The Urban Dharma Newsletter - June 8, 2004


In This Issue: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

1. Quality - Inspired by Robert Pirsig's book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, An Inquiry into Values
...Brad Cox, Ph.D.
2. Robert M. Pirsig´s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and the term ´Chautauqua´.
3. Who is Robert Pirsig, and how can he change your life?
... J.D.Owen
4. FAQ... Questions and Answers about ZMM
5. Temple/Center/Website:
Elena's Motorcycle Trip Through Chernobyl
6. Book/CD/Movie: eBook - Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
...by Ron Di Santo (Author), Tom Steele (Author)



Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. - Robert M. Pirsig

1. Quality - Inspired by Robert Pirsig's book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, An Inquiry into Values ...Brad Cox, Ph.D.


And that door leads to Sarah's office. Sarah! Now it comes down! She came trotting by with her watering pot between those two doors, going from the corridor to her office, and she said, "I hope you are teaching Quality to your students.". This is a la-de-da, singsong voice of a lady in her final year before retirement about to water her plants. That was the moment it all started. That was the seed crystal.

Quality . . . you know what it is, yet you don't know what it is. But that's self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based on? Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others . . . but what's the betterness? . . . So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?

2. Robert M. Pirsig´s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and the term ´Chautauqua´.


The book describes a seventeen-day journey of father and son across the United States from Minneapolis, Minnesota to California. A rough outline of the route comprises Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and California. For the first nine days they are joined by a befriended couple, who, just like the narrator and his son, make their way across America on a motorcycle. The novel is set in the America of the late sixties (it was not published until 1974, though). At that time the narrator, whose name remains unknown to the reader throughout the book except for his former self that he refers to as ´Phaedrus´, has reached the age of forty (p.338), and his son Chris is around twelve (p.30f.). On their trip "secondary roads are preferred. Paved country roads are the best, state highways are next. Freeways are the worst" (p.14). Directly before this statement the narrator mentions that they "are just vacationing" (p.14), offering a first answer to the question of the purpose of the trip. Yet only three pages later (p.17) the reader is brought closer to what the book (and, presumably, the whole trip) is all about:

I would like to use the time to talk in some depth about things that seem important. What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua — that´s the only name that I can think of for it — like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, […] an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer. ( Pirsig, p.17)

The narrator sticks to this expression as well as to the lecture-form, the most defining element of the original Chautauquas, throughout the novel. He uses the term Chautauqua whenever he wants to present notions of a more theoretical kind: motorcycle maintenance, philosophy, technology, 20th century life, etc. These Chautauquas gain importance for the narrator on a very personal level, because the lectures become more specifically linked to the narrator´s life. Still, he never abandons pointing out general implications, trying to come to conclusions at the end of the Chautauquas (although sometimes the end of one and the beginning of another are blurred). A wide range of topics is discussed, which seemingly also inspired the narrator to come up with the term chautauqua. Other than that, parallels can be found in the ´lecturer´ being on the road in the U.S.A., his attachment to rural areas, and his system of day-trips in accordance with his chautauquas.

A short history of the Chautauqua Movement

Consulting volume nine of ´The New Pelican Guide to English Literature´, the one dedicated to ´American Literature´, I find that "it was partly a yearning for self-improvement and partly a simple need for entertainment in the long quiet farming and small-town life that produced such phenomena as the Chautauqua Movement, which may be summed up briefly (no easy matter) as a programme of summer schools for the farming masses" (p.45)

The Lyceum Movement was a somewhat similar idea that preceded the Chautauquas. It was founded in 1826 in Massachusetts by Josiah Holbrook as a pioneer attempt at community education (it "was not limited to students in the academy, but was open to all the townsfolk, young and old" [Harding 1966, p.29]), its topics of lectures and debates ranging from morality to science. This idea spread and soon a circuit was established, originally an exchanging of lecturers between neighbouring lyceums. The Lyceum Movement gained popularity and it was inextricably linked to the Transcendentalists; R.W. Emerson (one of the first professional lecturers) gave around 100 lectures at Concord Lyceum and H.D. Thoreau read his ´Civil Disobedience´ publicly for the first time at the same place in 1848.

