Wednesday, February 25, 2015


‘The only Zen you find on tops of mountains
is the Zen you bring there.’ Robert M Pirsig.

We all want to live life more fully. We are told constantly that we must live in the moment, that is, in the eternal now. However, all too often we live either in the past or in the not-as-yet future. At one moment in time we can be living ‘in the moment,’ so to speak, and then ... wham ... within less than a nanosecond we are either back in the past or we have projected our consciousness into an imaginary future. Is that not the case? And before we even realize it, we have lost all direct and immediate contact with the action of the present moment.

The last few days I have been re-reading, for the umpteenth time, a book which was one of the monumental bestsellers of the 1970s. The book is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig [pictured right]. I well remember when I first read this book. At the time I was aged 19 or 20 and was an arts/law student at the University of Sydney. The 1970s were a good time to be alive.

As for Pirsig’s book, which combines some thinly veiled autobiography, fiction and philosophy, I must admit that I did not understand it at all. I am not sure I do today. However, I enjoyed, as I still do, the author’s freeform romp through Eastern and Western philosophy and religion. The book details the search for the meaning and concept of ‘Quality,’ whatever that may be, and we get a review of the ‘classical’ and ‘romantic’ approaches to life. The classical approach is objective and rational, ordered and methodical. It seeks to explain. The romantic approach can be found in such things as Zen and the ever-popular idea of ‘living in the moment.’ It seeks to know and understand in a supra-rational, direct, immediate and intuitive way. The author seeks to arrive at a synthesis of these two approaches. Read the book and decide for yourself whether the author has succeeded in his aim.

Upon re-reading the book I found many felicitous phrases as well as a great deal of insight into life. Here are some lines from chapter 20 that I think are extremely relevant to the subject of mindfulness:

The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality. The tree that you are aware of intellectually, because of that small time lag, is always in the past and therefore is always unreal. Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal. Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place. There is no other reality. ...

Did you get that? The present is our only reality. However, as soon as---that means the very nanosecond---we start analysing or in any way thinking intellectually about the action of the present moment, that of which we were just aware ‘becomes,’ so to speak, the past---and we ourselves are now in the past. Reality has moved on. It always does, you know. Unceasingly. Remorselessly. However, Pirsig makes the point that the ‘past’ to which we have retreated is an ‘unreal’ one. What does he mean by that? Well, I think he is saying that the ‘past’ to which we have retreated is not one that actually occurred in spacetime. It is ‘past’ in the sense that it is not ‘in synch’ with what is otherwise the action of the ever-present moment. Things have moved on but we are locked into some prior, but now gone, momentary experience of life. The same phenomenon occurs when, upon experiencing some experience of the moment, we project our consciousness---in particular, our imagination---into the supposed but actually non-existent future.

Don’t let reality die on you. Don’t experience it as a past event. Let your mind penetrate sensation, not by anticipating it. No, that is not the way to go. Nor should you constantly reflect upon or evaluate sensations as they arise and vanish. That is also not the way to go. Let each sensation arise and vanish of its own accord. Watch it closely, without analysis, judgment, evaluation or condemnation---indeed, watch it, without thinking any thought associated or connected with the sensation. Otherwise, you will instantly lose the immediacydirectness and actuality of the experience.

Now, at the risk of stating the obvious, there are many occasions when we must intellectualize and seek to solve problems in a rational and analytical manner. Indeed, that is, in my view, the only respectable way to solve problems pertaining to such matters as one’s finances, career, property, and even relationships. However, in the moment-to-moment and in-the-moment experience of the content of the action of the flow of life as it unfolds from one moment to the next, there needs to be a directness and immediately of our experience lest we find ourselves either in the past or in the future.

Shakyamuni Buddha advised us to observe and watch closely---that is, mindfully---whatever is occurring in time and space in the here-and-now, in the moment, from one moment to the next. Not only watch, but the Buddha went on to say, ‘and firmly and steadily pierce it.’ Pierce the reality of each here-and-now moment-to-moment experience. And do so firmly and steadily. Only then can you truly say you are alive and no longer living in the past.

‘Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place,’ writes Pirsig. ‘There is no other reality.

One more thing. Reality---that is, life and truth---is to be found everywhere. You need not go to some mountaintop or ashram to find it. And you don't need a guru or swami. All you have to do is---live mindfully from one moment to the next.





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