Pirsig, possibly due to his earlier bias towards Dynamic Quality, mounts a sustained investigation into what he reckons to be the root spiritual meaning of Static Quality in the Indo-European languages of the two cousins, Greece and India. Both Greek and Sanskrit evolved from a much earlier, common, Proto-Indo-European language. This earliest mother tongue has influenced English, which is why Sanskrit and English say ‘yoga’ or ‘yoke’, ‘raja’ or ‘regent’, and the host of other parallel terms. But the parallel between Greek and Sanskrit is even closer.
The Greek term ‘Arête’ is explored by Pirsig as a central, and vital, way of referring to Static Quality all the way back to Homer. It is often translated merely as ‘moral virtue’, but means much more than that. It situates virtue in a profound panoply of meanings, which start with ‘excellence’ of any kind, including manly qualities such as ‘prowess and valour’, but also including excellence in any art, skill, or walk of life.
Even more primal, arête meant ‘goodness’, again not confined to the moral dimension, but pointing to an ontological reality that is generous, outpouring, expansive: the goodness of life, the goodness of things, the goodness of being. Plato’s description of Ultimate Reality at its most primal is ‘the Good.’ For Greeks there is also a tacit link between goodness and beauty, thus the Good is invariably the Beautiful.
Also included is a ‘character’ capable of ‘merit, rank, nobility.’ The latter makes Arête very similar to what Chinese spiritual culture terms ‘the Superior Man’, where superiority is not down to money, social position, ego achievement, but the ability to indwell, and be indwelt by, the noble characteristics of Static Quality. The Inferior Man, by this reckoning, has abandoned Quality as such, and measures himself and others in a calculus of unreality. When you only point to external and obvious things to enumerate, and believe that ‘more’ of these are ‘better’, you are as far from Static Quality at its spiritual origin as you can get, for you miss its latent presence in all things, and in those persons who accept it and therefore are illumined by its light, breathe its spirit, are alive in its life, and adhere to a patterning of things not mechanical, but organic and subtle, a patterning within things that puts them together in a single yet complex ‘togetherness.’ Quality inheres in Quantity, for the noble in spirit; there is no Quality, and only Quantity, for the ignoble in spirit.
Hence, Static Pattern has for the ancient Greeks a Quality of ‘Rightness’ which they describe as Excellence, Goodness, Beauty, Virtue, and possessed of a Character that has inherent Merit, exalted Rank, and superior Nobility. This kind of Quality never gives way, or ceases, it does not falter. Its staying power defies time. Moreover, spiritual, ethical, aesthetic, dimensions are all different aspects of one multifaceted reality.
Pirsig reminds himself that the Greeks often added the prefix ‘a’ to a significant word; hence subtract that and the morpheme becomes ‘RT.’ At this point Pirsig finds a treasure trove of RT words in the Proto-Indo-European language. These include, ‘ritual, right as in correct, right as in right-handed, arithmetic, aristocratic, rhetoric [language that becomes like a deed], art as creation and beauty, and so on. Even more stupendous, RT means ‘first’, the primal beginning, the start and foundation for all that follows. ‘Ritual’ is a main usage of RT, meaning repeating order, but therefore also implying something with reliability, something having consistency, something that is dependable. If the sun says it will rise tomorrow, and that is life and death for the plants awaiting the sun’s warmth, then such ‘regularity’ is not pinched and small natured, but great and big natured. It is like the mother whose regular presence in the life of her baby is make or break for that baby’s subsequent growth, identity, fullness.
RT describes the Good Static at its dawning in human experience. The Light is first seen in the East, and so the Orient is where Static Quality is at its most spiritual, as well as most primal.
Pirsig assembles all the meanings of RT and hazards a short summary. According to him, RT referred to ‘the first, created, beautiful, repeatingly reliable, order of moral and aesthetic correctness, or what is right.’ But this rightness refers to an ontological reality, it is really speaking of ‘what is’, or the original being of all things; RT is the primal harmonic pattern that holds all things together, in a union that neither extinguishes diversity, nor breaks into splinters the over-riding connectedness. The originating unity is neither pure oneness nor is it duality, division, fragmentation. It is a harmonious unity-in-diversity. Harmony not only connects things, but connects them ‘amicably’, without contention or fighting, without rivalry or dissension. They come together symphonically, like instruments in the orchestra, and happily. Happiness and joy inhere in ‘being a part of’ this primal pattern. It brings peace, tranquillity, serenity. It banishes fear. It is like being part of a vast dance circle, moving in unison, to wonderful music.
