Is there something left after desire?
If I were to put on the saffron robe and live a life of attention without any grasping desires for pleasure, status and knowledge would I ever get out of my chair again?
What made the Buddha get up from his spot under the bodhi tree? I think it was a desire to bring others to the blissful state of Nirvana or was it something else?
There is also the idea of just doing without desiring it first. Possibly this is akin to acting instinctively. Yet instinct is akin to desire. In the West at least the instincts are characterized as bloodthirsty and gluttonous but is there an instinct that remains when the blood-lust and gluttony have been set aside?
Buddhism teaches compassion. Compassion I think is central to Buddhist teaching. Is it incorrect to think of the setting aside of desire as a way of clearing the path for the desire/instinct of compassion?
Compassion is a co-feeling and as such, if it is a desire, it is something different from the desires that are more selfish and self-centered. This is something different from enlightened self-interest which (as the word itself suggests) is more of a calculus that can still be traced back to self.
So finally, the diminishing of desire is at the same time a diminishing of the self. Yet there is the worry that one will not be able to survive without maintaining some sense of self, that one will be without both the compass of desire and the reference point of the self. If I cross over that point where self and desire are extinguished will there be something else on the other side? Does the Buddhist tradition teach that there is something on the other side? Yet this something if it is at all is always described negatively as a negation of desire. Perhaps it cannot be described to us when we are marred in terms of self and selfish desire. It requires a leap of faith.
I am not an expert on Buddhism, of any variety, but from the texts I have read, it has always seemed to me that in them there does not seem to be a great deal of emphasis on the difference between desire and need. To some degree they seem to be treated as if one is a variety of the other, while I think there is a qualitative difference between the two. If you were to shave your head and assume an appropriate position for meditation, you would still have to get up to urinate eventually. I think that there is a sense in which, by laying down desire, needs become more flexible, more manageable and manipulable. But I do not think that they can be wholly laid aside the way a desire might theoretically be shed. Instinct and desire might be reactions to a need, but they are not identical to it. For example, while one might act brutally while ravenous, or prefer a certain food, hunger is not identical with with either of these things. Might not needs signify a core self that nonetheless does not refer to a self-consciously desiring self? Of course, such a thought might lead one to conclude that the core self is merely a physical body, but it is also possible that "psychological needs" (whatever one would care to include in that category, or one could also substitute the word "spiritual, etc." for "psychological") might also be postulated.
In terms of a sense of self, I am not entirely sure that is what I experience when I am hungry. Perhaps I am wrong, but when I am hungry, I do not think of it as a case of my being hungry. I simply experience hunger without reference to an ego, although I do insert the idea when I have to explain the sensation to someone else. ("I am hungry.") However, whether that hunger is constitutive of my being at the time seems irrelevant to the experience itself.
In a similar vein, one might also inquire into what constitutes compassion. Is it an attempt to fulfill the desires of others, or a matter of addressing their needs? Of course, nothing stops it from being both, but i think if one strips it to its barest bones it's a case of the latter. If one no longer recognizes the validity of desire, both in one's own life or in general, then one of the few social courses of action remaining is to address the needs of others. Whether one is in a position to ameliorate the condition which one responds to is a matter of circumstance. But simply acknowledging the needs of another, rather than attending to their ego-centric desires seems to me to be an important, perhaps a definitive, feature of compassion.