I'm wondering if anyone can explain to me the difference between the Buddhistic extinguishing of "want" or desire, and the Orthodox perspective ?
Well, I can try! However, Buddhism has many forms, so it really depends on what particular tradition these monks belong to.
First, I would say that Orthodox ascetism calls for the destruction of the sinful
self -- NOT the self itself. St. Nikodemos says it best in his Handbook of Spiritual Counsels
: God has created all of our senses, our body and our mind to exist in harmony and holiness. Often, we misuse
our senses and physical capabilities, and thereby deprive the mind of its true capability and its actual purpose. The goal of asceticism is not to obliterate the senses or our physical desires, but to use them as God intended.
For example, God Himself has created and given us the "passion" of anger, so that we might maintain righteous anger toward our sin and the work of the devil (not so that we can get angry at our fellow man!).
In other Eastern ascetic traditions (both Hindu and Buddhist), however, the true nature of divinity itself is not personal. In fact, in many schools of thought, everything
is divine. Thus (to speak in Christian terms), one is "saved" by truly realizing that he does not actually possess a single self. In the words of the Upanashads
is the transcendent Reality and Atman
is the self.)
As far as I understand it, that's really the point of the Four Noble Truths: All suffering comes from desire, which stems from the mistaken belief ("sleep of ignorance") that one has an independent identity or self. In other words, one has to awaken to the fact that he doesn't actually exist.
Thus, one really does need to leave behind all
desire (even one's incorrect and ignorant assumption that one has an actual individual identity). Ascetical practices, especially extreme ones, can help break down one's false ideas about the self.