Notes & Quotes: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

The following are my favorite quotes from Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
  1. At age eleven you don't get very impressed with red-winged blackbirds. You have to get older for that.
  2. You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other.
  3. 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.
  4. You always suppress momentary anger at something you deeply and permanently hate.
  5. 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.
  6. Mass hypnosis. In a very orthodox form known as "education."
  7. If someone's ungrateful and you tell them he's ungrateful, okay, you've called him a name.  You haven't solved anything.
  8. We were both looking at the same thing, seeing the same thing, talking about the same thing, thinking about the same thing, except he was looking, seeing, talking and thinking from a completely different dimension.
  9. 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.
  10. Both are valid ways of looking at the world although irreconcilable with the other.
  11. Instead of just dwelling on what is killed it's important also to see what's created and to see the process as a kind of death-birth continuity that is neither good nor bad, but just is.
  12. A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself.
  13. To tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible.
  14. 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.
  15. One must be extremely careful and rigidly logical when dealing with Nature: one logical slip and an entire scientific edifice comes tumbling down.  One false deduction about the machine and you can get hung up indefinitely.
  16. 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.
  17. What is the truth and how do you know it when you have it?...How do we really know anything?
  18. The harder you think in this high country of the mind the slower you go.
  19. Suppose a child is born devoid of all senses; he has no sight, no hearing, no touch, no smell, no taste -- nothing. There's no way whatsoever for him to receive any sensations from the outside world. And suppose this child is fed intravenously and otherwise attended to and kept alive for eighteen years in this state of existence.  The question is then asked: Does this eighteen-year-old person have a thought in his head? If so, where does it come from? How does he get it?
  20. The best students always are flunking. Every good teacher knows that.
  21.  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.
  22. That which produces it is good maintenance; that which disturbs it is poor maintenance. What we call workability of the machine is just an objectification of this peace of mind. The ultimate test's always your own serenity. If you don't have this when you start and maintain it while you're working  you're likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.
  23. The test of the machine is the satisfaction is 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.
  24. You look at where you're going and where you're at and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.
  25. It's just a fact that if Jesus or Moses were to appear today, unidentified, with the same message he spoke many years ago, his mental stability would be challenged.
  26. Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire.
  27. To live only for some future goal is shallow.
  28. Mental reflection is so much more interesting than TV it's a shame more people don't switch over to it. They probably think what they hear is unimportant but it never is.
  29. Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster.
  30. Absence of Quality is the essence of squareness.
  31. It's an old rule of logic that the competence of a speaker has no relevance to the truth of what he says, and so talk of incompetence was pure sand.
  32. When you are trained to despise "just what you like" then, of course, you become a much more obedient servant of others -- a good slave. When you learn not to do "just what you like" then the System loves you.
  33. The silence allows you to do each thing right.
  34. When the world is seen not as a duality of mind and matter but as a trinity of quality, mind, and matter, then the art of motorcycle maintenance and other arts take on a dimension of meaning they never had.
  35. The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality.
  36. The more general a fact, the more precious it is.
  37. Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is person who's bound to have some characteristics of Quality.
  38. Quality is the Buddha. Quality is scientific reality. Quality is the goal of Art.
  39. In the process of examining the train and subdividing it into parts we've inadvertently stopped it, so that it really isn't a train we are examining. That's why we get stuck.
  40. If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then you may be much better off than when it was loaded with ideas.
  41. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality.
  42. At the moment of pure Quality, subject and object are identical.
  43. The time for real reunification of art and technology is really long overdue.
  44. That which produces it is good work and that which destroys it is bad work.
  45. Physical quietness seems the easiest to achieve, although there are levels and levels of this too, as attested by the ability of Hindu mystics to live buried alive for many days.
  46. When one isn't dominated by feelings of separateness from what he's working on, then one can be said to "care" about what he's doing. That is what caring really is, a feeling of identification with what one's doing. When one has this feeling then he also sees the inverse side of caring, Quality itself.
  47. Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.
  48. Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right.
  49. The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.
  50. A gumption trap, consequently, can be defined as anything that causes one to lose sight of Quality, and thus lose one's enthusiasm for what one is doing.
  51. Intermittent [setbacks] become gumption traps when they fool you into thinking you've really got the machine fixed. It's always a good idea on any job to wait a few hundred miles before coming to that conclusion.
  52. Always take the old part with you to prevent getting a wrong part. Take along some machinist's calipers for comparing dimensions.
  53. If you're values are rigid you can't really learn new facts.
  54. If you have a high evaluation of yourself then your ability to recognize new facts is weakened.
  55. When beginning a repair job you can list everything you're going to do on little slips of paper which you then organize into proper sequence. You discover that you organize and then reorganize the sequence again and again as more and more ideas come to you. The time spent this way usually more than pays for itself in time saved on the machine and prevents you from doing fidgety things that create problems later on.
  56. Boredom means you're off the Quality track, you're not seeing thing freshly, you've lost your "beginner's mind."
  57. Overall goals must be scaled down in importance and immediate goals must be scaled up.
  58. When the Zen monk Joshu was asked whether a dog had a Buddha nature he said "Mu," meaning that if he answered either way he was answering incorrectly.
  59. Buy good tools as you can afford them and you'll never regret it.
  60. Pay attention to adequate lighting. It's amazing the number of mistakes a little light can prevent.
  61. This is how it was before the white man came -- beautiful lava flows, and scrawny trees, and not a beer can anywhere -- but now that the white man is here, it looks fake.