Pirsig wants us to observe that we salute with the right hand, and shake on an oath with the right hand. The rightness of what is — its excellent and good quality — extends symbolically to right-handedness. The left hand is sinister, in this realm, because it might seem to disrespect, and lightly throw way, the cosmic pattern upon which everything is built and on which everything leans, in the way that a thug tears apart an intricate web that he does not understand and cannot appreciate. The rightness of RT is not ‘conformity to social protocol’, nor ‘obedience to normal procedures’, but something mystical, ontological, universal. This is not some limited formulaic rightness, but the rightness of ‘what is what.’ If you depart from what is what, you fall into delusion by entering ‘what is not what’; what is what holds together and continues, defying entropy, what is not what disintegrates and degrades, following entropy.
This Rightness is like being in tune in music. If you are spot on, everything flows. If you are off, nothing works.
In some contexts, RT is God, underlying all things; in other contexts, RT is God’s most primal created manifestation, underlying all things. Humans, through egoic and selfish motives, fall out of this unity that inter-relates all levels, physical, mental, spiritual. Once humans re-join it, they find themselves in concert with all fellow humans, all of nature, all the spirits. Indeed, its patterning cryptically contains the seeds of a new ‘spiritual politics’, for it is from this patterning that we derive ‘sobornost’ in Russian, or ‘conciliarity’ and ‘collegiality’ in English. This is neither individualism nor collectivism, but a reality recently called ‘communitarian.’ In the past, only the Superior people could see and live it, and thus these aristocratic persons were its guardians, tasked with upholding it; but there is, within this cosmic and naturally occurring pattern, a pre-existent Nobility that can teach everyone to become noble simply by ‘learning to dance to its tune.’ Everyone can join the dance, for it is designed to include all and exclude none; thus it will make everyone noble, like itself. In a spiritual democracy, all persons become aristocratic in spirit; thus all are equal, and power politics of one lording it over others disappears.
Even the Noble, no different to the Ignoble, have to learn to dance to Static Quality’s tune, and this is where a yoke of ancient practices, from meditation to attending ceremonies, and a host of others, prove necessary to everyone. We may be born ready to dance, but we lose it, and to a greater or lesser extent, everyone has lost it and everyone is still in touch with it and can regain it. Superior and Inferior are two sides of each person, and must be reconciled in learning to ‘get in tune.’ This is why people go to the sacred temple, fast, pray, read holy scriptures, chant, tell stories and sing songs, commune with God and each other. Curbing the ego is crucial to all such practices. Self-knowledge of the extent to which, and the way in which, each of us is out of tune, and needs retuning, is necessary to this way. People who try to retune, without dealing with their habitual, and fixed, ‘out of tune-ness’, will not be able to keep going on the path.
Pirsig tracks down the actual word in Sanskrit that sums up the Quality of Static Pattern; not surprisingly, this turns out to be ‘Rta’, and means, ‘the cosmic order of things.’ Only a foolish person, or someone wicked, disregards this, or wants to bend it into a different shape for their egoic and selfish ends. We should fit in with it, allowing it to be the immense, overarching and undergirding ‘house’ that looks after us, rather than seeking to belittle this marvellous reality by forcing it to fit in with our much more limited wishes and ideas.
Equally unsurprisingly, in the ‘Rig Veda’, the oldest known writing of the Indo-Aryan language, ‘the sun god began his chariot ride across the heavens from the abode of Rta.’ Varuna was omniscient, ever witnessing the truth or falsehood of humans. His task was to be a guardian of all that is Worthy and Good: to exemplify unswerving adherence to high principles.
Pirsig quotes an Indian commentary by M. Hiriyanna: “Rta, which etymologically stands for ‘course’, originally meant ‘cosmic order’, the maintenance of which was the purpose of the gods; and later it also came to mean ‘right’, so that the gods were conceived as preserving the world not merely from physical disorder but also from moral chaos. ..there is order in the universe because its control is in [good] hands..” [p 444].
