A bestselling book — then a tragic loss


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Robert Pirsig who wrote the 1974 bestseller ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ lived to the age of 88. He died on April 24, 2017.

Fate was not so generous to his son Christopher, who was 11 when he joined his father on that cross-country journey of self discovery.

Chris was stabbed to death outside the San Francisco Zen Center on November 17, 1979. He was just 22.

Chris Pirsig just before his death.

Chris lived and worked at the Zen Center. At 8 o’clock on that Saturday night he left the center to visit a friend who lived a block away on Haight Street.

A car pulled to a stop on the street beside him and two black men jumped out.

One of them got behind Chris and grabbed his arms, while the other stood in front and went through Chris’s pockets. When he found nothing he pulled out a large kitchen knife, witnesses said. Chris said something to the mugger which the witnesses couldn’t hear. The thug became furious and plunged the knife into Chris’s chest. The two men jumped back into their car and sped away.

Chris slumped against a parked car to keep from collapsing. He staggered across the street to the corner of Haight and Octavia streets, where he fell to the sidewalk and died. He was just two weeks away from turning 23.



His father, who was divorced from Chris’s mother, tried to cope with the loss philosophically.

“I go on living, more from force of habit than anything else,” he wrote. “Where did Chris go? He was a real, live person, occupying time and space on this planet, and now suddenly he was gone. Did he go up the smoke stack at the crematorium? Was he strumming a harp on some cloud? None of these answers made any sense.”

Pirsig concluded: “The Chris I missed so badly was not an object but a pattern and although the pattern included the flesh and blood of Chris, that was not all there was to it. The pattern was larger than Chris and myself and related to us in ways that neither of us understood or could control.”

The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain, or in the petals of a flower. — Robert Pirsig, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.’

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