There is a rule in the vinaya that a monastic should not dig the earth. There are also laws in some parts of the U.S.A. (or at least rules of camping) that one has to bury their feces and is not allowed to leave it on the surface when out in nature. So if a monastic is out in nature where such a secular law exists, and they have to defecate, should they dig a hole or not? This is something I’ve wondered about for some time.
There’s also a conflict of compassion, digging the earth one might kill living beings such as worms and insects, but leaving feces lying around isn’t considerate to other hikers/backpackers and is a stain on the otherwise nice natural environment.
One could cover it with one of the kinds of substance that it’s not prohibited to dig - the “non-genuine” soil.
The Pali word for soil, paṭhavī, also means ground or earth. Thus the Vibhaṅga distinguishes which forms of earth are and are not classed as genuine soil:
Pure loam, pure clay, whatever is mostly loam or clay with a lesser portion of rock, stones, potsherds, gravel, or sand mixed in, is classed as “genuine” (or “natural”) soil (jātā paṭhavī).
Whatever is pure rock, stones, potsherds, gravel, or sand, or any of these with a lesser portion of loam or clay mixed in, is earth classed as “ungenuine” (or “denatured”) soil (ajātā paṭhavī). Also, burnt clay or loam—according to the Commentary, this means soil that has been burnt in the course of firing a bowl, a pot, etc.—is not classed as genuine soil. As for heaps of loam or clay that have been dug up: If they have been rained on for less than four months, they are not classed as genuine soil; but if rained on for four months or more, they are. At present, irrigated soil would count as “rained on” as well. Also, the layer of fine dust that forms on the surface of dry soil as the result of wind erosion is not classed as genuine soil.
(Ajahn Thanissaro: Buddhist Monastic Code vol. I ch. 8)
But if nothing of the sort was available, it would probably be best to just break the rule and then confess it. I mean we’re not talking here about the type of transgression that would be kammically unwholesome.
Wow. Thanks for this clarification. It resonates so much with current gardening/farming advice that tilling is bad because it kills the fungal network that supplies nutrients to plants. Genuine soil is fertile. Therefore the prohibition is one of abstaining from harming the living earth. I have been wondering how farming monastics could survive with this rule. But now I see that it is fine to dig into barren dirt and bring it back to life for cultivation.