This post contains excerpts from Robert Pirsig's book Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.

The words are all his, the editing choices are all mine, the consequences of reading are all yours.

Table of Contents | How This Happened | Download PDF

Dharma

The more usual meaning of dharma is religious merit … but it is sometimes used as a purely moral concept & stands for right/virtuous conduct.

Dharma is duty … not external duty which is arbitrarily imposed by others … neither internal … arbitrarily decided by one’s own consciousness … Dharma is Quality itself, the principle of ‘rightness’ which gives structure and purpose to the evolution of all life … Within the Hindu tradition dharma is relative & dependent on the conditions of society … it is the bond which holds society together …

But within modern Buddhist thought dharma becomes the phenomenal world … the object of perception, thought or understanding. A chair, for example, is not composed of atoms of substance, it is composed of dharmas. This statement is absolute jabberwocky to a conventional subject-object metaphysics. How can a chair be composed of individual little moral orders? But if one applies the Metaphysics of Quality & sees that a chair is an inorganic static pattern and sees that all static patterns are composed of value and that value is synonymous with morality then it all begins to make sense.

… this was one answer … to why workmen in the Far East are able to maintain quality levels that compare so favorably to those in the West. If one comes from a cultural tradition where an electronic assembly is primarily a moral order rather than just a neutral pile of substance, it is easier to feel an ethical responsibility for doing good work on it … Oriental social cohesiveness … resulted from the working out, centuries ago, of the problem of dharma and the way … it combines freedom and ritual …

In the West progress seems to proceed by a series of spasms of alternating freedom and ritual. A revolution of freedom against old rituals produces a new order, which soon becomes another old ritual for the next generation to revolt against, on and on.

The Zen monk’s daily life is nothing but one ritual after another, hour after hour, day after day, all his life. They don’t tell him to shatter those static patterns to discover the unwritten dharma. They want him to get those patterns perfect. The explanation for this contradiction is the belief that you do not free yourself from static patterns by fighting them with other contrary static patterns. That is … ’bad karma chasing its tail’. You free yourself from static patterns by putting them to sleep … You master them … you get to used to them you completely forget them and they are gone. There in the center of the most monotonous boredom of static ritualistic patterns the Dynamic freedom is found … The danger has always been that the rituals, the static patterns are mistaken for what they merely represent and are allowed to destroy the Dynamic Quality they were originally intended to preserve …

If ritual always comes first & intellectual principles always come later, then ritual cannot always be a decadent corruption of intellect. Their sequence in history suggests that principles emerged from ritual, not the other way around … That is, we don’t perform religious rituals because we believe in God. We believe in God because we perform religious rituals.

“Dharma is Quality itself, the principle of ‘rightness’ which gives structure and purpose to the evolution of all life ...”
“If ritual always comes first & intellectual principles always come later, then ritual cannot always be a decadent corruption of intellect.”