcycle mechanic was that the. solution for a repair problem would come to the mechanic without him thinking about it, and he then generalized this principle to all of life. That is what he meant by "Zen." Of course this is profoundly stupid. Motorcycles. were designed by humans, and fairly simple, and so easy to understand, and a mechanic has seen hundreds, if not thousands of them, so his unbidden intuitions are probably pretty good. That does not mean that listening for that pre-logical intuition is going to work for new problems.

The point is that a lot of people today believe in this kind of thinking. That the Sophists, who believed in rhetoric, were correct, and that the Empiricists, who believed in logic and evidence were wrong. His book was kind of seminal, and even though it is deeply moronic, it has influenced a large number of people today, and how they think, and reject the hard work that goes into careful thought. It's a "know thy enemy" type of book.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

That book changed my life. As a liberal arts college dropout who always thought he was no good at math, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance convinced me that I could-- or more to the point, that I wanted to-- become an engineer, and I did. Thank you, Robert Pirsig, you have a special place in my heart.

Robert Cook said...

"I maintained then, and still do, that this book was a chronicle of profound mental illness. It was not about Zen Buddhism: it was about the author's progressive mental collapse and sickness."

Yes. (I don't know whether Persig actually experienced mental illness in life, but, if not, at least rhetorically, this is what the book depicted to me.)