Brief definition: Desire is any energy, drive or motive that actually or potentially creates mental or physical activity, whether conscious or unconscious. Desire propels an organism towards a goal of some kind, whether explicit or implicit, but can shift between different conceptualised goals.
The concept of desire used in Middle Way Philosophy is developed from the psychoanalytic concept of drives or of psychic energy. It needs to be seen as purely energic, able to transfer from one goal to another, rather than as necessarily tied to one goal. Our desires obviously emerge from our physical experience of being an organism, and they drive and structure that experience from early infancy. Having desires is one of the basic conditions of our existence.
Desires are seen in Middle Way Philosophy as contingently morally positive. Most of the time, most of us experience having desires and fulfilling them as a good thing – one that provides our actual values. If we don’t, this is probably due to a lack of integration. See All desires are good page.
The flexible nature of desires is what makes it possible for them to be integrated. We start off with energies that are associated with certain goals, but if we gradually adjust our conception of those goals, they can change into more integrated ones. This is not to deny that our desires will be more readily stimulated towards some goals than others – e.g. food and sex – but this is only a moral problem if the direction of energies towards those goals involves conflict with other desires. We need to work with integrating our desires whatever conditions happen to stimulate them, rather than assuming that their goals are inevitable or unchangeable. See integration page.
A much more in-depth discussion of desire, its conflicts and integrations, can be found in Robert M Ellis’s book Middle Way Philosophy 2: The Integration of Desire.