Biker News & Biker Lifestyle

Brothers and sisters, what is old school to you? By Papa : Zen and the art of motorcycle riding. By Mark “Llama” Vickers

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This reader submission is from Papa.

Well here we go brothers and sisters, what is old school to you? I know what old school is to me, no credit cards, no new leathers(My leathers don’t fit anymore, but I still wear them they’re tattered and warn.) form the wind, the dust and the rain and maybe a few scuffles.

As we grow older and we realize where we have been. Sleeping next to our bike under the stars; our foot on foot peg so to know if someone was fucking with it. We didn’t sleep in motels or hotels, We slept in sleeping bags. We washed in the bright blue creeks. Some of us carried hemp rope to keep the snakes away. Old school is loving your brothers and sisters more than blood. Why? Because they lived the lifestyle thru and thru.You could trust them and our bond was strong.Total honor with dignity and respect.

When bikers worked on their own bikes and didn’t pay with a credit card when their bike broke down.Have you ever had your bike break down and have to get a ride from a brother? Of course we didn’t have cell phones in the days of us old dinosaurs.Which we as old school bikers are becoming extinct.And ride 100 miles for a part as other brothers watched your bike; or ridden into a town where they wouldn’t serve you in a restaurant gas station or the pigs told you just to keep riding thru.

Being old school was when you heard bikes on the horizon; you knew it was your brothers. Back then it wasn’t fashionable to ride a Harley. Wasn’t fashionable to grow long hair, beard or have tattoos. We were out casts from society.
And we knew what the word brother meant and that was sacred. The word brother was not used lightly.You always knew your brother had your back thru anything. We lived together rode together and even died for one another.

We lived for the good times, and we didn’t dwell on the bad times.We were brothers. A sacred bond between us was so strong that nothing mattered but the good times. The times of knowing our brotherhood was family. Not just some riding fools that had no clue what real brotherhood was about.You didn’t see sidewalk bikers in leather that didn’t even have a motorcycle!The wannabees and yuppie bikers.(which I hate to call bikers) I should say Harley enthusiasts.

We weren’t out to make a fashion statement and be cool. We lived and rode. We weren’t trying to be so-called sons of anarchy bullshitters. We were real and honest like us or not FTW! ‘I LOOK BACK AT THE DAYS when we were young. We were a little wild and crazy. But I wouldn’t change it for anything; we lived the life we chose and now as this old dinosaur recalls Teach the old-school ways and remember where it all started.


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Mark “Llama” Vickers

I tend to ride alone here in Taiwan.  I have 4 or 5 regular rides, north, south, east and west from home, and I can jump on my Victory High-Ball and not worry about where I am going, or time, or anything else, just point my bike in a certain direction and quickly settle into the ride.  I don’t care that adventurous bikers might think this, well, not very adventurous, I just ride for no other reason but to ride, and as often as I want, just ride.

In Zen Mushotoku is a state of mind where the spirit does not seek to obtain anything; an attitude of mind unattached to objects, not seeking any personal gain, fame or profit.  Just do it. There is no object, no subject, no goal, just practice Zazen.

So it was on this day.  I watched the sunrise from my studio then pointed the Victory down the hill towards the main road and the towns left and right.  Traffic lights, then swing 90 degrees left onto the main road and out through the town.

It is a rare day when some idiot doesn’t pull out in front of me or some other completely stupid maneuver.  This day an on-coming taxi driver turned left directly across the front of me. I hit the brakes and came to a rest no more than two feet from him.  I hit my horn and couldn’t help shouting at the guy who looked quite bewildered as he looked out of his side-window at this angry foreign biker. Then to add fuel to my anger he said in Chinese “What’s wrong?”  WHAT’s WRONG? You nearly friggin’ killed me, that’s what’s wrong, you jackass.

“I follow four dictates: face it, accept it, deal with it, then let it go.” Sheng-yen.

“Deal with it” – hmmm.  TCB – Taking care of business.  But no, I know that’s not what Master Sheng-Yen means.

“If you do something, you should be observant, and careful, and alert.”  Shunryu Suzuki 

Actually I am usually mindful of what I am doing.  When I get cross with some idiot driver I am still in control of my mind.  I might sound like I am angry and getting crazy, but it is a controlled crazy and I can let it go instantly, usually!

“To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.” Confucius

Anyhow, I didn’t want the hassle of the police becoming involved.  Just ride.

Another ½ mile and I was out of the horrible urban sprawl and into the countryside.  I took a left and up into the hills, riding alongside bamboo groves and rice paddies.  Winding road, concentrate, nothing more, just me and my machine and the road and the passing scenery.  The taxi driver forgotten already, just now, this instant, focus, concentrate, ride.

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Sakyamuni Buddha

I acknowledge the little shrine to the local land god, and then the ornate Taoist temple with gaudily painted dragons and phoenixes chasing over the ornate golden roof, and over there is the calmer blue tiles of a Buddhist temple.  I see them, I acknowledge them, feeling part of the landscape around me. I am aware. I smile.

