Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Study Guide

Robert Pirsig

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Part 3, Chapter 21 | Summary



Chris has resigned himself to the fact they won't reach the mountaintop this time. He offers to take a heavier load, and the narrator gratefully agrees. He notices all the underbrush will make their descent harder.

The narrator explains that although Phaedrus was exhilarated by his "discovery" that the concept of Quality is encapsulated in the Tao, the discovery was an intellectual abstraction. It was general and not fully formed; it couldn't be relied on as a guide to right living.

Nor is the narrator even sure that Phaedrus's interpretation of the Tao was correct. "All his metaphysical mountain climbing did absolutely nothing to further our understanding of what Quality is or of what the Tao is." However, the philosophical exploration did help expand the concept of reason for Phaedrus. According to the narrator, accepting Phaedrus's notion that "Quality is the Buddha" provides a framework for unifying religion, art, and science.

Chris and the narrator's descent proves as difficult as the narrator had feared. When they finally reach Bozeman, they decide to stay in a hotel instead of calling the DeWeeses.


Within this chapter the narrator says he would like to transition from the metaphysical to the day-to-day. He has, in the literal journey, climbed and is now descending the mountain. On this descent he indicates he'd like to branch into a different sort of Chautauqua. However, his thoughts quickly lead to the assessment that Phaedrus's statement is the "rational basis for the unification of three areas of human experience [religion, art, and science] which are now disunified." The statement under consideration is "Quality is the Buddha." In addition to saying he'd like to get practical, the narrator acknowledges he cannot determine if Phaedrus's revelation—that "Quality is the Tao"—is a truthful one. He says it is possible Phaedrus misunderstood something. However, it's also possible Phaedrus has had a breakthrough in realizing Quality is a tool for understanding the human experience.

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