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Gardening: Injuring/Killing Plants and the Precepts

I think there are suttas in which the Buddha instructs monks not to injure plants and/or seeds. Are there any suttas or parts of the vinaya where the Buddha says why?

Is there any information in the suttas about whether or not killing plants while gardening has anything to do with the first precept of not killing?

Thanks for any help you can provide:-)

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We’ve already had some discussion on this subject…

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I’m a gardener and a cook as well, so I have thought about this quite a bit:

DN2:46.0: 4.3.1.2. The Middle Section on Ethics
DN2:46.1: There are some ascetics and brahmins who, while enjoying food given in faith, still engage in injuring plants and seeds.
DN2:46.2: These include plants propagated from roots, stems, cuttings, or joints; and those from regular seeds as the fifth. They refrain from such injury to plants and seeds.
DN2:46.3: This pertains to their ethics.

As a layperson, I would not be included under “while enjoying food given in faith”. However, it’s still a deep issue even for laity.

I notice that after studying DN2, I am much more careful about gardening. Before reading DN2, I would weed-wack with abandon. After reading DN2 my approach to gardening has changed from “desire/aversion based” to “permaculture”. So the health and happiness of the garden itself (with insects and soil and birds, etc.) becomes paramount to align my actions with “non-injury”. For example, with this new context, careful pruning actually helps prevent injury in plants by eliminating dense foliage that would harbor pests.

The result of this change of view has been dramatic. The garden is messily vibrant. Yield is also reduced, since intercropping decreases growing area that would otherwise be dedicated to monoculture.

And if the garden was ever invaded by something monstrous like the Giant Hogweed, I sadly would indeed do my best to make it disappear from the garden. Even then, the intent would be to protect the garden from injury since Hogweed is quite invasive and harmful to people and native species. But even in dealing with such an invader, the intent would be “please return to your home”, rather than “be gone from the world”.

I also found the following helpful in gardening:

DN34:2.3.82: After appraisal, a mendicant uses some things, endures some things, avoids some things, and gets rid of some things.

Ethics requires appraisal. Constantly.

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Thanks, this is probably one of the suttas I was recalling. I’m not sure how much emphasis to put on it, though, because in the same section on ethics, “storing goods and running errands” is also included as actions that ascetics and brahmins who live off donations should abstain from. For a householder, such things are necessary for survival.

That said, it seems clear this sutta is not equating gardening and harvesting plants with breaking the first precept, which is helpful.

Nice!

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Hi @brooks. There are Pācittiya rules (Rules Requiring Confession) in the Vinaya which prohibit monastics from digging the earth and/or injuring plant life. The origin stories to each rule are well worth a read, particularly the rule prohibiting injuring plant life! :herb:

Pācittiya 10 - The Training Rule on Digging the Earth

The Buddha rebuked them, “… Foolish men, how can you dig the earth and have it dug? People regard the earth as conscious. This won’t give rise to confidence in those without it … And so, monks, this training rule should be recited like this:

Final ruling

‘If a monk digs the earth or has it dug, he commits an offense entailing confession.’”

Pācittiya 11 - The Training Rule on Plants

At one time the Buddha was staying at Āḷavī at the Aggāḷava Shrine. At that time the monks at Āḷavī were doing building work. And they cut down trees and had them cut down. Then, when a certain monk was cutting down a tree, the deity that lived in it said to him, “Venerable, don’t cut down our dwelling because you want to build a dwelling for yourself.” Not taking any heed, he just cut it down, and he hurt the arm of that deity’s child. That deity thought, “Why don’t I just kill this monk?” But then it reconsidered, “It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to just kill this monk. Let me instead tell the Buddha about this matter.” And it approached the Buddha and told him what had happened.

“Well done, deity! It’s good that you didn’t kill that monk. If you had killed that monk today, you would have made much demerit. The tree in such-and-such a spot is empty; take that as your dwelling.

The Buddha rebuked them, “… Foolish men, how can you cut down trees and have them cut down? People regard trees as conscious. This won’t give rise to confidence in those without it … And, monks, this training rule should be recited like this:

Final ruling

‘If a monk destroys plants, he commits an offense entailing confession.’”

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