Bhāvanā (Pali;[1] Sanskrit: भावना, also bhāvanā[2]) literally means "development"[3] or "cultivating"[4] or "producing"[1][2] in the sense of "calling into existence".[5] It is an important concept in Buddhist practice (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 contemplation and '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.[6]


In Hindu literature, bhavana is a concept that is often attributed to deities, such as Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita:[7]

O Puruṣottama, Supreme Person! O Bhūta-bhāvana, creator of beings! O Bhūteśa, father of all created beings! O Deva-deva, God of gods! O Jagat-pati, Master of the universe! You alone know Yourself by Your own potency.

— Attributed to Vyasa, Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 10, Verse 10.15


In the Pali 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 Pali Canon and post-canonical literature one can find the following compounds:

  • citta-bhāvanā, translated as "development of mind"[8][9] or "development of consciousness."
  • kāya-bhāvanā, translated as "development of body."[8]
  • mettā-bhāvanā, translated as the "cultivation"[10] or "development of benevolence."[11]
  • paññā-bhāvanā, translated as "development of wisdom"[12] or "development of understanding."
  • samādhi-bhāvanā, translated as "development of concentration."[13]

In addition, in the Canon, the development (bhāvanā) of samatha-vipassana is lauded.[14] Subsequently, Theravada teachers have made use of the following compounds:

  • samatha-bhāvanā, meaning the development of tranquility.[5]
  • vipassanā-bhāvanā, meaning the development of insight.[5]

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 is properly called dhyana (Sanskrit; Pali: jhāna), as practiced in samādhi, the 8th limb of the eightfold path.


In Jainism, bhāvana refers to "right conception or notion" or "the moral of a fable".[2]

See also


  1. ^ a b Rhys Davids & Stede (1921–25), p. 503, entry for "Bhāvanā," retrieved 9 December 2008 from "U. Chicago" at [1].
  2. ^ a b c Monier-Williams (1899), p. 755, see "Bhāvana" and "Bhāvanā", retrieved 9 December 2008 from "U. Cologne" at Archived 2009-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ See various translations cited in the notes below.
  4. ^ Matthieu Ricard has said this in a talk.
  5. ^ a b c Nyanatiloka (1980), p. 67.
  6. ^ Glenn Wallis, Bhavana: A Guide to Classical Buddhist Meditation, 2009, draft copy, p. 7 "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2011-04-20.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ (2020-05-08). "Verse 10.15 [Bhagavad-gita]". Retrieved 2022-10-25.
  8. ^ a b See, e.g., DN 33.1.10(48), trans. by Walshe (1995), p. 486; and, MN 36, trans. by Ñāamoli & 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 samādhi.
  9. ^ Also see AN 1.22 and 1.24 (a/k/a, AN I,iii,1 and 3), trans. by Thanissaro (2006) Archived 2009-01-07 at the Wayback Machine; and, AN 1.51–52 (a/k/a, AN I,vi,1–2), trans. by Thanissaro (1995) Archived 2008-12-22 at the Wayback Machine, as well as trans. by Nyanaponika & Bodhi (1999), p. 36.
  10. ^ See, e.g., Sn 1.8, Metta Sutta, trans. by Thanissaro (2004). Archived 2017-05-13 at the Wayback Machine 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.
  11. ^ See, e.g., Iti. 1.27, trans. by Ireland (1997) Archived 2008-12-27 at the Wayback Machine, pp. 169–70.
  12. ^ See DN 33.1.10(48), trans. by Walshe (1995), p. 486, referenced in note above regarding citta-bhāvanā.
  13. ^ See, e.g., AN 4.41, trans. Thanissaro (1997) Archived 2009-01-06 at the Wayback Machine (cf. Template:SamadhiBhavana). In addition, see MN 44, Cūḷavedalla Sutta, trans. by Thanissaro (1998a): Archived 2010-12-22 at the Wayback Machine
    [Layperson Visākha:] "Now what is concentration, lady, what qualities are its themes, what qualities are its requisites, and what is its development [samādhibhāvanāti]?"
    [Bhikkhuni Dhammadinnā:] "Singleness of mind is concentration, friend Visakha; the four frames of reference are its themes; the four right exertions are its requisites; and any cultivation, development, & pursuit of these qualities is its development."
  14. ^ See, e.g., in MN 151, the Buddha states that a bhikkhu who has developed samatha-vipassana (or any of the seven sets of Enlightenment-conducive qualities) "can abide happy and glad, training day and night in wholesome states" (trans., Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 2001, p. 1145). Additionally, AN 4.170 identifies three ways in which an arahant develops samatha-vipassana: samatha first; vipassana first; or both in tandem (Nyanaponika & Bodhi, 1999, p. 114; and, Thanissaro, 1998b). Archived 2013-06-19 at the Wayback Machine See also the paracanonical Nett 91 (Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921–25, p. 503, entry for "Bhāvanā", retrieved 9 December 2008 from "U. Chicago" at[permanent dead link]).