“Desire is the root of all suffering.” From Buddhism and Taoism to Judaism and Christianity, all spiritual systems espouse some form of this sentiment. But is desire really all that bad? Isn’t it part of our human experience? If so, are we magically supposed to rid ourselves of it completely and not want for anything? Or perhaps we ought to just accept our fate as eternally suffering species and dislike some part of our natural selves. This topic is a matter of constant debate and must be clarified and reconciled.
Desire is indeed often the most apparent cause of suffering. However, the feeling of want or desire itself is not inherently “bad.” In fact, it is the very thing that has propelled the human race through so many generations of unbelievable accomplishments. The element or “root” that is the cause of the suffering—the pain, the sadness, the fear, the lacking—is not desire itself but rather that which motivates desire. In other words, WHY do we want the things we want? This is the point each of us MUST get clear on for our individual lives.
Do you believe that without the object(s) of your desire you will be incomplete? Not good enough? Not accepted or loved or wanted by others? Not a real man or woman? Not safe? Are any or several of these motivating your want of particular things? If so, then desire is only the emotion that is trying to help you by finding a solution to that which is making you sad or afraid. In this sense, desire is only trying to help you. It is not the desire, then, that causes suffering, but rather the fear that you will be in danger if you do not get the thing(s) you want—whether it be physical danger or social danger. You have essentially wrapped up your very identity with these things (i.e., if I don’t have that, then I AM NOT this) and/or you have melted WANT into NEED (i.e., I need that and if I don’t have it, then I am in danger). This is called “attachment to outcome,” and THIS is the root of suffering.
Well here is the big news: A) You ARE not anything or anyone more or less because of what you have; and B) you do not NEED the things you want. Things, people, circumstances all come and go, and if you believe your self-worth and self-concept are intertwined with this fluctuation, you’re indeed in for a world of suffering. From a spiritual viewpoint, you are perfection manifest, exactly as you were intended, and do not need anything to be wholly and completely YOU—a divine miracle, which nothing and no one can take away. In regards to need, if you truly NEEDED the things you want but do not have, then you would not be currently alive! All you NEED to live peacefully, you have. It is your belief that you NEED this or that in order to live in peace that keeps you in suffering. Getting to understand this truth—that you are complete without any of the stuff and you can live without any of the stuff—is the practice of the spiritual Warrior’s path.
So then, why WANT at all? If I don’t need it, why would I desire it? Two words: Fun and Comfort. These two elements are enough to motivate anyone to do anything, without attaching the enormous burden of fear in order to motivate their accomplishing, achieving, or attaining. I want this or that purely because it’s fun (i.e. interesting, exciting, adventurous, etc.) and/or because it will bring greater comfort (i.e. convenience, pleasure, relaxation, etc.). That way, if you don’t get this or that, it is not the end of the world—the thing that your very identity and safety depended on. It just means that it wasn’t the right path for your current experience, and now it’s time to move on or switch up the path to find more fun and comfort in some different way, which you may not yet have considered.
This not a cop out. This is not a path to complacency. It is rather a path to greater enjoyment of the journey itself toward the thing(s) you desire. The notion that "If I don't want the things so badly, then I won't ever get them" is just a false story; the truth is that you will be just as if not more likely to get what you want, and you won't feel so desperate to have it, even if you don't get it. The switch in motivation—from fear and loss to fun and comfort—is the key to removing suffering from wanting, and ultimately to cheerfully experiencing this fun and wonderful human emotion called desire.