Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (ISBN 0688002307) is the first of Robert M. Pirsig’s texts in which he explores a Metaphysics of Quality. The 1974 book describes a journey across the United States, punctuated by numerous philosophical discussions referred to as chautauquas.
In this book, Pirsig explores the meaning of the concept “quality” (a term which he capitalizes). In the sequel (Lila: An Inquiry into Morals), Pirsig expands his exploration of Quality into a complete metaphysics which he calls The Metaphysics of Quality. The Metaphysics of Quality is a philosophy, a theory about reality; it asks questions such as what is real, what is good and what is moral. As the title suggests, much of the Metaphysics of Quality has to do with a non-intellectualizing, non-conceptualizing, Zen-like direct viewing of the universe. Yet Pirsig departs from Eastern thinking by arguing that reason and logic are just as important in seeking understanding. He explains that, despite its title, “it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”
Pirsig is not the first philosopher to try to bridge the gap between science and mysticism; however, with the Metaphysics of Quality he elevates the whole debate to a new level by structuring both paradigms around a single concept: value. Pirsig throws new light on issues such as mind and matter, the behavior of particles at the quantum level and the nature of consciousness. At the social level there is much to say about racial tension, celebrity cults and mental illness.
- The title is an incongruous play on the title of an earlier, well-known (among Western Buddhists) book Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel.
- According to the Guinness Book of Records Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the bestselling novel rejected by the greatest number of potential publishers (121).
- Legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson cites Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as one of the major guiding forces in his life. His fond admiration for the book is the source of his nickname “The Zen Master.”