In Zen and the Art, Phaedrus comes across an interesting passage from Kitto's history, The Greeks:
"What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism...is not a sense of duty as we understand it--duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate 'virtue' but is in Greek arete, 'excellence.'"Excellence. To excel. To surpass. To reach beyond one's uttermost limits. Pirsig continues:
"Phaedrus is fascinated...by the description of the motive of "duty toward self" which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word, dharma... Can the dharma of the Hindus and the "virtue" of the ancient Greeks be identical?"This mirrors exactly what's in play for Jack Duran in a crucial chapter late in The Assassin Lotus ("What You Have To Do"). Jack is alone in the desert, heading toward a confrontation with a killer, wondering what is driving him to put his life at risk.
"Do what you have to do, resolutely... The path seemed to tug me like the current of a river. Before I was even aware of it I was trudging ahead on the trail. Why did it seem I had no choice? What was it kept me going? Honor? Pride? Ego? Or dharma, duty, selflessness. Submitting to the will of God. Acceptance of my fate. I was on that dharma road connecting East and West. Assert the self? Surrender the self? It seemed I must do both. My heart insisted on it."Dharma. Arete. Duty toward self. Is this not the best answer to the question, What is courage? Is this not why we find acts of bravery so inspiring? Think of those three young Americans who stopped the train attack in France. Why did their action lift our hearts and bring a tear to our eyes?
Here's why. Because they honored their duty as men. Because they embodied the noblest of virtues. Because they reached beyond themselves. Because they epitomize excellence.