"Lecturing in the lyceum was as close as they came to converting a truly transcendental mode of utterance into popular success. This indeed seemed to be a form in which unfrocked ministers could display their talents to best advantage. Lecturing involved many of the same oratorical techniques as preaching. It was a rapidly expanding field; and above all, it was open-ended. Anything was possible in the lecture room. ´You may laugh, weep, reason, sing, sneer, or pray, according to your genius,´ Emerson told Carlyle" (Buell, p.52.).

Another literary icon of nineteenth-century America also lecturing at the Lyceum Movement was Mark Twain.

"I began as a lecturer in 1866 in California and Nevada; in 1867 lectured in New York once and in the Mississippi valley a few times, in 1868 made the whole Western circuit, and in the two or three following seasons added the Eastern circuit to my route. The ´Lyceum system´ was in full flower in those days" (Twain, p.161).

This ´system´, as Twain called it, must have been inspiration enough for John Vincent, a Methodist minister, to start a summer school of a similar kind in 1874 at Lake Chautauqua in New York state. In the following year President Ulysses S. Grant spoke at the Chautauqua, which helped Vincent to establish a reputation that was confirmed by lecturers like Thomas Edison, Booker T. Washington, and Nobel Prize winner Jane Adams. Vincent´s idea, to repeat, had an anti-elitist undercurrent, and traveling to New York state was not possible especially for poorer people who were interested. That way, daughter or independent assemblies were beginning to spread across the country

The program consisted of musicians of all kinds (opera ensembles, string quartets, but also more lighthearted music), dramatic productions, entertainment of all sorts, but the backbone of the Chautauquas were lectures on topics like politics, morality or science.

Unhappy still with the permanent character of these Chautauquas, Keith Vawter established what Pirsig calls "the traveling tent-show" in 1904. This endeavor made it easier to reach also more rural areas without being restricted to local talent performances. Lecturers moved from town to town on a specific route, and thus each town could be offered the same program. Three years later this circuit, still run by Keith Vawter, visited thirty-three towns and the program was revised and the three-day Chautauqua became a seven-day event. A tent was set up as close to Main Street as possible on Monday and on the following Sunday the tent was taken down again, put into a railroad baggage car and moved to another town.

The Chautauqua Movement became a major social and also political influence, and although the years of World War I interrupted the circuits somewhat, in the years between 1920 and 1924 Chautauquas reached their peak of attendances. In this heyday, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the mother Chautauqua in New York state, programs were presented in around ten-thousand towns to approximately thirty million people, roughly on-third of the nation´s population at that time. After that, attendance began to decline; radio made its appearance on the cultural scene, making available at people´s homes on a permanent basis what up to that time had only been a once-in-a-year occasion. Additionally, rural depression struck at the heart of the Chautauquas’ target-audience, the farming masses. The proliferation of automobiles offered as yet unknown mobility also to poorer people and altered the way people spent their times and means.

As a consequence, the program focused on entertainment; magicians, yodelers, and jugglers turned Chautauquas into something closely resembling vaudevilles. The local civic leaders who had always guaranteed the expenses were no longer willing and, especially during the Great Depression, were not able to do so, and by 1933 the tent chautauquas had nearly all vanished. Only the original Chautauqua Institute in New York and a few permanent Chautauquas remained.

3. Who is Robert Pirsig, and how can he change your life? ...First published in Crystal Ship 1 - Copyright J.D.Owen © 1977.


During the summer of '76, a book was finally published in paperback form that I had long been waiting to read, but had never actually managed to lay my hands on for a sufficient time to digest properly. The book was the famous Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.

The enigmatic title is probably influenced by the Zen text-book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Nerrigel, but the book has little to do with Zen, and is not very informative about motorcycle maintenance, either. What the work does represent is the poles of Man's thinking at this time, and ambitiously attempts to bridge the gap between philosophy and technology, through the pursuit of quality.

