The Underlying Message Essay

This essay has a total of 1159 words and 5 pages.

The Underlying Message

The Underlying Message


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is not specifically about orthodox Zen Buddhist
practice nor does if specifically teaches how to repair a motorcycle. It does, however,
dig into the inner structure of the thought process to form a foundation to support any
form of logic. This is accomplished by means of a trek through the author's mind as he
recounts his past in attempt to rediscover who he once was. As the author comes to term
with his duality, the reader is conditioned to understand the author's philosophical
ideas, which are the underlying beams of his value system.

Pirsig presents his message through lectures to the reader. These lectures are comprised
of history, philosophy, and common sense. The author purposely uses the term chautauqua to
define these lectures. He describes a chautauqua as "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" (p.17). Throughout the story Pirsig breaks from his
incomplete lecture to focus on the current situation of his motorcycle trip. As the story
continues, some nonspecific aspect triggers the author's mind to restart a new lecture,
and eventually, they all tie together. The most common reoccurring lecture themes include
the purpose of institutions, the search for quality and the need of balance between two
extremes. These are interesting highlights of the book, but it is not the author's
intention to convert his audience to his value system. Rather, it is Pirsig's goal to
present how he created his value system as an example to show how to tackle such a complex
and abstract subject. In fact, the reoccurring themes themselves are complex and abstract
subjects, and Pirsig breaks each of them apart to analyze the system, just how one would
tear down an engine to understand how a motorcycle functions.

Institutions and their role obviously weighed heavily upon the author's mind. He explored
the system from the whole down to its most minute parts. First, he chose one type of
institution, education. From past experience as a student and professor, Pirsig naturally
had formed an opinion on the matter. He observed that students are taught to imitate, and
the result is a drone modeled after the instructor. This is done to please the instructor
so a higher grade can be received. The next step was to dig down deeper and to focus on
the aspect of grades. This raises more questions about to purpose of grades. Are they
really needed to judge a student's progress, or do they just blind the student from the
true objective of learning? To answer the question an experiment was conducted which in
return raised more questions and experiments. The focus went from the class' reaction to a
particular student and from the student to an assignment. Ultimately, the assignment, an
essay about the town where the student resided, focused upon a single brick in a single
building of the town.

From the preceding episode Pirsig demonstrated how a complex problem could be solved
systematically. More importantly, he also showed how one must be led to understanding and
Continues for 3 more pages >>




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