The High Country of the Mind

I’m returning to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the first time in over 10 years. Here is a great sample passage:

In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty, and to the enormous magnitude of questions asked, and to the answers proposed to these questions. The sweep goes on and on and on so obviously much further than the mind can grasp one hesitates even to go near for fear of getting lost in them and never finding one’s way out.

Many trails through these high ranges have been made and forgotten since the beginning of time, and although the answers brought back from these trails have claimed permanence and universality for themselves, civilizations have varied in the trails they have chosen and we have many different answers to the same question, all of which can be thought of as true within their own context. Even within a single civilization old trails are constantly closed and new ones opened up.

I’m going to do something I’ve yet to try on this blog: use the More feature!

Here’s a longer passage that sums up my position on progress in the world at large. It’s been so long since I’ve read this book, I can’t recall if it planted this notion in my head or not. There’s so much we take for granted in the classics of our lives; they become so inextricable from who we are.

It’s sometimes argued that there’s no real progress; that a civilization that kills multitudes in mass warfare, that pollutes the land and oceans with ever larger quantities of debris, that destroys the dignity of individuals by subjecting them to a forced mechanized existence can hardly be called an advance over the simpler hunting and gathering and agricultural existence of prehistoric times. But this argument, though romantically appealing, doesn’t hold up. The primitive tribes permitted far less individual freedom than does modern society. Ancient wars were committed with far less moral justification than modern ones. A technology that produces debris can find, and is finding, ways of disposing of it without ecological upset. And the schoolbook pictures of primitive man sometimes omit some of the detractions of his primitive life…the pain, the disease, famine, the hard labor needed just to stay alive. From that agony of bare existence to modern life can be soberly described only as upward progress, and the sole agent for this progress is quite clearly reason itself.