The following is a somewhat edited and paraphrased account from one of my two meditation guides about a Pali word you may not be aware of, "Chanda." It means "wholesome desire" and often appears in reference to staying on the path in order to attain Nibbana. In this respect, 'Chanda' produces in us "a wholesome 'inclination' towards reaching Nibbana."
a) Desire is always involves "I" want aspect.
b) Craving involves either "I" want or "I" don't want aspect.
Another way of putting it is, "Chanda" is a kind of "leaning into it
" sense, so in order to reach Nibbana. Because the answer is there -- the pure knowledge -- and this "leaning into it
" helps us stay on the path and not fall off.
If there is an "I" involved with this, as in "I" must have it, or "I" want it very much, or "I" am going to do it or bust, the Blessed One guaranteed that one wouldn’t get there!
Chanda is when the "I" has greatly diminished and it isn't in the way so much now, and one persistently keep going where one needs to go and do what one needs to do in order to reach the highest attainment.
In fact, the student can follow a developmental line that is very well described in the Sutta discourse, SN 12.23 - Upanisa Sutta: Discourse on Supporting Conditions (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.023.bodh.html
This is possibly the most accurate developmental line for meditative practice that the Blessed One left us -- in order to understand how this practice goes all the way to Nibbana.
It goes like this...
One begins the practice because one is (1) suffering (dukkha).
Moreover, because of the mental and physical suffering one seeks a way out and decides to put (2) Faith (saddha) in the Blessed One's teaching. Perhaps a monk shows him the practice and there he/she begins.
The first thing that happens is an experience of great (3) relief (pamojja). We have all experienced this when first starting to do meditation. Therefore, out of curiosity and interest, we continue.
Friend Smokey, I would suggest this follows the description you supplied of your experience, in the opening to this topic.
The next thing that happens, if we stick with it, is that we experience (4) joy (piti). This is a new and different kind of joy from everyday life. It usually surprises us.
When joy fades away we experiences (5) tranquility (passadhi), this is deeper than calm or stillness but lesser than equanimity that is much stronger later on.
Moreover, when the tranquility fades away we experiences (6) happiness (sukha) -- please note that the Blessed One's idea of happiness is more like what we would describe as 'a good feeling of inner contentment'.
Moreover, when this happiness fades away, the person is left with a state of (7) collectedness. I prefer the word 'collectedness' rather than the word 'concentration'. 'Concentration', can have various meanings in English, depending in which context it is used -- whereas 'collectedness' implies calm, composure, tranquility, and alertness.
Now it is with this collectedness of mind that the student continues on with the meditation practice and, if following the instructions precisely as the Blessed One taught them in the Sutta's, they will reach a state called (8) knowledge and vision of how things actually are (in Pali this is 'yatha bhutana nadassana'). This means they are beginning to see for themselves and understand how the impersonal process of Dependent Origination actually is working because during the practice they have begun observing many of its links.
At this stage, one gets VERY interested in how this operates and may tend to become (9) disenchanted (nibbida), meaning less interested in other outside activities of the everyday home life and they may naturally begin to want to spend more time doing the meditation to see where the end result actually is and what it leads to.
So they continue investigating into the deeper Arupa or immaterial states and if they keep going, non-judgmentally, with an open mind and careful observation, they will reach a state of extreme equanimity and balance resulting in (10) dispassion (viraga). This is where one sees everything as it actually essentially is without extending beyond the experience...
This is where the student usually decides to keep going, and with 'Chanda’, they will eventually "FALL" into the state of (11) cessation (nirodha) -- when the conditions are precisely right, for this to happen.
At this point, when the person comes out of this state of no consciousness, no feeling or perception, they will experience Nibbana and the aftermath is called the (12) liberation (vimutti).
What then follows is called the knowledge of the destruction of Taints (magga phala -- also known as the fruit) and this secures the attainment. There can be a space between the experience of the path of liberation and the attainment of the fruit of liberation. This can vary from minutes to days to months or even years. Without the fruit of liberation, the attainment is not secure and can be lost!
Remember, there are four Nibbana attainments based on the removal of the ten 'fetters' that tie beings to the wheel of birth and death. They are:Lower Fetters
1. belief in a substantial self,
2. skeptical doubt,
3. clinging to rules and ritual,
4. sensual craving,
5. ill willUpper Fetters
6. craving for fine-material existence,
7. craving for immaterial existence,
9. restlessness, and
In the Stream Enterer, the first three fetters have been destroyed; in the Once-Returner, the next two are weakened, and in the Non-Returner, they are destroyed; in the Arahant, all fetters have been destroyed.
This is how we develop from no meditation on up to the full attainment, and 'Chanda' is what keeps us going through the upper part of this chart! Without it, people quit the path.
The counter-intuitive realization that there is essentially no 'I', 'me', 'mine', or 'myself' really wanting the highest attainment, is the essence of the pure desire of 'Chanda'.
This is how 'Chanda' is very important in the picture of things and is very different from 'Craving' as you can see. The normal 'Craving' problem has a very big 'I' in it and the danger of the 'I', 'ME', 'MINE' aspect keeps us from getting where we want to go. 'Chanda', is a very gentle leaning into the wholesome direction you need to go to achieve meditative attainment.
The 2nd Recollection: The Dhamma is well expounded by the Blessed One, directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, worthy of application, to be personally experienced by the wise. (AN 6:10; III 284-88)