Bhāvana refers to the cultivation and development of the individual. This can take a number of forms: citta-bhāvanā- development of the mind ( D III. 219) kāya-bhāvanā- development of the body (D III. 219) mettā-bhāvanā- development of loving kindness ( J I.196) paññā-bhāvanā- development of wisdom (D III. 219) samādhi-bhāvanā- development of concentration. (A I. 44)
Bhāvana is one of the Three Bases of Merit as outlined in the Puññakiriyavatthu Sutta (A IV 146) along with generosity (dāna) and ethical conduct (sīla). Merit (pu ya/puñña) is an important concept within Buddhist thought. It is what is accumulated through good and wholesome deeds. The production of merit is important as it can have positive effects on the lives of individuals, generate desirable rebirths and also allow one to access higher levels of spiritual attainment
For the laity acts of cultivation focus on devotional acts as these cause religious states of mind. This covers: Worship (pūja) can take the form of prostrations, circumambulation and the offering of flowers, lamps or incense. Pilgrimage to holy sites such as Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Lumbini. Also one can visit any local stūpas and relics. Creation of images of the Buddha. Listening to a sermon or Dharma talk.
A monk chanting to members of the laity at a funeral in Laos (2007).
Buddhists can visit stūpas such as the one pictured which is Swayambhunath in Nepal.
For the Sa gha the practice of bhāvana can take several forms: Devotional practices much like those of the laity including pūja, pilgrimage and the creation of art and Buddha images. The preservation of texts and scriptures can also fall under this category. Mediation is perhaps the most recognised form of cultivation employed by the Sa gha.
Meditation can take the form of recollections (anusm ti/anussati) of the Buddha, Sa gha and Dharma. Recollections can be seen as the basis of calm (śamatha/samatha) meditation. This form of meditation stills the mind, it is understood to be a vital tool in developing concentration. Once one has calmed the mind then they can engage in insight (vipaśyanā/vipassanā) meditation. This form of meditation allows the individual to gain insight into the true nature of reality. This list only covers some of the ways in which monks can develop themselves. There are many other methods that can be found in sources such as the Visuddhimagga.
This statue of a corpse is used by monks as a tool for meditation as it makes them reflect on the nature of life and reality (Myanmar, 2009).