The Tao Te Ching hints that at least some 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. 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, p.139, Reward, Fear & Need, p.181, and Fear Rules, p.186.)
Attachment and desire have bad reputations in some quarters. True, these easily cause imbalance. Yet, lack of desire and any resulting non-attachment can also be precarious when this goes too far. After all, life and attachment go hand in hand. They correlate (p.572): life ≈ attachment, death ≈ detachment.
life -> attaches
detaches <- death
Reading the correlated version of this is interesting: Life attaches death; Death detaches life. Saying that death detaches life is obvious. Saying life attaches death is more subtle. Consider chapter 50’s, There are those who value life and as a result move into the realm of death, and these number three in ten. Why is this so? Because they set to much store by life.
Chapter 1’s, Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets, hints at what we overlook when desire and attachment take over life. Overall, desire and attachment tend to cause us more headaches, as chapter 46 hints: There is no crime greater than having too many desires. Non-attachment, or as chapter19 puts it, Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible is a useful counterbalancing aspiration when we are overweight with desires and attachment to things or beliefs.
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 yourself to have desires (1) is as difficult as ridding yourself of desires once was. As gentle as it sounds, the chapter 1’s call to allow yourself to have desires is no more realistic than ‘free willing’ yourself to have desires… or indeed rid yourself of them!
This is what I call Nature’s 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 non sense — “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 more like this: Hence, normally without desire so as to observe its wonder. Normally have desire so as to observe its fate.
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.