Of all of my classes, “Guided Readings in the Laozi and Zhuangzi” has to be my favourite. Part of it is that it’s just plain cool to be reading texts that are more than two thousand years older than I am, and part of it is that, following 2300 years’ tradition of commentators and religious wackos, I can find stuff in there to justify whatever I want.
Consider Zhuangzi’s exhortation at the beginning of Chapter 3, “On Preserving Life.” (My translation; any errors are my fault and not my professor’s.)
吾生也有涯， 而知也无涯。以有涯随无涯， 殆已！ 已而为知者，殆而已矣！
One’s life has limits, but knowledge is limitless. To use that which is limited to pursue that which is limitless — dangerous! To know this, and pursue knowledge anyway — O, dangerous!
In goodness, seek not fame,
In evil, seek not shame,
In all things, keep to the middle course
Thus may you protect yourself,
Thus may you maintain your health,
Thus save your family from strife,
Thus live out your allotted life.
I think Zhuangzi is telling me to drop out.
And then there’s the Laozi, Chapter 19 – some editions put it in Chapter 20 – where it says to “绝学无忧,” ‘renounce learning and be without worry.’
I think that may be the easiest course.
It’s like this: my options are either to go back to the States after this semester, and spend a year or more getting my BA – during which time I’ll be able to pick up another major, but unable to do much, if anything, with my Chinese – or transfer to Beida, (most likely) start over, and come out with really good Chinese and a degree that will be pretty much worthless if I decide at some point down the line that I don’t really want to be a sinologist after all.
I just don’t want to be halfassed about this.