There is no right way, only better.

from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig page 166 fiction ~5 min read

"Peace of mind isn't at all superficial, really," I expound. "It's the whole thing. That which produces it is good maintenance; that which disturbs it is poor maintenance. What we call workability of the machine is just an objectification of this peace of mind. The ultimate test's always your own serenity. If you don't have this when you start and maintain it while you're working you're likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself."

They just look at me, thinking about this.

"It's an unconventional concept," I say, "but conventional reason bears it out. The material object of observation, the bicycle or rotisserie, can't be right or wrong. Molecules are molecules. They don't have any ethical codes to follow except those people give them. The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn't any other test. If the machine produces tranquillity it's right. If it disturbs you it's wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed. The test of the machine's always your own mind. There isn't any other test."

DeWeese asks, "What if the machine is wrong and I feel peaceful about it?"


I reply, "That's self-contradictory. If you really don't care you aren't going to know it's wrong. The thought'll never occur to you. The act of pronouncing it wrong's a form of caring."

I add, "What's more common is that you feel unpeaceful even if it's right, and I think that's the actual case here. In this case, if you're worried, it isn't right. That means it isn't checked out thoroughly enough. In any industrial situation a machine that isn't checked out is a 'down' machine and can't be used even though it may work perfectly. Your worry about the rotisserie is the same thing. You haven't completed the ultimate requirement of achieving peace of mind, because you feel these instructions were too complicated and you may not have understood them correctly."

DeWeese asks, "Well, how would you change them so I would get this peace of mind?"

"That would require a lot more study than I've just given them now. The whole thing goes very deep. These rotisserie instructions begin and end exclusively with the machine. But the kind of approach I'm thinking about doesn't cut it off so narrowly. What's really angering about instructions of this sort is that they imply there's only one way to put this rotisserie together...their way. And that presumption wipes out all the creativity. Actually there are hundreds of ways to put the rotisserie together and when they make you follow just one way without showing you the overall problem the instructions become hard to follow in such a way as not to make mistakes. You lose feeling for the work. And not only that, it's very unlikely that they've told you the best way."

"But they're from the factory," John says.

"I'm from the factory too," I say "and I know how instructions like this are put together. You go out on the assembly line with a tape recorder and the foreman sends you to talk to the guy he needs least, the biggest goof-off he's got, and whatever he tells you...that's the instructions. The next guy might have told you something completely different and probably better, but he's too busy." They all look surprised. "I might have known," DeWeese says.

"It's the format," I say. "No writer can buck it. Technology presumes there's just one right way to do things and there never is. And when you presume there's just one right way to do things, of course the instructions begin and end exclusively with the rotisserie. But if you have to choose among an infinite number of ways to put it together then the relation of the machine to you, and the relation of the machine and you to the rest of the world, has to be considered, because the selection from many choices, the art of the work is just as dependent upon your own mind and spirit as it is upon the material of the machine. That's why you need the peace of mind."

"Actually this idea isn't so strange," I continue. "Sometime look at a novice workman or a bad workman and compare his expression with that of a craftsman whose work you know is excellent and you'll see the difference. The craftsman isn't ever following a single line of instruction. He's making decisions as he goes along. For that reason he'll be absorbed and attentive to what he's doing even though he doesn't deliberately contrive this. His motions and the machine are in a kind of harmony. He isn't following any set of written instructions because the nature of the material at hand determines his thoughts and motions, which simultaneously change the nature of the material at hand. The material and his thoughts are changing together in a progression of changes until his mind's at rest at the same time the material's right."

"Sounds like art," the instructor says.

"Well, it is art," I say. "This divorce of art from technology is completely unnatural. It's just that it's gone on so long you have to be an archeologist to find out where the two separated. Rotisserie assembly is actually a long-lost branch of sculpture, so divorced from its roots by centuries of intellectual wrong turns that just to associate the two sounds ludicrous."

They're not sure whether I'm kidding or not.

"You mean," DeWeese asks, "that when I was putting this rotisserie together I was actually sculpting it?"


He goes over this in his mind, smiling more and more. "I wish I'd known that," he says. Laughter follows.

Chris says he doesn't understand what I'm saying. "That's all right, Chris," Jack Barsness says. "We don't either." More laughter.

"I think I'll just stay with ordinary sculpture," the sculptor says. "I think I'll just stick to painting," DeWeese says.

"I think I'll just stick to drumming," John says.

Chris asks, "What are you going to stick to?"

"Mah guns, boy, mah guns," I tell him. "That's the Code of the West."

They all laugh hard at this, and my speechifying seems forgiven. When you've got a Chautauqua in your head, it's extremely hard not to inflict it on innocent people.

—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, p. 166