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    UK Avalon Founder Bill Ryan's Avatar
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    Default Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

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    The Motorcycle is Yourself: Revisiting 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'

    April 25, 2017


    Robert Pirsig and his son Chris on the 1968 road trip that inspired his book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
    Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has been called the most widely read book of philosophy ever written. Forty years after its publication, contributor Tim Wilson revisits an extraordinary interview he did with its author, for still vital advice on how to live.

    **This episode originally aired December 2, 2014. We revisit this episode again to mark Robert Pirsig's passing on April 24, 2017.

    "The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called 'yourself'."

    "The study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself. Working on a motorcycle, working well, caring, is to become part of a process, to achieve an inner peace of mind. The motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon."

    -- from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    Forty years ago, a book with the improbable title, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was quietly published. The writer and the publisher hoped that it might sell a few thousand copies. Instead, it went through dozens of printings in both hardcover and paperback in the first year alone, and it has never been out of print in the decades since.

    Some sources estimate it's sold upwards of five million copies. Just after it was published in 1974, Robert Pirsig granted what became something of a landmark interview to IDEAS contributor Tim Wilson.

    THE MOTORCYCLE IS YOURSELF


    by Tim Wilson

    It was a radical, landscape-changing idea, forty years ago: that it might actually be possible to unify the cold, rational, numbingly systematized world of science and technology with the warm, intuitive realm of art and the spirit. To bridge the chasm that has existed in Western thought since the time of Aristotle and the ancient Greeks between reason and emotion, subjective and objective, romantic and classical ways of understanding. To find the Ghost in the machine.

    But the idea didn't come from an ivory-towered academic, or a guru on a mountaintop. It came from the basement workshop of an unassuming writer of computer technical manuals in Saint Paul, Minnesota. And it wasn't Steve Jobs, whose mythic, marvelous Macintosh was still a decade away.

    "The Buddha, the godhead, sits quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital transmission as in the petals of a lotus."

    -- from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    The philosophical trailblazer was Robert M. Pirsig, whose first novel, the then-bizarrely titled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, published in 1974 and never out of print since, became an almost immediate classic. It has been compared in literary stature to Moby Dick, and acclaimed as the most widely read book of philosophy ever written. Subtitled "an Inquiry into Values" Pirsig's book is not directly about Zen or, for that matter, about motorcycles. It's about living a good and meaningful life. And -- I may as well give it away -- the whole thing, he says, is to become one with the activity, to engage in it fully, to see and appreciate the most minute detail.

    It all rides on what Pirsig calls Quality, the "knife-edge" moment of grasping something before thinking about it. An idea since set out in a slew of other works, from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's notion of Flow, or oneness with one's work, to Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking.


    Robert Pirsig (left) found the inspiration for his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, during a road trip he took through Minnesota in 1968 with his son Chris (centre) and philosophy buddy John Sutherland.

    A few months after the book came out, I travelled -- not on a Harley but in a Toyota; it was November -- to meet Pirsig at his home. From our intimate and richly engrossing conversation (which began almost the minute I walked in the door), producer Claudia Buckley and I made a radio feature for IDEAS that itself became something of a landmark. Pirsig, an intensely private, humble man (he is still alive, in his 80s and living in New England), has granted few interviews since.

    For years, however, he has continued to monitor and contribute to a website devoted to the Metaphysics of Quality: moq.org. And there's even a comprehensive Guidebook, co-authored, as it happens, by a Jesuit, those master melders of intellect and spirituality.

    To mark the 40th anniversary of the book, we're revisiting that radio program. And, in keeping with the motorcycle metaphor, we've given it a substantial overhaul, a new introduction and commentary. Because, you see, I have to confess that at the time, totally smitten by the overarching beauty of Pirsig's creation, I missed almost completely an understanding of its inner workings, its dauntingly detailed structure. Every time I tried to impress him with squibs of the little philosophy and psychology I had read, he would quietly insist, "but I had to follow my own lights."

    That, and other gems from our conversation became glowing, permanent fridge-magnets in my mind. "If you run from technology, it will chase you." "Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity." And this, most resonant of all: "The real motorcycle you are working on is yourself."

    And although maybe it's only for those of us over 50, I've a feeling that the present-day vogue for Mindfulness, for relaxed and focused, non-judgmental attention, is a flowering of these same ideas.

    And there's one more, vital lesson I got from Robert Pirsig. There was a moment during our interview when I was changing tapes -- we didn't have digital, back then, and I wasn't doing drugs -- when I had the radiant, reassuring feeling that there was absolutely no better place on earth or in time to be than with that particular person, in that very moment. A kind of landing, he would have said, on the Centre of Things.

    ~~~~
    • The book is in the Avalon Library, here. (1.9 Mb)
    Last edited by Bill Ryan; 14th May 2017 at 05:33.

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    Thank you Bill. This was a much treasured book of mine way back in those good ole days and still has relevance today. R.I.P. Robert Persig and deep appreciation for his message.

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    Reading this book was a turning point in my life
    What is quality? What is it, exactly?

    It is an event. It is something that happens.

