Zen and the Art of Cycle Maintenance

A few days ago I rented a cycle for the coming three months. The most beautiful cycle I ever had. She is incredibly heavy, rusty and greasy but all of that doesn’t matter. Have a look at her to convince yourself:

Isn't she a beauty? Isn’t she a beauty?

Now to the actual story that I want to tell. The guy who is renting the cycle to me owns this small bike repair shop which is a tiny hut on the side of the main street in Pondicherry. People come to him to get their bikes fixed. And he does that with a passion and devotion which is incredible. It is very meditative just to watch him repair bikes because he is so into it. Which is why I was reminded of Robert M. Pirsig’s book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” which is a philosophical account of how we can reunite the cold and rational field of technology with the warm and creative field of art. This is where Zen comes in, the Eastern art of becoming one with the activity, to engage fully and with one’s whole being in it, appreciating every little detail of it–be it walking in nature, serving tea, or repairing (motor)cycles.

This process of reunification of the rational and the creative is something that has already started taking place in science and in psychology. Most of us have realized by now that we as a human race cannot continue living in this way–removed and distant from nature and therefore in constant struggle with it. Good that we have come at least thus far because admission is the first step to recovery. But it is only the first step and we still have a mile to walk. The question one must ask is: If we cannot continue living in THIS way, then in which way should we or do we want to live? I will and cannot give a definite answer but certainly we must start living according to a higher wisdom, a higher knowledge; get from it the answers to the most pressing issues that we as earthlings face today.

How to access that knowledge? A first step is to acknowledge that we as individuals are not independent. We are inherently connected to and embedded in this world. Whatever we do to our environment, to others will come back on us. Come back on us not eventually but immediately, in the form of regrets, anger, depression. So, whatever we do to others, to our environment we ultimately do to ourselves. But we must go further. Go further and practice that egolessness which results from our acknowledgment that we stand not a-part from the world but are, in fact, part of it. A good way to start is to practice meditation or mindfulness. In the beginning one may not know what one is doing but slowly one starts to see that a change has come, only a very subtle change, but one that is noticeable. The things that one’s mind is usually busy with, ruminates about suddenly start disappearing. I would like to argue that some form of meditation or mindfulness practice should be part of the school curriculum and of everyone’s daily life because it gives one the ability to stop for a split-second and intentionally change one’s automatic reaction from something negative to something slightly more positive. Reaction now becomes action.

These small changes add up to a wiser and more knowledgeable way of making use of our current-day technology. Instead of seeing technology and ourselves as separate from nature, they become integrated and we lose our egos in something greater than us.

I would like to close with something I noticed about the traffic here in India. At first, it seems very chaotic and as if there were no rules. Everybody is constantly honking, the traffic is very loud. After a while, though, one sees that there is one rule which is very important, which stands out: Be mindful of others. Everyone is taking care of everyone else. Nobody gets angry because you were cutting them off or were taking their right-of-way. People will honk but that simply means: I am here, take notice of me. Similarly, before somebody overtakes you, they kindly blow their horn. Once one has realized this, the seemingly chaotic honking suddenly becomes a concert, a symphony of compassionate co-motorists and co-cyclists.

Therefore, because it is such an essential device, my friend from the bike repair shop, when I told him that the bell jammed regularly, took about half an hour to fix it, assembling it from several different spare parts that he keeps in his box, bending them in this or that way, giving them a little knock with the hammer, generously applying some used engine oil as a lubricant until the bell was finally able to sound in with the concert of the surrounding traffic.

Taking great care fixing the most important part on a cycle: the bell Taking great care fixing the most important part on a cycle: the bell

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