I would like to discuss some interesting facts in regards to the term bhāvana and the verb bhaveti in EBTs.
Differently to the contemporary/modern usual denotation the term bhāvana in EBTs is seldom found and when found relates to a broader idea of cultivation of the principles and factors that bring about awakening - see for example suttas like SN46.53 and AN9.1
The root verb bhaveti in turn is found everywhere and again denoting the endeavour or application in cultivating the path and qualities that lead to awakening. In other words, all discourses related to the fourth noble truth’s ennobling task - of cultivating the path leading to cessation of suffering - will have this verb conjugated in one way or the other.
The idea then of this topic is to:
Investigate what may have been the cause for this shift in terminology away from the semantic pattern found in the EBTs.
Is it a by-product of the situation of “Chinese whispers” Buddhist exegesis found in itself once it moved away from the suttas and over relied on commentaries to inform and shape the understanding and practice of the Dhamma-vinaya?
Is it traceable to a specific local tradition or interpretation of the teachings?
It is not what a meant or I think the Buddha of the suttas was saying.
Whenever you are working on the factors of eightfold path and - in the context of the cultivation of the path as a whole and not in isolation - then you are doing what the verb bhaveti means in regards to the fourth noble truth’s ennobling task of developing the path that leads to cessation of suffering.
This is what the EBTs mean by bhāvana, a holistic approach to the spiritual endeavour - informed and guided by the big picture of the four Noble truths and its respective ennobling tasks.
And the suttas do give us an idea of how that holistic approach is supposed to come about in an specific order.
In a nutshell, right view supports right thought/intent, which in turn supports right speech, action and livelihood, which in turn support right effort of endeavour, which in turn supports right mindfulness, which in turn supports right immersion/stillness, which in turn brings about right insight / knowledge, which then culminates in right liberation.
Just being of mindful of whatever one does may take place outside the context of other factors being present / having been developed, and therefore does not sound like what the verb bhaveti (or the related noun bhāvana) in the context of practice of the path is supposed to mean.
“In the same way, when the mind is sluggish, it’s the wrong time to develop the awakening factors of tranquility, immersion, and equanimity. “Evameva kho, bhikkhave, yasmiṃ samaye līnaṃ cittaṃ hoti, akālo tasmiṃ samaye passaddhisambojjhaṅgassa bhāvanāya, akālo samādhisambojjhaṅgassa bhāvanāya, akālo upekkhāsambojjhaṅgassa bhāvanāya. Why is that? Taṃ kissa hetu? Because it’s hard to stimulate a sluggish mind with these things. Līnaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ taṃ
etehi dhammehi dussamuṭṭhāpayaṃ hoti.
When the mind is sluggish, it’s the right time to develop the awakening factors of investigation of principles, energy, and rapture. Yasmiñca kho, bhikkhave, samaye
Yes, that’s the point of the topic, from the Pali suttas the term is either used in context of the fourth noble truth’s ennobling task of cultivating / developing the eightfold path or used in terms of expanding, increasing, growing something.
It seems to be a recent development the usage of the term bhavana only and narrowingly for the practices of mindfulness and immersion.
I can say that “Bhavana” in Thai (ภาวนา “phawana”) usually is understood as meditation.
It even drifted further and came to mean “prayer”. For example in “ผมภาวนาให้คุณพระคุ้มครองรักษาคุณ.” which literally / originally meant “I bhavana, give holy merit (to) safeguard you.” but is now understood by Thai people as “I pray for the Buddha to protect you.”