If the Tao Te Ching is any guide, attachment is always good. As chapter 1 allows, Always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations. It helps to consider how desire and attachment relate here. I consider desire to be like the glue of attachment — although beneath it all lays the foundation: need and fear. (See Fear Is The Bottom Line, Reward, Fear & Need, and Fear Rules)
Attachment and its cohort desire have bad reputations in some quarters. The problematic side lies in lack of balance. Indeed, non-attachment can be a little dangerous when it goes too far. After all, life and attachment go hand in hand. They correlate: life=attachment, death=detachment.
Reading the correlated version of this is interesting: Life attaches death; Death detaches life. Saying that death detaches life is obvious. Saying that life attaches death is more subtle.
life -> attaches
detaches <- death
Chapter 1’s, Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets along with chapter 46’s There is no crime greater than having too many desires show why desire and attachment have such a Jekyll and Hyde nature.
Non-attachment, or as chapter19 puts it, Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible is a fine balancing goal when one is overweight with desires and attachment to things — or beliefs for that matter.
Interestingly, so much desire and attachment has fallen by the wayside as I’ve aged that I increasingly find myself on the ‘too few’ side of this coin. Sure enough, allowing myself to have desire (1) is as difficult at times as ridding myself of them used to be. As gentle as it sounds, chapter 1 call to ‘allow yourself to have desires’ is no more realistic than ‘free willing‘ yourself to have desires.
Now this is what I call natural justice. It makes the whole idea of chapter 64’s Therefore the sage desires not to desire seem nonsensical. In other words, I desire not to be full only when I feel stuffed. This is like a brown-haired person and a blond-haired person longing for the hair color of the other. The beauty of the Tao Te Ching is that it is balanced nonsense — “Rid yourself of desires” yet “Allow yourself to have desires”.
(1) Lau’s interpretation, “Allow yourself to have desires…” can be a little misleading. The literal Chinese is closer to this: Hence, normally without desire so as to observe its wonder. Normally have desire so as to observe its fate.
Personally, I never had a problem allowing myself to have desire in the sense of giving myself permission. To the contrary, I’ve often gone overboard in the allowing department. The literal Chinese has a simpler matter-of-factness to it. Simply saying, “Normally have desires” avoids some of the moral and free will connotation that saying “allow desires” can evoke.