Terminology of Desire
In the Pāli Suttas the words taṇhā, chanda, rāga and nandi often appear together, as in the phrase yo chando yo rāgo yā nandi yā taṇhā ya upāyupādanā (Bhavanetti-sutta, Saṃyuta-nikāya 23.3). Very often chanda, rāga and nandi are wrongly considered as various ‘shades’ of craving, almost identical with taṇhā; but actually each term has a specific meaning. Chanda and nandi mean desire, and rāga means lust. The following passage signifies that chanda and nandi (desire) are dependent on taṇhā (craving):
Thus it is, Ānanda, that taṇhā is dependent upon feeling, pursuit dependent upon taṇhā, gain dependent upon pursuit, anticipation dependent upon gain, desire-&-lust dependent upon anticipation…”
— Maha-nidana Sutta (Dīgha-nikāya 15)
In the Taṇhamūlaka-sutta (Anguttara-nikāya 9.23) chanda and rāga are described as ‘rooted in taṇhā’ (taṇhāmūlakā). Further, the Buddha described chanda, rāga and nandi as upādāna. Chanda, rāga and nandi are the more explicit forms of upādāna; and upādāna is dependent upon taṇhā. Clearly, it is wrong to assume that chanda, rāga and nandi are forms of taṇhā. This kind of approximation is misleading and unhelpful. It results from disinterested scholarship that does not seek the meaning of the Suttas in the personal experience of seeking relief from suffering. The Buddha also tells us that there are nine things rooted in taṇhā:
Monks, I will preach the nine things rooted in taṇhā… and what, monks, are they? Dependent upon taṇhā, seeking; dependent upon seeking, gain; dependent upon gain, anticipation; dependent upon anticipation, desire-&-lust; dependent upon desire-&-lust, attachment; depending upon attachment, possession; depending upon possession, jealousy; depending upon jealousy, guarding; because of guarding, taking up of clubs and knives, fights, disputes, quarrels, contention, slander, lying and various evil unprofitable things come to be.” — Taṇhāmūlaka-sutta (Aṅguttara-nikāya 9.23)
Often, as in the above passage, we find chanda or nandi and rāga in compound words—chandarāga and nandirāga. The difference between chanda or nandi (desire) and rāga (lust) seems to be one of degree rather than kind. Rāga can also be rendered as ‘passion’, as in rāgaggi (fire of passion).
Further, craving (taṇhā), desire (chanda or nandi) and lust (rāga) are all supports for ‘being’ (bhava), for ‘being’ depends upon them. Being ‘I’ or ‘self’-existence stands supported by and dependent upon these. They are therefore called the lead to ‘being’ (bhavanetti).
That desire, that lust, that delight, that craving, that engaging and clinging, that mental resolving, adherence and tendency—that is called the lead to ‘being’.” — Bhavanetti-sutta (Saṃyutta-nikāya 23.3)
This desire is of course towards matter (rūpa), feeling, perception, determinations and consciousness. In the Brahmajāla-sutta (Dīgha-nikāya 1) the Buddha likens ‘being’ to a bunch of mangos, while while the lead to ‘being’ is likened to a stalk. Just as the bunch of mangoes exists hanging by the stalk, so does ‘being’ exist supported by its lead of craving, desire etc. For ‘being’ to be there, the lead to ‘being’ must be there.