Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: The One.
Date: November 20, 1994 23:52

00:25 Santa Monica, California :: 14 NOV 94

I'll bet you didn't realize you were reading a book. That's OK, I only just now begin to realize I've been writing one. All along I've believed that these entries represented little more than the musings and observations from out in left-field of a traveling man, the whimsy of someone a bit out of sorts with himself and the rest of the world, gone walkabout spurting out anything of the least significance. These "musings" were in fact a re-writing of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig's wonder of the '70s.

If you have been paying attention, you may recognize the following.

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.

Zen . . . (pg. 4)

and this . . .

[My son] Chris and I are traveling to Montana with some friends riding up ahead, and maybe headed farther than that. Plans are deliberately indefinite, more to travel than arrive anywhere. We are just vacationing. Secondary roads are preferred. Paved country roads are the best, state highways are next. Freeways are the worst. 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. Twisting hilly roads are long in terms of seconds but are much more enjoyable on a cycle where you bank into turns and don't get swung from side to side in any compartment. Roads with little traffic are more enjoyable, as well as safer. Roads free of drive-ins and billboards are better, roads where groves and meadows and orchards and lawns come almost to the shoulder, where kids wave to you when you ride by, where people look from their porches to see who it is, where when you stop to ask directions or information the answer tends to be longer than you want rather than short, where people ask where you're from and how long you've been riding.
It was some years ago that my wife and I and our friends first began to catch on to these roads. We took them once in a while for variety or for a shortcut to another main highway, and each time the scenery was grand and we left the road with a feeling of relaxation and enjoyment. We did this time after time before realizing what should have been obvious: these roads are truly different from the main ones. The whole pace of life and personality of the people who live among them are different. They're not going anywhere. They're not too busy to be courteous. The hereness and nowness of things is something they know all about. It's the others, the ones who moved to the cities years ago and their lost offspring, who have all but forgotten it. The discovery was a real find.
I've wondered why it took us so long to catch on. We saw it and yet we didn't see. Or rather we were trained not to see it. Conned, perhaps, into thinking the real action was metropolitan and all this was just boring hinterland. It was a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.

Zen . . . (pg. 5)

Whereas Pirsig lists the basic necessities for motorcycle travel (pp. 34 — 37) I list instead the contents and compromises in an info-gatherer's bags; where Pirsig analytically dissects the technological constituents of a motorcycle (pp. 63 — 64) I reconstruct the process for selecting technological devices for collecting information. [Though the entry describing this process is unfinished and waits, in an appropriate folder, for 'the right time' to be completed.]

And in the following passage, even though he crosses prairies, Pirsig's description of this crossing broaches themes common to my experience of bush travel.

I have a feeling none of us fully understands what four days on this prairie in July will be like. Memories of car trips across them are always of flatness and great emptiness as far as you can see, extreme monotony and boredom as you drive for hour after hour, getting nowhere, wondering how long this is going to last without a turn in road, without a change in the land going on and on to the horizon.
. . .
[But], to arrive in the Rocky Mountains by plane would be to see them in one kind of context, as pretty scenery. But to arrive after days of hard travel across the prairies would be to see them in another way, as a goal, a promised land. If [say] John and I and Chris arrived with this feeling and Sylvia arrived seeing them as "nice" and "pretty," there would be more disharmony among us than we would get from the heat and monotony of the Dakotas. . .
In my mind, when I look at these fields, I say to her, "See? . . . See?" and I think she does. I hope later she will see and feel a thing about these prairies I have given up talking to others about; a thing that exists here because everything else does not and can be noticed because other things are absent. She seems so depressed sometimes by the monotony and boredom of her city life, I thought maybe in this endless grass and wind she would see a thing that sometimes comes when monotony and boredom are accepted. It's here, but I have no names for it.

Zen . . . (pp. 17 — 18)

I name this "thing" the Real, the Eternal, the Inescapable and I experience it sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or leaning into the rain-soaked wind while the ripping ocean crashes thunderously below, or while traversing the outback by car, observing the changing landscape expressed in myriad phrases but few themes. For me it is the humbling experience of my own insignificance that leads to exaltation. Afterall, the experience provides the undeniable evidence of my very existence; I am insignificant, nonetheless, I am.

Monotony? Boredom? No. Wonder; delight; grace: being. I revel in my existence.

Descartes thought too hard. Inexplicably, Pirsig fails to comprehend what he senses. The thing that exists when everything else does not and can be noticed because other things are absent is simply this:


I am here, noticing all this nothingness; whatever is left must be me.

My experiences leave a different impression: here is all this grandness and still, here am I, dwarfed in the scales of space and time yet vast due to my experience of the immense. The thing that exists after I am removed from everything else is simply this:

No Thing.

With this realization, paradoxically, insignificant little me becomes god. I cannot imagine a personal responsibility possessed with greater gravity than this one: I am the creator; I and the other gods my creation influences live in the reality of my creation.

WHOA! Time to back up.

I read Zen once before, about 10 years ago or longer. I recall little of it now and am not even certain I ever completed it. Even after re-reading the first 40 or so pages I recognize little, except to know that Pirsig the author, the narrator in Zen, and the narrator's daemon, Phaedrus, all represent the same man. To avoid confusion in the future I will refer to the individual members of this triumvirate simply as Pirsig.

15:48 TWA Gate 70, St. Louis, Missouri :: 15 NOV 94

I come back to Zen now only after reading Pirsig's second Book, Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals, a book that delighted, confused and, finally, disturbed me. With Lila, Pirsig continues the inquiry into Quality he began with Zen. This time he attempts to shuck the Subjective/Objective metaphysics of Western thought and introduces his Metaphysics of Quality as replacement. The conclusions of this inquiry ring false. And the metaphysics seem dangerous.

23:22 Redmond, Washington :: 20 NOV 94

Last night I finished marking up my copy of Zen. The problem with paperbacks is the margins that are much too thin. Nevertheless, I think I understand now where Pirsig derailed his otherwise insightful work. It seems such a minor point that he doesn't really understand art but this shortfall shows up his misunderstanding of spirit. His failing here results in the travesty that is his Metaphysics of Quality.

Most reviewers praise Zen as a highly spiritual book, but Pirsig is a rationalist, a logician, a rhetoritician. This pattern of thought reveals itself in Lila where he erects a pedestal for intellect not spirit, where he attempts to rationally define the undefinable, the One, the Buddha spirit, The Dao, Quality. In Zen he steadfastly refused just this endeavour, with good reason. Any spiritualist will tell you that the One can be known but not expressed, learned but not taught. He should have let the first work stand on its own.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --


The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomenon is infinite.
  graphical element Robert M. Pirsig
Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance