Saturday, March 20, 2004

The Twenty-Year Journey

The Twenty-Year Journey

I'm back in my hometown; and what an interesting time I had rummaging through my old book collection. I managed to find my copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Flipping through its pages I saw the date of its purchase, scrawled in black ink on the title page: sixth of December, 1984--almost twenty years ago.

This strange semi-autobiographical work is difficult to classify; it was a favourite of the hippie generation when it was first published in the early seventies and remains, arguably one of the most influential books of our time. (It's even available online.) Using a motorcycle trip across America with his son as the narrative framework, the author takes you on an intellectual discourse about philosophy, science, technology and morals as he muses about his past, one that was haunted by intellectual doubt and insanity.

The novel begins with a tantalising note from the author:
What follows is based on actual occurences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, 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.
It is difficult for me to even attempt to review the book. I actually stumbled on this book by chance as a teenager. I was intrigued by its title which seemed to suggest an attempt to synthesize eastern mysticism with modern technology.

At that time, I had just finished reading another book by a physicist (Fritjof Capra) called The Tao of Physics which outlined the parallels between modern quantum mechanics and philosophies of eastern mysticism. As a schoolboy who was in love with science, I read it with breathless attention.

It is quite interesting to analyze how one's intellectual development evolves: My interest started from science; then The Tao of Physics introduced me to Zen Buddhism, Hindusm and Taoism. That stirred my curiosity in these eastern religions, which was what led me to this book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

And then Zen got me interested in western philosophy because there's a lot of discussion about Aristotle and Plato in the book. And after that I started devouring books on philosophy--read my earlier blog entry, Philosophy and the Adventure of Thinking.

Reading is an enjoyable thing to do. But to me it is more than that: it is a spiritual quest for Truth, a journey of self-discovery--one that is still very much on-going. Truth might never be found for it might not even be there in first place. Ultimately, what's important is the spirit of enquiry.

As a teenage schoolboy, I started a motorcycle journey with the protaganist of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Twenty years later, I'm still on the road.

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