Bhāvanā Resources:

Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta
Mindfulness Practice and Training Methods:
Mindfulness of Breathing and Calm Insight Development
Anusaya: Exploring the Predisposition for Suffering
Mindfulness of Sensations

Perhaps the most common image that arises in the mind when we think of the Buddha and Buddhism, is of a person in contemplative repose. This yogic-styled meditation practice in early Buddhism is termed Bhāvanā, which literally means ‘to produce’, develop or cultivate, reminiscent of the labor-intensive connotations of the agricultural milieu of the time.

Contemplative development in early Buddhism consists of a two part dynamic:

• Development of Tranquillity (samatha-bhāvanā), which produces mental and physical composure (samādhi).

• Development of Insight (vipassanā-bhāvanā), which produces contemplative knowledge (vijjā) and liberating wisdom (paññā).

These are discussed in the Aṅguttara Nikāya as ‘States Conducive to Knowledge’ (dhammā vijjābhāgiyā):

Dveme bhikkhave dhammā vijjābhāgiyā. Katame dve ? Samatho ca vipassanā ca.

“Bhikkhus, there are two states conducive to contemplative-knowledge, which two? Calm and Insight.

Samatho bhikkhave bhāvito kamatthamanubhoti? Cittaṃ bhāvīyati. Cittaṃ bhāvitaṃ kamatthamanubhoti?Yo rāgo, so pahīyati.

Bhikkhus, when calm is developed, what is the benefit of this undertaking? The mind is developed. When the mind is developed, what is the benefit of this undertaking? Desire is abandoned.

Vipassanā bhikkhave bhāvito kamatthamanubhoti? Paññā bhāvīyati. Paññā bhāvitā kamatthamanubhoti? Yā avijjā, sā pahīyati.

Bhikkhus, when insight is developed, what is the benefit of this undertaking? Wisdom is developed. When wisdom is developed, what is the benefit of this undertaking? Ignorance is abandoned.

Rāgupakkiliṭṭhaṃ vā bhikkhave cittaṃ na vimuccati. Avijjupakkiliṭṭhā vā paññā na bhāvīyati.

Bhikkhus, defiled by desire, the mind is not released; defiled by ignorance, wisdom does not develop.

Iti kho bhikkhave rāgavirāgā cetovimutti, avijjāvirāgā paññāvimuttīti.”

Bhikkhus, therefore with the absence of desire there is the mind-release; with the absence of ignorance there is wisdom-release.”   – A.N. 2.32

Calm and insight is the contemplative balance essential to the goal of freedom from mental distress. Calm sustains temporary release of disquietude, angst and mental distress; and through insight is developed the liberating wisdom of how the causes of these are abandoned.

This balance of calm and insight is developed through a contemplative technique of directing awareness to the senses as objects of meditation. This directing of awareness is a dynamic called ‘mindfulness’ (sati), defined in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta as ‘intense endeavor, attentiveness and mindfulness’ (ātāpī sampajāno satimā). Mindfulness gives the contemplative a powerful direct awareness of sense-experience, without the interuption of internal discriminative and conceptual narrative.

The first object of classic ‘mindfulness’ meditation is the sensation the breath. The initial goal of mindful-breathing is to produce a unifying physical calm. This physical calm lends to mental calm and temporary release of extraneous disturbances and internal mental conflicts. It is through this tranquil unified awareness that the contemplative is ready to discern sense experience and the mental habits which take these up. And through this mindful discernment, the complexities of mental habits and the ability to let these rest is developed into lasting wisdom.

Instructions and analysis of this contemplative effort is given in the Buddha’s discourses on the development of mindfulness (sati) we find in the Pāḷi Nikāyas. The most complete analysis of mindfulness practice is found in the Discourses on Mindfulness of In and Out Breathing – Ānāpānasati Sutta (MN.118), and the Progressions of Mindfulness – Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (MN.10).