One of most common misconceptions in the Buddhist philosophy stems from the poor translation and interpretation of Buddha’s description of suffering causation. (The second noble truth.)
I am talking about the well accepted and worn out phrase “ The cause of suffering is desire”
Here a much better expolanation on Wiki: “The second noble truth is that the origin of dukkha can be known. Within the context of the four noble truths, the origin of dukkha is commonly explained as craving or thirst (Pali: tanha) conditioned by ignorance (Pali: avijja).”
So a better, closer to the original meaning translation would be:
"The cause of suffering is ignorant desire."
Desire is not bad, nor is it good as all things are neutral. Only human action caries moral value.
You can desire world peace or a better life for your children. I myself desire more knowledge and I take every opportunity to learn more. Desire is not a bad and it is not the cause of suffering, therefore the elimination of desire is not the solution for ending suffering.
The followers of the percept of eliminating desire, also known as the ascetic or yogi path, go to extremes in renunciation all human pleasures and desires. The problem is that their desire not to desire is as bad as any ignorant desire can be – maybe even worst. So in the end they do not attain either enlightenment nor liberation from suffering. To understand why, is so let’s look at the mechanism of desire in action.
Here how the mechanism of ignorant desire works:
(You can take any human desire, money, possession, sex, power, influence, fame or anything that may fancy you and it will all work the same.) I will use money as an example since money is widely considered the root of all evil.
If a person desires let’s say a million dollars and pursues that endeavor the act itself is not evil or bad.
If the reason of the endeavor is not to acquire the money but the “high” the “rush” that comes with the acquiring the money then the result of the experience will not be the fulfillment of the material need but rather the creation of the "ignorant desire" or “craving” for even more money.
The mechanism is exactly the same as for the drugs addiction. After the initial high we will search a new high that can only be achieved by a higher dose. Obviously this is a losing proposition because the person that “craves” money doesn’t “nee” a fix amount of money he “desires” more money, and more cannot be enough ever. The final result can only be desaster.
Fixing the problem by eliminating the desire it is an ignorant and ineffective approach to the problem.
You cannot fix a problem by treating the symptoms. In most cases you can only make it worse.
It is for that matter that we will never win the war against drugs, poverty or terrorism.
But let’s not diverge. The problem with ignorant desire is that through ignorant desire we look for fulfillment in the material world, outside of ourselves. Self fulfillment can be only found through true enlightenment. And only true enlightenment will liberate ourselves from the addictions of our ignorant desires. The enlightened person does need outside props to make him happy or rich. He is the source of happiness and wealth.
The wise person wants only what he needs and doesn’t need what he wants.
And that is the gist of it.