The connection between Zen and keeping your motorcycle in good order lies in the possibility of transcending the distinction between subject, (the self), and object, (the world that is put against the self - in this case the machine). Although it was the imposition of this distinction in the first place which made scientific thought and the resultant technological achievements possible, it has now resulted in the alienation of Man from his world. By transcending this fundamental facet of Western thought,and so going beyond the limits of conventional rationality, we can regain that harmony between our thoughts and values on the one hand, and the parts and processes of the mechanical system on the other. This harmony has been lost to the Western mind since Plato imposed his idea of objectives on the Classical world. The basic message of this book is therefore: Keep your mind and your machine in tune together.

The ideas emerge gradually in the form of a soliloquoy by a man travelling across America on his cherished Honda motorbike, with his eleven year old son, who rides pillion. The pattern of the ideas as they emerge are reflected in the rise and fall of the landscape and weather conditions. His son is as shut off from his father's thoughts as he is shut off from the passing scenery by his father's back. This journey, how-ever, is just the framework for the book, as the real journey is through time and ideas, tracing the path of a man's life through his search for the foundations of reason and value, which takes him through the frontiers of insanity.

The book has a true basis for Pirsig actually experienced, agonisingly, the whole process himself, finally being admitted to a mental hospital,where he under went a course of electro-shock treatment to alter his personality. A constant undercurrent in the book is the slow discovery and assimilation of his previous character,(the ominous Phaedrus), into his overall personality. In many ways, I would not be surprised to learn that Pirsig had never intended to publish this book, and that he wrote it only to assemble the fractured pieces of his two personalities together into one cohesive whole.

The book is truly investigative psychology, with regard to the relationship between damaged father and almost certainly damaged son, as well as being a superb travelogue and carrier for Pirsig's comprehensive attitudes to the best methods of tackling life.

I have seen reviews which suggested that the philosophic arguments in the book are crude and naive, but as they were written by academic philosophers, these reviews can be considered to be biased. Speaking personally, the views expressed in Pirsig's book feel right. They are meaningful,and have great relevance to the problems of people struggling to have some kind of individual identity in this crazy world that Science and Technology have fashioned for us. The posturings of the 'philosophers' are nowadays so arcane and incomprehemsible, that their very credibility is suspect.

You should be warned, however, that this is not a book to curl up with, for read properly it stimulates too many loose nerve endings. This is one of those books that can genuinely turn your head right around,and rearrange and unjumble clogged syuapses in a way totally beneficial to your whole mental outlook. At least it had that effect on my mind, and on others who have read the book.

Pirsig himself is an enigma. Forty-eight years old, he was the son of a law school dean, and was strongly influenced by his father's academic background. He accumulated degrees in chemistry, philosophy and journalism, and attended the Benares Hindu Universityin India. While studying and teaching both rhetoric and philosophy, he struggled to remove the educational barriers between the rational (science-based) and the romantic (arts-based). The struggle was traumatic, culminating in a mental breakdown and two years spent in and out of hospitals. He was finally 'rehabilitated' by electro-shock treatment and released. Zen was Pirsig's way of putting the past behind him, and he is now working with the aid of a Guggenheim Fellowship on two further books. One is a study of cultural anthropology focusing on race relations, (which he says the critics will destroy him for because it will be so dull), and the other is a comparison between witch burning and mental institutions, pointing out the basic similarities in operation, as both are intended as a means of control, not as help.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the beginning of a way of dealing with the irrationality of our Seventies I only hope that other people can pick up where Pirsig stopped, and continue to weave his ideas back into the cloth of our society in order to alter it into something where all human beings can develop to their full potential. With this book,Robert Pirsig has more than done his share.

4. FAQ... Questions and Answers about ZMM

On this web site you will find photos, travel information, essays, and links concerning the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM) by Robert Pirsig. This information has been collected through the collaborative efforts of many people. If you are one of those persons, Pirsig enthusiasts around the world thank you. Explore this site and see what your efforts have accomplished! --


FAQ... Questions and Answers about ZMM


How can I send a message to Mr. Robert Pirsig?

