40 Years of Zen

“And what is good, Phaedrus,

And what is not good–

Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”


I discovered these words in a dusty paperback in a bottom drawer that was the “Book Section” of the Hudson’s Bay Store in Lynn Lake, Manitoba.  Lynn Lake, a mining town of 500 people, lay north of the 56 parallel. It was carved out of the bush. To me it was at the end of the world.


 I was electrified by my discovery.  The book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, reached to the depths of my eighteen year old soul.  What on earth was it doing here, amidst the pile of romance novels that passed for the most extensive library in this remote mining town of 500 people? 


This was a place where the Canadian Legion was the cultural center of the community …and lord help you if you got yourself banned from the Legion for being drunk and disorderly, because your sentence was 99 years and not a day less!  This was a place where babies were left in the town dump, Indians were beaten for sport and old miners lay dead in their rooms from a heart attack or working to death or loneliness, until the smell alerted someone that they might be missing. 


This was not a place where one of the most important books of a generation should lay hidden in a bottom drawer. But here it was, and it was mine, possibly the only person for a thousand miles who knew what it was or cared. I read that book in my room in the bunkhouse cover to cover, exhilarated by the universe of thought woven through its pages. This book was a singular point of light in the dark, dark world of the mine.


It is the 40th anniversary of the publishing of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. It was turned down by 122 publishers.  It has gone on to sell five million copies around the the world.  It is still a must read four decades later. 


© Patrick O’Neill 2008. All rights reserved.

Posted on October 11, 2008 and filed under Uncategorized.