Robert M. Pirsig Quotes

From :  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” 

“What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua…that’s the only name I can think of for it…like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, 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.”


“And what is good, Phaedrus,

And what is not good—

Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”


“The pencil is mightier than the pen.”


“Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality.”


When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a Religion.”


“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.”


“The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain, or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha – which is to demean oneself.”


“Your common sense is nothing more than the voices of thousands and thousands of these ghosts from the past.”

Tozan’s Three Pounds

A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: “What is Buddha?”

Tozan said: “This flax weighs three pounds.”

Mumon’s comment: Old Tozan’s Zen is like a clam. The minute the shell opens you see the whole inside. However, I want to ask you: Do you see the real Tozan?

        Three pounds of flax in front of your nose,

        Close enough, and mind is still closer.

        Whoever talks about affirmation and negation

        Lives in the right and wrong region.


Excerpted from the Gateless Gate

Tight-fist Mind

How much room, how much space, is there in a tight fist?

Sometimes the harder we try to grasp, to make sense of, the tighter our mind becomes. It squeezes. And because of that we get very tired. We can squeeze out the mud through our fingers. In time there is no space left and we are drained by all that effort. We may give ourselves a migraine through all that grasping.

As the Diamond Sutra suggests stop trying so very hard to get your head around something, take a chill pill and relax. Stop grasping. Turn tight-fist mind into empty-palm mind.

Only go straight, do not use tight-fist mind.

Gutei’s Finger

Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy’s mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. “I attained my finger-Zen,” he said, “from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it.” Then he passed away.


Mumon’s comment: Enlightenment, which Gutei and the boy attained, has nothing to do with a finger. If anyone clings to a finger, Tenryu will be so disappointed that he will annihilate Gutei, the boy, and the clinger all together.


         Gutei cheapens the teaching of Tenryu,

        Emancipating the boy with a knife.

        Compared to the Chinese god who pushed aside a mountain with one hand

        Old Gutei is a poor imitator.


Excerpted from the Gateless Gate

It Is Not Mind, It Is Not Buddha, It Is Not Things

A monk asked Nansen: “Is there a teaching no master ever preached before?”

Nansen said: “Yes, there is.”

“What is it?” asked the monk.

Nansen replied: “It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things.”


Mumon’s comment: Old Nansen gave away his treasure-words. He must have been greatly upset.


Nansen was too kind and lost his treasure.

Truly, words have no power.

Even though the mountain becomes the sea,

Words cannot open another’s mind.


Excerpted from the Gateless Gate