Author Topic: Plant Sentience  (Read 2204 times)

Offline Dharmakara

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Plant Sentience
« on: August 01, 2015, 02:18:32 pm »
This topic began in a thread related to the First Precept and it seemed better to continue the discussion in a thread of its own, not only in an attempt to ensure that the original thread wouldn't go further off-topic, but more importantly because I believe that the studies related to plant sentience shouldn't be ignored

Quote
DK:  "Sentient beings is a technical term within Buddhism, broadly denoting beings with consciousness, sentience, or in some contexts life itself --- in other words, the First Precept (in context) was never intended nor implied the inclusion of bacterium, protist, fungus, or plant life --- that would be a hallmark of Jainism, not Buddhism."


Yes.  I have often seen this perspective asserted in threads relating to the side-track regarding sentience, however, I have never seen any such discussion  in the suttas, which define the technicalities to which you reference.  The best I have read in The Monastic Rules (Vinaya Rules for Monks) relates to how and why bhikkhus were required to remain stationary during the rainy seasons, and advised by Buddha to avoid stepping on the crops planted by farmers so as to not cause them harm by damaging what they were raising for the support of their families.  This rule was clearly for the protection of the farmer's interests rather than that of the plants.  Vegans seem to lean on this citation a great deal, when arguing the merits of veganism vs. the harm caused by eating meat.

source:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/vin/

Another perspective as to the protection of plants written in the suttas was Buddha's prohibition against damaging trees, because they were "homes of devas", which had more to do with harming the devas by making them homeless, than it had to do with protecting the plants themselves.  Therefore, it could be falsely concluded that even Buddha himself was not aware of the wide range of sentience displayed by plants, which  seems odd and curious for a truly enlightened being as we would understand the nature and capabilities of one today in this scientific era.

source:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/vin/

But, the fact that Buddha never spoke in this regard is not in fact condemning  as to his enlightenment, because Buddha stated in The Simsapa Sutta that he did not teach us all of that of which he, a Buddha, was aware, but only taught us how to end our suffering.  This he deemed apparently a large enough task for most of us to handle in our life-times. :buddha2:

source:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.031.than.html

Dearest friend in The Dhamma, if you are aware of other examples and/or definitions written in The Suttas / Sutras as taught by Buddha, as you indicated, or even those of his enlightened followers of the time he walked the Earth, I would very much appreciate a reference to them.  Otherwise, I remain ignorant.

Thanks, as always for your assistance, Bhante'


In regard to the so-called technicalities, it's not related to anything said within the suttas, but what's left unsaid in the suttas, as well as the fact that there's no evidence that the life and practice of the early Sangha ever recognized plant life as being included or of it being taken into consideration when it came to the First Precept.

Furthermore, when it came to remaining stationary during the rainy seasons, this was already well-established, a long-standing custom for mendicant ascetics in India, where they did not travel during the rains --- it certainly didn't begin with the Buddha, but was part and parcel of the greater sramanic tradition at large.

As for the Vegans leaning on this citation a great deal, the argument of the merits of veganism vs. the harm caused by eating meat, ect. --- this was one of the problems I mentioned in the other thread, that the topic in general had been hijacked by special interest groups on both sides of the divide, not only the vegans, but also their counter-part's argument that “plants can hear themselves being eaten”:

http://www.shellethics.com/ethics/plant-sentience/

Personally, I don't have a vested interest in the outcome of this one way or another, due in part to the fact that for every study supporting one position, there is another study that comes along and disproves it --- in other words, it seemed more appropriate to be cautious and wait a while before coming to a definitive conclusion one way or another, to let the dust settle (so to speak) when it comes to what science has proved and what it hasn't proved.

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Plant Sentience
« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2015, 05:46:18 pm »
Yes.  I understand and accept your point regarding plant sentience and agree that there is no point debating that which cannot be established scientifically at this point. 


As for your conclusion regarding The First Precept, "To cause no harm..."... is valid only if the terms "sentient" and "living" are considered  equivalent , which appears to be your conclusion:

Quote
DK:..."the variations of this precept are linguistic in nature, but the context of the precept remains one and the same --- it didn't matter whether the particular quote used the word "sentient" or "living"."

My approach is and always has been different, since I grew up as a child with the woods and forest a my playground.  I feel the presence and company of the plant-life which surrounds me much more than I do that of the animal life-forms.  When surrounded by flora I feel comforted, supported and safe.  When animals appear from beneath the foliage I am often startled, this includes humans.  When I enter the forests, I am calmed and secure in my state of existence.  I feel as though I belong.  These arboreal creatures bring me shade, shelter, nutrition, and the very oxygen that I breathe.  They leave me with a sense of belonging and community.  Animals, not so much.  All they ever seem to want from me is food and to be let outside in the case of my several pets.

I guess that makes me a Jain.  If so, I guess I am on the wrong website.  Perhaps a case of "You Tarzan.  Me Jain!" :lmfao:
« Last Edit: August 01, 2015, 05:57:23 pm by Ron-the-Elder »
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-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Dharmakara

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Re: Plant Sentience
« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2015, 07:17:28 am »
There's nothing wrong with being a Jain, provided you keep your clothes on  :lmfao:

As for your conclusion regarding The First Precept, "To cause no harm..."... is valid only if the terms "sentient" and "living" are considered  equivalent , which appears to be your conclusion

Actually, it's not just my conclusion, but that of most scholars when it comes to the First Precept --- to quote Bhikkhu Bodhi:

Quote
The first of the five precepts reads in Pali, Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami; in English, “I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.” Here the word pana, meaning that which breathes, denotes any living being that has breath and consciousness. It includes animals and insects as well as men, but does not include plants as they have only life but not breath or consciousness.

excerpt from "Taking the Precepts"
Wheel Publication 282/284

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Plant Sentience
« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2016, 04:07:55 am »
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

 


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