Rta is a spiritual, moral, beautiful, ordering of the universe, on all levels, mental, psychological, biological, chemical, physical. It shows that nature is not amoral, and that nature’s beauty is not accidental, because the ‘higher’ ethical and aesthetic ordering is the same as the ‘lower’ physical ordering. The same Meta Shape, forming and reforming the entire cosmos, is in both spiritual and material manifestations of its activity. Stephen Muse puts it like this: “we are part of a much larger spiritual commonwealth [oikoumene] living in a divinely ordered ecological and metaphysical harmony which has intrinsic, rather than merely utilitarian, value.”
M. Hiriyanna points out that over time, Hinduism calcified and reduced its Good Static Quality into a very ‘evil’ over-elaborate and over-rigid kind of fixed structure. This is the danger with Static Quality. At its origin, its interconnected levels are like a waterfall pouring down different plateaus, all refreshed from above to below, but with time, the water freezes at the lower end, and the higher end is cut off– in the very name of defensively preserving it. Primally, Form is Void and Void is Form, but latterly, Form closes to Void, and then Form becomes trapped in a System, a Bureaucracy, a Formula. The round dance is gone. However, Hinduism recovered in the time of the Upanishads, when Rta disappeared from Sanskrit and was replaced by ‘Dharma.’ The commentary continues: “It is sometimes used as a purely moral concept, and stands for right or virtuous conduct which leads to some form of good as a result. [Yet] Dharma, like Rta, means ‘what holds together.’ It is the basis of all order. ..It is the stable condition which gives man perfect satisfaction” [p 446]. Pirsig adds that Dharma generates ‘duty’, but not external duty as imposed by others through ‘artificial conventions’, nor internal duty ‘which is arbitrarily decided by one’s own conscience.’ Rather, “Dharma is beyond all questions of what is external and what is internal. Dharma is Quality itself, the principle of ‘rightness’, which gives structure and purpose to the evolution of all life and to the evolving understanding of the universe which life has created” [p 446].
What holds together..
The unwritten Dharma, incarnated in the written Dharma, is what holds together everything in its embrace. Buddhism, in reforming Hinduism, does not abandon Static Quality for Dynamic Quality, but renews Static Quality so that the unwritten Dharma is not lost to the written Dharma.
This makes Rta, and Dharma, similar to the mystical Logos of St John, at the start of the Fourth Gospel. For in Greek, ‘Logos’ implies Light, Word, Pattern; the Logos ‘gathers in’ everything, and thus is the creative generator of the Cosmos as a Whole. Heraclitus= “Listening to the Logos, it is wise to acknowledge all things are One.” St John= “When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was. The Word, then, was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; no single thing was created without him. All that came to be was alive with his life, and that life was the light of men.” An older English translation refers to the Logos as the ‘Light which enlightens every human being who enters the world.’
Light is given to all humans, inherently, tacitly, informally. It surrounds us, and brings to life all the flowering and rich realities we encounter on the earth and in the universe. The temple arises, in Hinduism, in Judaism, in Eastern Christianity, because we fall out of the Light. The temple exists to help us return to the Light. We bathe in it, we are washed free of all the clutter of mind, emotion, body, that blocks it, and returned to that spiritual simplicity, our original condition, wherein we put no barrier between it and us. It infiltrates our being, on all levels. Reuniting with it, we are reunited within ourselves, and reunited with that which is outside ourselves. The circle dance encompasses God, nature, people, culture, and flows through each and all.
This is why the temple, in its fullness of Static Quality, is mystical, sacramental, ritual [liturgical ceremony], symbolic, ethical, aesthetic, ascetic, philosophically practical [in teachings], and ontological in its meta orientation, or emphasis. It is, ‘what is.’ Through its yoga, or yoke, we break free from ‘what is not what’ and return to ‘what is what.’ This is not only a great illumination, or Enlightenment, it is at the same time a great Liberation, or getting out of the self-constructed prisons in which we normally waste our life. William Blake’s ‘mind forged manacles’ must be broken.
God is shared by the creation through, and the creation is united by, Rta, Dharma, the stupendous Quality of Static Pattern. The united creation is united in God.
The gift of Eros enlightens, enlivens, cares for and helps, and is shared by, all that it touches– and it touches each and every one of us, as it does everything else.
By its gift, we are. By its gift, we walk in beauty.
God is, before we ‘become what we are.’