The Barbarian Book Club: Book of the Month (November 2020): Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig

Before anything else, November marks the last leg of my fundraiser. I’m well aware of the skepticism regarding this fundraiser but, if you could help us, I would surely appreciate it. 

Please check out the link for all the details. Thank you!

Oh, and don’t forget to like and subscribe! It helps a lot!

Greetings Barbarians! Long days and pleasant nights.

What is quality? What is “betterness”? What is sound and most importantly, what is not sound? What is the difference between ethics and morals? Is art a purely subjective matter as science is a rational one? Do ghosts exist? 

In life, we have so many questions as much as there are answers. It is in science’s nature to answer as much as to question. The more we answer the more questions arise, that is the nature of life.

I have been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM) for some time now. Between my tight schedule, I’m having some difficulties allotting time for my reading. Writing about ZAMM is quite overdue if you ask me. So after all this time, I get to finally do it.

Fun fact, would you believe that I got my copy from a used books store for 8 pesos, that is 17 cents in the US. I still find it absurd how people value something, not that I am complaining. 

Lucky for me. 

Like The Alchemist, I do not review the books that I revere. I am not positive about giving it the justice it deserves. I will leave the butchering of select books to the seemingly conceited. 

I love philosophical fiction as much as I love detective and comic book stories. It is a great practice to read something that tests your perception of the world. 

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Published in 1974 and written by Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a fictionalized autobiography that explores the metaphysics of quality. It is a story of a man and his son on a motorcycling trip that also serves as a journey towards self-discovery.

If someone is ungrateful and you tell him he’s ungrateful, okay, you’ve called him a name. You haven’t solved anything.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

With Cancel culture prevailing today, it is time to write about the book. It is time to talk about the divide that has been festering us like maggots inside a wound. I need it to be clear that there are conditions that are completely wrong in a natural sense. Then some believe something is wrong because it goes against their perceived reality.

My perceived reality is the basis of most of my work. Some may see it as fair and some may see it as wrong, and there is nothing wrong with that. That is how the world works, we have the freedom to hold our conclusions. What is wrong is to hurt somebody because their perception of reality goes against the other’s perceived reality.

The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Natural truth: the Earth is round, up is up, and down is down.

Perceived truth: white is better than black and vice versa (unless proven otherwise and yes, I’m talking about the color).

A plant needs water, sunlight, and nutrition (fertilizer) to survive. If you stick a plant inside a closet despite giving the purest of water and the best fertilizer, it still dies. Yes, there are exceptions but that doesn’t make the statement false. 

An idiot is an idiot because he is an idiot. I have seen enough to conclude that it doesn’t matter which line an idiot stands. If he continues his idiocracy then he will still be an idiot. Yes, there are exemptions to the rule, but some seemed intent on the exemptions rather than the rule. Rather than seeking commonality, some are more intent on seeking divisiveness. 

You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. 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.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

The divisiveness causes an even more chain reaction. Be unique yet feel alone and that loneliness points to doubt. Doubt that drives you to reinforce your beliefs and in turn directs to even more absurdities. Remember when I said that arguments are not about who is wrong and who is right but who had enough? Arguments arise when a perceived truth confronts another perceived truth. This confrontation commences doubt that will drive one to insist on the actuality of their perceived truth. They are trying to convince themselves more than the other person. The same reason why no one is arguing if the sun is going to rise. 


Logic presumes a separation of subject from object; therefore logic is not final wisdom. This is Zen. This is my motorcycle maintenance.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Like everything else, there are two sides to every coin, reasoning is not all there is to it. If you remove quality from the equation, logic will be least affected by it. I spoke about how we should observe the rule but it also doesn’t invalidate the exemption.

Let us talk about sports. In sports, a win is a win. But what if someone cheated, would the win still count? A resounding no. We could discount the win on the grounds of cheating, which makes “a win is a win” not absolute. We made room for exemption.

Let us observe it in reverse, a strongman or a powerlifter. We all have this notion that a person who uses steroids is a cheat. While that is true, especially when it comes to combat sports but not the case in strongman. Steroids are not some magic hormone that you inject yourself and you’ll gain muscle in an instant. You still have to put in the work. I’m not suggesting that every strongman or powerlifter out there is on steroids. I’m stating that those who did, didn’t get to where they are now on steroids alone. Steroids do not invalidate their hard work. Why is that so difficult to comprehend?

The law of gravity and gravity itself did not exist before Isaac Newton.” …and what that means is that that law of gravity exists nowhere except in people’s heads! It’s a ghost!”

Mind has no matter or energy but they can’t escape its predominance over everything they do.

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

It is dangerous thinking to dismiss something as absolute. It is that manner of thinking that points to all sorts of misery. Life’s nature is of change, anything is in a constant shift and it is up to you on how to adjust. If you are a hammer, it does not mean you should treat everything else as nails. It is arrogant to dismiss something because it contradicts your perceived reality.

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

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

The central takeaway in the book is about removing the divide that plagued us. It is about possessing the self-awareness needed to observe the rule without neglecting the exemption. It is not about left or right but rather the path itself. It is about you as much as it is about the nature of the world. It is about approaching art from a scientific standpoint and looking at science with an artistic lens. What seemed to be two contradictory ideas is truly one half of the other. And that my friend, is the Zen in the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Before I end this post, I’d like to thank my friends for their support during this difficult time. You made us believe that we are worth something when people seem to turn their backs on us. I’m so thankful for your friendship and support. I wish this would be over soon. Maraming salamat at mahal ko kayo!

Please check them out!

To Courage and Freedom, and Enlightenment. 

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

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