The lessons taught by the motorcycle are many; Ten of these shall be known as “Ets” and shall be considered fundamental to the practice of being a Zen Biker. All of them are of equal importance and form a synthesis, yet an order presents itself. This, then, is the First Et.
NEVER THINK YOU ARE AN EXPERT.
Now, before your ego starts foaming at the mouth and trying to gnaw my leg off, there are three parts to not thinking you’re an expert. The first thing, is also the first thing that the motorcycle teaches you: confidence. You need confidence to pilot a bike, for a variety of reasons, and the machine will be unforgiving of self-doubt.
It’s a bit like life that way.
The pitfall involved in becoming confident is that confidence can Jekyll and Hyde itself into cockiness if it’s not properly supervised. The fine line between confidence and cockiness is often the same line which defines the difference between the interior and exterior of a grave. A Zen Biker shall know this line, and shall know that not thinking one is an expert is the key to staying on the upside of that line.
To do so, we must bear in mind the second part: remember always, that everyone has something to teach.
I have spoken of this before, and will speak of it again. Learning is fundamental to personal evolution; when you decide that nobody can tell you anything, your evolution stops, short of your pinnacle. You stop learning, you stop living. The hell’s the point of that? That is a sin against YOU.
Some of you may feel embarrassed at admitting that you don’t know something. Put this sensation aside, for there is no shame: the great 20th Century philosopher Kwai Chang Kane III once remarked that
“All learning begins with the phrase ‘I do not know’.”
That line was delivered by a lecherous Irishman playing a half-Chinese Shaolin Monk in modern Canada, and yet that reduces the Truth of the statement not even a little bit.
That is what I mean by everyone having something to teach. Sure, you want to consider the source, but try never to dismiss a source out of hand. After all, Kane was echoing Socrates, who once said, “All I know is, I know nothing.” Thousands of years after his death, we still haven’t found anyone wiser than that. Only God knows everything…and even he learns something new every day.
The third thing to bear in mind in not thinking one is an expert, is a natural corollary to the second thing: there is more than one way.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, another 20th Century philosopher, Robert Pirsig, pointed out how the instructions for assembling something are determined and set to paper by the biggest fuckup in the factory:
“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.”
The word “better” has an unspoken implication that there is a “right” way, but there really is not. The “right” way is the way that gets whatever it is done. Hell, at a bike rally I once saw that someone had given their motorcycle a patina by lighting it on fire. “Wrong?” That bike got a hell of a lot of attention, and was absolutely unique, which is the whole point of customization. It got the job done. I wouldn’t have done it that way, but that doesn’t make the other way “wrong” by default. That’s important to remember, and something it is easy to forget. Developing a personal relationship with the Universe hinges on keeping this in mind.
A few paragraphs later, Pirsig stressed the importance of this kind of open-mindedness:
“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.”
You can measure things in inches or centimeters, using a geometry that is Euclidian or Reimann, in a universe whose physics is Einsteinian or Quantum.
None of these things is reality itself, none of them are “right” nor “wrong,” just different ways of describing something else.
There are different ways to steer a motorcycle: pressure on the handlebar grips, pressure on the foot-pegs, leaning, even turning the handlebars (though that last, at any speed over 5 MPH, is more of a way to “crash” than to “steer,” but now we’re getting into semantics). Some are more appropriate, or easier than others…but one must be aware of all of them (if for no other reason than to avoid ones that are inappropriate to a situation).
If you start thinking that you’re an expert, you will only be aware of some of the ways, and naturally assume that since you know them all, you know all about them. On a motorcycle, or in Life as a whole. That line of thinking puts you closer to the underside of the fine line between “confident” and “cocky.” The first one, is the one that’s going to get you further along your journey.
That is the Truth.
And the Truth rides a motorcycle.