Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Last updated Nov 22, 2023

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I regret to have waited so long to read this book. I mostly read fantasy and sci-fi books nowadays, but there was something about how the concepts were exposed and the story was told, that it just caught my attention immediately. There are lots of information and nuggets of wisdom in every chapter, so I took my time reading it.

Highlights

I commented on it and John said he had tried to fix it with a new faucet washer but it hadn’t worked. That was all he said. The presumption left was that that was the end of the matter. If you try to fix a faucet and your fixing doesn’t work then it’s just your lot to live with a dripping faucet. — p. 17

[…] to see if in that strange separation of what man is from what man does we may have some clues as to what the hell has gone wrong in this twentieth century. — p. 34

A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance. — p. 85

Persons tend to think and feel exclusively in one mode or the other and in doing so tend to misunderstand and underestimate what the other mode is all about. — p. 87

We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world. — p. 97

What has become an urgent necessity is a way of looking at the world that does violence to neither of these two kinds of understanding and unites them into one. […] Such an understanding will instead seek to direct attention to the endless landscape from which the sand is taken. — p. 98

If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. — p. 122

An experiment is never a failure solely because it fails to achieve predicted results. An experiment is a failure only when it also fails adequately to test the hypothesis in question, when the data it produces don’t prove anything one way or another. — p. 132

It’s sometimes argued that there’s no real progress; that a civilization that kills multitudes in mass warfare, that pollutes the land and oceans with ever larger quantities of debris, that destroys the dignity of individuals by subjecting them to a forced mechanized existence can hardly be called an advance over the simpler hunting and gathering and agricultural existence of prehistoric times. But this argument, though romantically appealing, doesn’t hold up. The primitive tribes permitted far less individual freedom than does modern society. Ancient wars were committed with far less moral justification than modern ones. […] From that agony of bare existence to modern life can be soberly described only as upward progress, and the sole agent for this progress is quite clearly reason itself. — p. 156

The real University, he said, has no specific location. It owns no property, pays no salaries and receives no material dues. The real University is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries and which does not exist at any specific location. It’s a state of mind which is regenerated throughout the centuries by a body of people who traditionally carry the title of professor, but even that title is not part of the real University. The real University is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself. — p. 186

When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt. — p. 190

The craftsman isn’t ever following a single line of instruction. He’s making decisions as he goes along. For that reason he’ll be absorbed and attentive to what he’s doing even though he doesn’t deliberately contrive this. His motions and the machine are in a kind of harmony. — p. 209

What’s wrong with technology is that it’s not connected in any real way with matters of the spirit and of the heart. And so it does blind, ugly things quite by accident and gets hated for that. People haven’t paid much attention to this before because the big concern has been with food, clothing and shelter for everyone and technology has provided these. […] What’s emerging from the pattern of my own life is the belief that the crisis is being caused by the inadequacy of existing forms of thought to cope with the situation. It can’t be solved by rational means because the rationality itself is the source of the problem. […] So I guess what I’m trying to say is that the solution to the problem isn’t that you abandon rationality, but that you expand the nature of rationality so that it’s capable of coming up with a solution. — p. 211

I think present-day reason is an analogue of the flat earth of the medieval period. If you go too far beyond it you’re presumed to fall off, into insanity. […] But what’s happening is that each year our old flat earth of conventional reason becomes less and less adequate to handle the experiences we have and this is creating widespread feelings of topsy-turviness. As a result we’re getting more and more people in irrational areas of thought—occultism, mysticism, drug changes and the like—because they feel the inadequacy of classical reason to handle what they know are real experiences. — p. 213

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. […] To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. — p. 257

Squareness. When you subtract quality you get squareness. Absence of Quality is the essence of squareness. […] Squareness may be succinctly and yet thoroughly defined as an inability to see quality before it’s been intellectually defined, that is, before it gets all chopped up into words. — p. 276

“The sun of quality,” he wrote, “does not revolve around the subjects and objects of our existence. It does not just passively illuminate them. It is not subordinate to them in any way. It has created them. They are subordinate to it!” — p. 305

Thus, if the problem of technological hopelessness is caused by absence of care, both by technologists and antitechnologists; and if care and Quality are external and internal aspects of the same thing, then it follows logically that what really causes technological hopelessness is absence of the perception of Quality in technology by both technologists and antitechnologists. — p. 353

The difference between a good mechanic and a bad one, like the difference between a good mathematician and a bad one, is precisely this ability to select the good facts from the bad ones on the basis of quality. He has to care! This is an ability about which formal traditional scientific method has nothing to say. — p. 360

By returning our attention to Quality it is hoped that we can get technological work out of the noncaring subject-object dualism and back into craftsmanlike self-involved reality again, which will reveal to us the facts we need when we are stuck. — p. 361

To put it in more concrete terms: If you want to build a factory, or fix a motorcycle, or set a nation right without getting stuck, then classical, structured, dualistic subject-object knowledge, although necessary, isn’t enough. You have to have some feeling for the quality of the work. You have to have a sense of what’s good. That is what carries you forward. This sense isn’t just something you’re born with, although you are born with it. It’s also something you can develop. It’s not just “intuition,” not just unexplainable “skill” or “talent.” It’s the direct result of contact with basic reality. Quality, which dualistic reason has in the past tended to conceal. — p. 364

Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavors. — p. 366

The way to resolve the conflict is to break down the barriers of dualistic thought that prevent a real understanding of what technology is—not an exploitation of nature, but a fusion of nature and the human spirit into a new kind of creation that transcends both. When this transcendence occurs in such events as the first airplane flight across the ocean or the first footstep on the moon, a kind of public recognition of the transcendent nature of technology occurs. But this transcendence should also occur at the individual level, on a personal basis, in one’s own life, in a less dramatic way. — p. 373

Because we’re unaccustomed to it, we don’t usually see that there’s a third possible logical term equal to yes and no which is capable of expanding our understanding in an unrecognized direction. We don’t even have a term for it, so I’ll have to use the Japanese mu. […] Mu simply says, “No class; not one, not zero, not yes, not no.” It states that the context of the question is such that a yes or no answer is an error and should not be given. “Unask the question” is what it says. — p. 411

My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that’s all. — p. 460

Phaedrus remembered a line from Thoreau: “You never gain something but that you lose something.” And now he began to see for the first time the unbelievable magnitud of what man, when he gained power to understand and rule the world in terms of dialectic truths, had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth—but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it. — p. 486