Cultivation

William B. Turner
3 min readJan 19, 2022
Chenrezig, The Buddha of Compassion

The Buddha often used the word, “bhavana” in explaining how to practice meditation, especially with respect to the development of specific qualities of mind, such as wisdom or concentration.

“Bhavana” means “to cultivate,” or “cultivation.”

This is an important idea for understanding how to meditate. You may hear people refer to meditation as “effortless effort,” which is an oxymoron and a paradox. Korean Zen master Seung San has a book with the title, Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake, which likely comes as a surprise to a lot of people. You may have thought that all Buddhists want enlightenment, whatever that is.

Part of the point is that wanting anything is the problem in Buddhism. I explain this paradox to myself by thinking that I started out wanting enlightenment, or awakening, to use the term I prefer, when I started my practice, just as I wanted more often to drink alcohol and have sex, but those desires have slowly disappeared with my practice (fair warning!). Fully awakened persons have no desire for either.

Not wanting anything is part of awakening, so they arise together. Again, it’s a paradox. Just keep going.

As you realize not self, there is no one to want anything. I think that, as you approach awakening, you lose the desire to awaken, but by that time, the momentum of your practice carries you to awakening without your wanting it. Sort of like approaching a planet or other large object that has its own gravitational field, it will pull you in.

Oh, right, cultivation. That’s what we were talking about. If you think about cultivating something, what you do is plant the seed and let the natural growth process occur. If you are cultivating carrots or some other root vegetable, you can’t pull it up to check its growth. You just have to trust that it is growing the way it usually does and harvest it when the time comes. No matter the plant, you cannot force the fruit to appear. Well, that may be possible now, but there are limits. You have to have a plant before you can grow any fruit.

So, you set your intention and you take steps to bring it about, but you also let a process operate by itself. As with breathing, you can control it to some extent, but it functions just fine on its own, likely better without your interference, except if…

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