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    of the thousands of miles I've rode on my motorcycle all over the US and Canada, alone and with others, there is s complete bonding of the iron horse you are riding, the confidence that you are one and rely on each other to achieve your destination. To be on an open road, sunglasses, bandana, and the smell and warmth of your surroundings, the beauty of some many snapshot moments in time. There really is a solitude of the experience.And when the ride is over for the day or the trip, you and your motorcycle take care of each other for the next trip. It is a very special bond of the zen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4mU8ZqMZPU

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    Having my bike (motorcycle), a 250cc Benelli, stolen while I was in college was definitely a Zen moment in my life. I ended up running long, quiet distances in the early, early mornings, right down the middle of Wilshire Blvd. alone, no cars or trucks around, easing down towards the beach air, increasing in it's call, the pale yellow street lights something I grew to get lost in, an endorphin fed companion all long distance runners know well, and disdain in it's absence.

    It was even more engaging than riding a bike alone with the noise of the engine breaking the sounds of silence, echoing back and forth between the buildings, asleep in their own communal and secret slumber. Riding was something I thought disturbing to all those asleep along the way, so the pause between having some wheels under me was not so much of a loss as a gain in sensibility, the closest I could come to running in the mountains I biked to, and raised myself in, before I went away...to stretch out my time as an artist, fighting the good fight against the unlearning a university would do it's futile best to impose upon my own ride....

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    there is a peace that is experience during long bike rides. "If you don't ride you dont know". got to ride again.

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    Yes. Motorcycles have their own special Zen in my history, especially with women. I recall when an ex-girlfriend drove up on her white Honda enduro and propositioned me right in front of my girlfriend, offering that she 'knew some new things'.

    The motorcycle emboldened her and placed her in her own space of being fully empowered, a place of zenfullness I'm sure she remembers to this day. I hope my saying no had none to little effect on her courage and also that she carried that sense of internal strength all these years thru to this day. Though my sentiment is what i wish for her I know that she came to the time we had together with that inner strength on her own.

    Both the choice to stay engaged and the ride away would have been the right one for me. Curiously so, the beautiful young woman and the ride would have still been with me, curly black hair and bright blue eyes included. Maybe only a woman on a bike could have done that. Zen Indeed!

    This forum is zen rich and I often open it's pages to read of the rides many share here. I am grateful !!!!! To listen, to learn, to be inspired...
    Last edited by Hym; 16th May 2017 at 00:01.

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    Here's another, very earlier interview, from 1974, before Pirsig had any idea that his new book would be a best-seller. (But, in my opinion, not nearly as profound and fascinating as the one in my post #1)
    I must have read the book 10 times, or more. I bought the hardback as a penniless student, long ago when it first came out, after reading a newspaper article by a respected reviewer who was amazed and bedazzled.

    To this day I remember being transfixed by the last handful of pages, tense in my seat, wondering how on earth it was all going to end.

    When I got to the very final, standalone, sentence — the simplest and most masterful conclusion of any book I've ever read — I just sat and stared at the page, and then the wall, for really quite a long time.

    Then, without moving from my chair, I went straight back to the beginning and started reading it all again. As many others have written, the book is an uncategorizable work of pure genius.
    Last edited by Bill Ryan; 22nd May 2017 at 18:02.

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    Quote Posted by Hym (here)
    This forum is zen rich and I often open it's pages to read of the rides many share here. I am grateful !!!!! To listen, to learn, to be inspired...
    Hell, yess. Lovely, inspiring surprises in the midst of turmoil. The book was constantly around me in the 80s and I always put it aside as a guy-thing. Now I went to the last pages (on Av. library), of course and ordered the German edition from my local library to read both simultaneously.

    Is it something like about the merging of the inner and the outer worlds? The superimposition of the inner and the outer journey? (just can't put it in words properly ) Reminds me on that one, which can be taken literally or metaphorically, relating to the inner or outer state of being:

    "But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk—times neither day or night—the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it's that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself” (William Least Heat-Moon)

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    Quote Posted by Iloveyou (here)

    "But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk—times neither day or night—the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it's that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself” (William Least Heat-Moon)
    Yes I remember this. The most wonderful riding time is when the dark turns to light. "Its an event" to behold.
    downloading book now. thanks Bill.
    Last edited by Bill Ryan; 14th May 2017 at 17:54. Reason: fixed quote formatting

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    Pure genius is spot on. I ride a 1978 Moto Guzzi 850 T3. One of the great all time motorcycles. On the bike I am at peace, blissful and totally in the now. A glorious experience and indescribable to anyone who doesn't ride. I read the book shortly after it came out and was entranced. A truly great read.

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    Did you ever read his book "Lila: an Inquiry into morals"? While not as good as "Zen..." it is good in it's own way.

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed



    This is a most wonderful, wonderful interview.

    Moving, inspired, thought-provoking enough to keep you pondering for a week, and just a tiny bit like a micro-version of the book.

    (A double interview, actually: with Tim Wilson, the initial interviewer, and also with Robert Pirsig himself. An extraordinary man: RIP)


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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    This is one of those extraordinary books that remains with so many readers the rest of their lives.

    I remember starting to read it on a Saturday morning in a tiny cafe in a beach town and when I came up for air about 3-4 hours had passed and the cafe was closing. I headed down to the beach for a walk and some reflection in some wonderment that such a book could exist.

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    Default Re: Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has passed

    Extraordinary memories in this...thank you!

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