You can write to him via his publisher as follows: Mr. Robert Pirsig

In care of: William Morrow Company
1350 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019

Can you give me his US Mail or his Email address?

No. He does not want any address given out.

How did you get those pictures from Pirsig's trip? Did he provide them to you?


The pictures from Pirsig's original 1968 trip were sent to me by Pirsig himself. I had asked him if there were any pictures that could be used to find the actual locations of scenes along the "ZMM Route". He had seen my (sufficiently substantial) web pages at that time, and his response was to send me the pictures for ZMM research and to place on these ZMMquality WebPages.

I'd be interested to know a little about you and your relationship with Pirsig.

Starting in approximately 1993, I had my students read ZMM as part of their physics class requirements. (See my ZMM paragraph on my "Professor of Physics" WebPage. This may be accessed thru the ZMMquality Links Page. Click on it upper left.) I found that the ZMM book was a very successful adjunct for: 1) The students' study of Physics, 2) Their overall understanding of the processes of learning, and 3) How to deal with "Gumption Traps". Moreover, ZMM's "Church of Reason" chapters helped my students to constructively understand what was supposed to happen at a university as opposed to what was actually happening! Or perhaps I should say, what was NOT happening. This experience prompted me, soon thereafter, to write to Pirsig with a number of questions.

I wanted additional "data" to justify (to other possibly concerned parties) why I was using ZMM every year in my physics classes. For example, I wanted to find out the names of Colleges and Universities that used ZMM in their classes. I wanted to learn how they actually used ZMM. I wanted to gather data/testimonials as to ZMM's contribution to their students' overall learning and intellectual maturity. Also I asked Pirsig about maps of the ZMM Route.

Pirsig, in a 9 July 1994 response, stated: "In answer to your question b), I would estimate that somewhere between 10 and 60 percent of colleges and high schools use ZMM in one or more courses. Usually these are literature of philosophy courses, sometimes psychology and sociology --- rarely science. U.S. sales have been running about 100,000 per year for the last 20 years, a really unusual figure. It has been stated in the London Daily Telegraph and by the BBC that ZMM is the 'most widely read philosophy book --- ever'. I give credit to the academic system for this, but I don't have any accurate information on who is using it or where it is being used." As for the maps, he directed me to the map/itinerary in DiSanto and Steel's "Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

Several years later, I found passages from author Owen Barfield (appendix of his book "Poetic Diction") that had very interesting conclusions about "The Subject-Object Split"; it's history, and other ramifications. What Barfield said confirmed what Pirsig had said in ZMM on this same topic. I sent Xerox copies these passages, with letter of explanation, to Pirsig.

I might here add that Owen Barfield (as well as Michael Polanyi) seems to have arrived at many many conclusions that agree with Pirsig's major assertions in ZMM. What is very significant to me is that Barfield's and Polanyi's "general agreement with Pirsig" (on many major points) was achieved independently and by completely different starting points and routes of travel, than those of Pirsig.

For these reasons I had hoped that Pirsig might be moved to actually study Barfield. In his reply, Pirsig said that he was glad to hear someone else agreed with him. But I could tell by his reply that he was dis-inclined to pursue the matter further. Through these years, I wrote perhaps three/four letters to Pirsig requesting information. He fully and promptly answered all of them.

When I was making plans to actually travel the "ZMM Route", in early 2002, I began to search diligently for various persons who had already actually traveled the ZMM Route. I wanted to learn what they had found, in preparation for my own ZMM research trip. I wanted to build on what they had found and I did not want to waste time by duplicating unnecessarily their effort. I was able to make a just a few successful contacts and about half of these persons contributed essays for my WebPages. I had hoped this would be a way gain useful ZMM Route information, but overall this approach was disappointing. Given the relative unsuccessful quantity of information found, I finally decided to write Pirsig. The fact that I had gone to considerable effort, as shown in my WebPages at that time, must have been convincing to Pirsig, because he was quite helpful. He provided maps, literature resources, and many suggestions. Most of his contributions are now incorporated into my "Travel Guide to ZMM" WebPage. Click on it upper left.

