I think it was Socrates who said that having few desires is the path to happiness. The earlier [Hinayana] Buddhist teachings teach the attainment of happiness or enlightenment through the elimination of desire. Although Hinayana Buddhism teaches that earthly desires must be eliminated to attain enlightenment, Mahayana, and particularly the Lotus Sutra, teach that earthly desires are one with and inseparable from enlightenment. The reason is that both are the workings, or expression, of life itself, and thus are the same in their source. Nichiren Daishonin teaches that, when one bases one’s life on Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, earthly desires work naturally for one’s own and others’ happiness. The great power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which is inherently positive and creative, directs the great energy of one’s earthly desires toward happiness and value for all. Thus, when one chants the daimoku, “earthly desires are enlightenment.”
Burn the firewood of earthly desires and behold the fire of enlightened wisdom.
– (Gosho Zenshu, p. 710)
In Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, we are encouraged to set goals for ourselves, make a determination, and to pray for what we want to happen in our lives. Our goals might range from a better job, a happy relationship, a new car, or how to make a positive change in our lives so that we are moving in the right direction. The difference is that when we chant to the Gohonzon for the fulfillment of our desires (whatever they may be), we are able to channel our life-energy of earthly desires towards something constructive and positive for our lives, rather than something destructive. While on the surface it may seem like we are praying for superficial or materialistic things, as we continue to chant, over time we gain a better understanding of what types of things we need for ourselves to be truly happy.
Simply put, earthly desires are enlightenment means that we can “burn” our earthly desires through prayer. In the process of chanting about our everyday desires, we become more wise and can learn many life lessons. The goal is not to eliminate desires; it is what one desires that is important.