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My perspective of Robert M. Pirsig's "Lila."
, May 19, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals (Mass Market Paperback)
Robert M. Pirsig's "Lila" is one of the finest and most challenging books in print today. For those of you who have read his, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," (ZMM) and enjoyed the philosophical and mystical challenges there, "Lila" offers even more.
I have read "Lila" multiple times. I only recently discovered that lila in Hindu mythology means the never-ending dance of the Divine in an ongoing alternation between the World and the Divine and back again. It is like sacrifice of the Divine to create the World and then sacrifice of the World to create the Divine. Lila is this continual dance. I found the dance a strong metaphor of the main female character in "Lila" and her relationship to Phaedrus. I am unsure Pirsig intended this metaphor, but I suspect he did.
In both ZMM and Lila, Pirsig's prime pursuit is the definition and philosophy of quality. He conjoins the epic struggle of mankind to intuit and rationalize the mind-body, subject-object dichotomies. Note that Pirsig would emphasize intuition here and de-emphasize rational thought.
In "Lila" he accomplishes three major feats:
1) a non-dichotomous and holistic view of subject-object,
2) a moral value framework for sentient beings, and
3) rules for static and dynamic balance.
Holistically, he shows that reality is composed of three things: subject (mind), object (matter), and Quality. He says that objects precede subjects, subjects emerge from objects, and quality occurs where and when subjects become aware of objects. He develops this prescient philosophy while weaving a powerful human story of his quality events with Lila as he pushes his sailing vessel through the waters of the great northeastern US.
Second, he develops a beautiful framework consisting of four value layers: intellect, social, biological, and organic. Intellect is his highest value layer and organic is the lowest. He breaks the four layers into two groups: subject and object. The top two layers correspond to subject and the bottom two layers correspond to object. Each layer in the hierarchy has moral precedence over the other. Intellect has the highest moral precedence followed by social, biological, then organic. It is moral for the higher of two layers to dominate the other. It is immoral for a lower layer to dominate a higher layer. This is a profound discovery and for me it is the new value ethics. I see world legal structures eventually adopting this ethical system.
Finally, he unifies the static versus dynamic dichotomy. He shows that the world is both static and dynamic and if long-term dynamic world patterns are to work, good static patterns must latch to permit the next dynamic emergence. He does not say so, but I infer that just like his value framework, he sees a static and dynamic framework that scales from zero to infinite space-time intervals.
A careful read of "Lila" for those of you who know of quantum theory shows significant correlation to the concepts of the new physics. Many prominent folk have seen this correlation and Pirsig has presented on the subject in Brussels Belgium at the conference entitled, "Einstein Meets Magritte." Some of us see quantum mechanics as the layer just below the organic layer, and we infer more layers above intellect.
I suggest further reading for very interesting connections to "Lila:" Eugen Herrigel ("Zen in the Art of Archery"), Gary Zukav ("The Dancing Wu Li Masters"), Fritjof Capra ("The Tao of Physics"), Heinz Pagels ("The Dreams of Reason"), and Dana Zohar & Ian Marshal ("The Quantum Society").
Pirsig, among his peers and antecedents, in my opinion, has come closest to defining a new philosophical reality. Enjoy!
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