Bhāvanā | Cultivation

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1. Bhāvanā

Bhāvanā literally means development or cultivating or producing in the sense of calling into existence. It is an important concept in Buddhist practice.

The word bhāvanā normally appears in conjunction with another word forming a compound phrase such as citta-bhāvanā (the development or cultivation of the heart/mind) or Metta-bhāvanā (the development/cultivation of loving-kindness).

When used on its own, bhāvanā signifies contemplation and 'spiritual cultivation' generally.

2. Etymology

Bhāvanā derives from the word Bhava meaning becoming or the subjective process of arousing mental states.

To explain the cultural context of the historical Buddha's employment of the term, scholars compare it to that how a farmer performs bhāvanā when he prepares soil and plants a seed.

Probably when Gautama Buddha, chose this word to talk about meditation, he had in mind the ubiquitous farms and fields of his native Northern India.

The commonness of his chosen term suggests naturalness, everydayness, ordinariness.

The term also suggests hope: no matter how fallow it has become, or damaged it may be, a field can always be cultivated — endlessly enhanced, enriched, developed — to produce a favourable and nourishing harvest.

3. Buddhism

In the Pāḷi Canon bhāvanā is often found in a compound phrase indicating personal, intentional effort over time with respect to the development of that particular faculty.

For instance, in the Pāḷi Canon and post-canonical literature one can find the following compounds:

- citta-bhāvanā, translated as development of mind or development of consciousness.

- kāya-bhāvanā, translated as development of body.

- mettā-bhāvanā, translated as the cultivation of loving kindness.

- paññā-bhāvanā, translated as development of wisdom or development of understanding.

- samādhi-bhāvanā, translated as development of concentration.

In addition, in the Canon, the development (bhāvanā) of Śamatha-Vipassana is lauded.

Subsequently, Theravāda teachers have made use of the following compounds:

  1. Śamatha-bhāvanā, meaning the development of tranquillity.
  2. Vipassanā-bhāvanā, meaning the development of insight.

The word bhāvanā is sometimes translated into English as 'meditation' so that, for example, mettā-bhāvanā may be translated as 'the meditation on loving-kindness'.

Meditation is properly called dhyāna (Pāḷi: jhāna), as practiced in Samādhi, the 8th limb of the Noble Eightfold Path.