Bhāvanā (Pali;Sanskrit, also bhāvana) literally means "development" or "cultivating" or "producing" in the sense of "calling into existence." It is an important concept in Buddhist praxis (Patipatti). The word bhavana normally appears in conjunction with another word forming a compound phrase such as citta-bhavana (the development or cultivation of the heart/mind) or metta-bhavana (the development/cultivation of lovingkindness). When used on its own bhavana signifies 'spiritual cultivation' generally.
Bhavana 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, Glenn Wallis emphasizes bhavana's sense of cultivation. He writes that a farmer performs bhavana when he or she prepares soil and plants a seed. Wallis infers the Buddha's intention with this term by emphasizing the terrain and focus on farming in northern India at the time in the following passage.
"I imagine that when Gotama, the Buddha, chose this word to talk about meditation, he had in mind the ubiquitous farms and fields of his native India. Unlike our words 'meditation' or 'contemplation,' Gotama’s term is musty, rich, and verdant. It smells of the earth. 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 favorable and nourishing harvest."
In the Pali Canonbhāvanā 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 Pali 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" or "development of loving-kindness."
paññā-bhāvanā, translated as "development of wisdom" or "development of understanding."
samādhi-bhāvanā, translated as "development of tranquil-wisdom." It means the cultivation (bhavana) of a broad range of skills, covering everything from worldview, to ethics, livelihood and mindfulness.
In addition, in the Canon, the development (bhāvanā) of samatha-vipassana is lauded. Subsequently, Theravada teachers have made use of the following compounds:
samatha-bhāvanā, meaning the development of tranquility.
vipassanā-bhāvanā, meaning the development of insight.
The word bhavana is sometimes translated into English as 'meditation' so that, for example, metta-bhavana may be translated as 'the meditation on loving-kindness'. Meditation as a state of absorbed concentration on the reality of the present moment is properly called dhyana (Sanskrit; Pali: jhana) or samadhi.
In Jain texts, bhāvana refers to "right conception or notion" or "the moral of a fable."
^ abSee, e.g., DN 33.1.10(48), trans. by Walshe (1995), p. 486; and, MN 36, trans. by Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi (2001), pp. 332-343. Both DN 33 and MN 36 juxtapose citta-bhāvanā with kāya-bhāvanā. In DN 33, it is said that there are three types of development: of body (kāya), of mind (citta), and of wisdom (paññā). In end notes to MN 36, Bodhi (pp. 1228-29, nn. 382, 384) states that the MN commentary explains that "development of the body" refers to insight and "development of mind" refers to [[samadhi|]].
^Also see AN 1.22 and 1.24 (a/k/a, AN I,iii,1 and 3), trans. by Thanissaro (2006); and, AN 1.51-52 (a/k/a, AN I,vi,1-2), trans. by Thanissaro (1995), as well as trans. by Nyanaponika & Bodhi (1999), p. 36.
^See, e.g., Sn 1.8, Metta Sutta, trans. by Thanissaro (2004). The compound metta-bhāvanā does not actually exist in this sutta, but the sutta famously mentions that one should "cultivate" (bhāvaye) a limitless heart of metta.
Nyanaponika Thera (trans.) & Bhikkhu Bodhi (trans., ed.) (1999). Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Aṇguttara Nikāya. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. ISBN 0-7425-0405-0.