The Pali Canon relates that the Buddha’s last words were these:
“Indeed, bhikkhus (monks), I declare this to you: It is in the nature of all formations to dissolve. Attain perfection through diligence.”
To my understanding, what the Buddha exhorted us to be diligent about was meditation; for the thing that Buddhists “do” to reach enlightenment is meditate.
If the Buddha’s path is the direction we travel in, meditation are the steps we take along that path.
To quote Nyanatiloka’s Buddhist dictionary, Bhavana broadly means “mental development,” and literally means “calling into existence, producing,” and is what in English generally, but rather vaguely, is called meditation.
Speaking of Buddhist meditation, you have to distinguish its two kinds: development of tranquility (samatha-bhavana), i.e., concentration (samadhi), and development of insight (vipassana-bhavana), i.e., wisdom (panna).
These two important terms, tranquility and insight (samatha and vipassana) occur time and again in the Suttas and or often explained and expanded upon. They are the two pillars of meditative progress.
Tranquility (samatha) is the concentrated, unshaken, peaceful, and therefore undefiled state of mind, whilst insight (vipassana) is the intuitive insight into impermanency, misery, and impersonality (non-self) of all bodily and mental phenomena of existence.
The Buddha says: “May you develop mental concentration, for whoso is mentally concentrated sees things according to reality.”
Vipassana, is the intuitive light flashing forth and exposing the truth of the impermanency, the suffering, and the impersonal (non-self) and unsubstantial nature of all corporeal and mental phenomena of existence.
It is insight-wisdom (vipassana-panna) that is the decisive liberating factor in Buddhism, though it has to be developed along with the two other trainings of morality and concentration.
This insight is not the result of mere intellectual understanding, but is won through direct meditative observation of one’s own bodily and mental processes.
Samadhi is concentration, is collectedness, is mental calmness and stability necessary to truly practice Vipassana. It is the gathering together, focusing, and integration of the mental flow. Proper samadhi has the qualities of purity, clarity, stability, strength, readiness, flexibility, and gentleness. The supreme samadhi is the one-pointed mind with Nibbana as its sole concern or object.
Vipassana is to see clearly, distinctly, and directly into the true nature of things.
Thus, Samadhi and Vipassana are the steps I take along the path. And that is what I live for, Bhavana.