I have been hoping to hear Pirsig's voice some day. Has someone posted a mp3 file of him speaking?

I am not aware of any recordings of his voice. If I find any useful information I will post it here. I invite readers to send in their suggestions if they have any information to offer.

What is the correct Model and Number of Mr. Pirsig's motorcycle shown in the photographs on your ZMMquality.org/Gallery?

Mr. Ken Steiner writes the following: "I would like to mention that the motorcycle in the first photo is identified as a Honda CB360. The correct designation is a CB 77 305 Super Hawk. I believe the CB360 was manufactured at a much later date. …. The [links below] provides a photo of the CB360 and additional descriptive information. The Honda CB360 was manufactured from 1974 to 1976. I had rebuilt and owned a 1966 Honda CL77 305, This is a very similar bike to the CB77 pictured on the web-photo. They use the same engine, but the CB77 frame is configured for street and trip use while the CL77 is more of a sport bike that can be used off-road. In any case the photo is not that of a CB360. http://www.vjmw.org/tests/CB360.htm Here is a link depicting the CB77: http://www.honda305.com/cb77_000/cb77-006.htm

Editors Note: The captions of those 12 pictures from Mr. Pirsig were written by him personally except for my additions in [brackets].


The designation = " A. CB360_~l.TIF" was the original computer file name that went with that picture. It was his own abbreviation to indicate in his computer files which-picture-was-what. I believe he used this same abbreviation in each of the photo captions as he composed them prior to sending them to me. And that is the caption I placed on each of those 12 pictures you saw on my web gallery. I have seen the designation as 305 Super Hawk several places on the web, but of course there is no adequate way to verify this source of information. I will eventually write to Mr. Pirsig for clarification.

5. Elena's Motorcycle Trip Through Chernobyl


Elena's ride through the Chernobyl area - A story about a town where you can ride with no stoplights, no police, no danger of hitting a car, or a dog.

A woman named Elena posted a travelogue on the web about her solitary motorcycle ride through the deserted area around Chernobyl. With all the eerie pictures she took of the abandoned, irradiated 'ghost town,' her travelogue is one of the most linked-to sites on the net.

6. Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ...by Ron Di Santo (Author), Tom Steele (Author)


Book Description - When Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was first published in 1974, it caused a literary sensation. An entire generation was profoundly affected by the story of the narrator, his son, Chris, and their month-long motorcycle odyssey from Minnesota to California. A combination of philosophical speculation and psychological tension, the book is a complex story of relationships, values, madness, and, eventually, enlightenment.

Ronald DiSanto and Thomas Steele have spent years investigating the background and underlying symbolism of Pirsig's work. Together, and with the approval of Robert Pirsig, they have written a fascinating reference/companion to the original

Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance serves as a metaphorical backpack of supplies for the reader's journey through the original work. With the background material, insights, and perspectives the authors provide, Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is destined to become required reading for new fans of the book as well as those who have returned to it over the years.

Amazon.com - Reviewer: from Palo Alto, CA USA ...For fans of ZMM, this is an incredible book that summarizes various aspects of the ZMM book. First and foremost, it gives you the necessary background on philosophy to get a better understanding of where the Pirsig is coming from.

Secondly, it is great studying material for those of us who're interested in getting deeper into the issues that Pirsig gets to in the ZMM. Particularly, I liked the section in this book that relates Quality with Taoist principles.

Amazon.com - Reviewer: A reader from Woodinville, WA United States ...Additional background material, both philosophical and historical, really illuminates the original Pirsig book. The bonus is sometimes startling insights, and new questions (often unanswered for the reader to work out). Think of it as an informal but well-written textbook by teachers who care both about the material and the student. It lures the reader into further self-study in epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, and ethics. Contains valuable passages that were edited out of the original Pirsig book.


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