Hishiryo is a state of mind beyond thinking and non-thinking.  Even in meditation we have thoughts arising, but we let them go, like waves splashing over us, thought arising, thought leaving, don’t chase them.  Then our mind becomes increasingly peaceful, finding its natural peaceful state.

I struggle to get more than 3rd gear.  The bike chatters, drop down to 2nd, back up to 3rd, a hundred yard straight, another 90 degree bend, drop down again.  A villager stands watching at the side of the road. I wave and he nods his head without expression, as I disappear around the next bend.  Left, right, straight, another bend. Just ride.

“When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.” Shunryu Suzuki

And now there is a sharp dip into an almost hidden entrance to a Taoist temple.  I coast in as quietly as I can, respectful to the tranquility. I am Buddhist rather than Taoist but this temple is peaceful and I bow to the altars and smile to the assistants.  Sometimes they give me a piece of fruit.

“Rest and be kind, you don’t have to prove anything.”  Jack Kerouac

I sit on the wall outside and just breathe.  There are a few wispy white clouds drifting slowly across the otherwise perfectly unblemished cobalt blue sky.  In front of me I see a shining droplet of water on a thin blade of grass.

“The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.” Dogen

It seems to say everything I need to hear.

A delivery truck sweeps into the car park and I see the driver studying my satin-black Victory.  “Harley?” he calls out to me in a friendly tone. I am used to this and reply in my atrociously poor Chinese “no, but it is American.  It is called a Victory.”  He says “oh”, and I am not sure if he is disappointed.

I should ride now, but what’s the hurry, no schedule.  Today I want to just remain in the moment, aware of my surroundings, nothing more.

Zanshin is the state of mind when we are fully aware of our surroundings, everything inter-connected, when our mind feels completely and perfectly still and aware of every moment and everything, totally present in “now”, but attached to nothing.   

I think back to the crazy taxi driver, but I feel no anger, I smile.

Every thought, word and deed, now, this second, matters.  We must be in harmony with our surroundings, not fighting them. We must be fully present in every action.  When eating, eat. When walking, walk. When riding, ride. This is the attitude of Zanshin.

The delivery driver starts the engine of his little blue truck and the diesel fumes waft across the car park.  He waves and smiles.

Time to go.  I return to the road and hang a right and back up the hill, the way I came.  I have a smile on my face and a peacefulness in my heart. I just hope that some crazy taxi driver won’t spoil this feeling.  Even after 25 years of Buddhist practice I cannot claim that my mind doesn’t get disturbed – after all, when some fool nearly kills you it is hard not to have some reaction!

Fudoshin is the ‘immovable mind’ that has met all the challenges of life and yet remains fearless and perfectly calm, no matter what it faces.  Someone truly in the state of Fudoshin doesn’t fear anything, even death.

On I ride, focused on what I am doing, machine and road and me.  Left, right, left again, on, on, on I ride. I am in my rhythm, that beautiful feeling, fully in the moment.  Bamboo towers over the side of the road. I pass a scooter and the guy pretends not to look. It doesn’t matter to me, I am just riding, just riding, just riding.

Mushin is the core of Zen and means the “mind without mind”.  It is a state where the mind is not fixed on any conscious thought or emotion, and is thus connected to the Cosmos, a state of mind of pure mental clarity, without ego.

On I ride, more cars and scooters now as I return closer to the main road and town ahead.

If we try too hard to understand what enlightenment means we will never reach it.  We just have to practice Zazen and be present in the moment, every moment.

I cross the iron girder bridge and face a queue of traffic ahead.  I indicate right and watch as several cars jump the red light. The car behind me gets a bit too close, perhaps expecting me to jump the light too.  I turn and glower at him and he stops hassling me. The lights change and I lean the bike through the corner and can’t resist gunning the throttle to let the car behind know he is a fool to mess with me.

Remain calm, remain present in the moment.  Acknowledge the thought and let it go, like that wave gently washing over me.  Focus.

Traffic heavy now, but my mind is still.  Under the highway, one more set of traffic lights and then a right-turn and up the hill towards home.

As I ride in first gear up the last 100 yards suddenly a Zen koan comes to mind (a koan being a “riddle” used as a point of focus in some forms of Zen meditation)

What is the color of wind?

Maybe I came close to answering it in my own mind on this ride.

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1 comment

  1. I like how you describe your ride and mindset. People that ride in cars have mastered the technique of getting from point A to point B and they miss so much of the ride. The smells, temperature differences, the feel of the road and the sounds of the rubber on the road. You and I have some differences, but enjoying the ride and finding spirituality combined with riding bikes that not everyone else rides are part of our bond. Another thing that we have in common is doing most riding solo. Last week I put over 500 miles on my bike and really didn’t go anywhere! Old school is something that I adhere to and I hope that someday, I can share a ride in your country. If you are ever in the USA, I have bikes that we can ride and it would be fun to show you the sights and smells that inspire me. Keep riding and may the sun be at your face and wind at your back.


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