Is there such mention in the Sutta about Microbes being predicted by the Buddha?

I contest that the action of hiring an assassin is not the same as an action to kill. Are you suggesting that the assassin has no volition? That they are merely a chemical or mechanical process in this instance? If so, then I understand your reasoning.

My point is that I don’t know where it comes from or even if it’s meat at all. Traditionally we don’t eat horse meat in the UK. A few years ago there was an investigation checking the DNA of meat products and they found lots of horse DNA. I simply don’t trust the labels on food products.


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@NgXinZhao @stu you guys went a bit off topic, may I suggest you to move the discussion to somewhere else?


Dearest Stu,

It’s interesting that you mention that sometimes we don’t know where the meat comes from.

A Thai friend offers venison to me and I said no, knowing that her husband likes to go hunting. BUT she then explained that her husband skill is so poor that he never gets anything. However, on the way back from the bush, he always find a dead deer on the road killed by motorists. So, he just took the dead deer home and butchered it for his wife to cook.



Are plants sentient?
If microbes are sentient, plants should be sentient, because plants share molecular michanisms to singnal transduction. They even communicate with nearby plants and microbes.

But according to EBTs some people believed plants are sentient, and they are one-facultied beings (ekajīvī) beings.

Now at that time (the use of) a rains-residence for monks had not come to be laid down by the Lord. So these monks walked on tour during the cold weather and the hot weather and the rains.

People looked down upon, criticised, spread it about, saying: “How can these recluses, sons of the Sakyans, walk on tour during the cold weather and the hot weather and the rains, trampling down the crops and grasses, injuring life that is one-facultied (ekajīvī) and bringing many small creatures to destruction? Shall it be that those members of other sects, whose rules are badly kept, cling to and prepare a rains-residence, shall it be that these birds, having made their nests in the tree-tops, cling to and prepare a rains-residence, while these recluses, sons of the Sakyans walk on a tour during the cold weather and the hot weather and the rains, trampling down the crops and grasses, injuring life that is one-facultied and bringing many small creatures to destruction?” (Allowance to enter the rains)

This was never confirmed by the Buddha. If microbes are sentient there is a higher chance of plants being sentient. However, molecular level signal transduction is not that organized to be sentient eventhough there are some similarities.

There may be some microbes that are sentient, not all of them. Ex: Zooplanktons, Nematodes

How to find the margin?


This thread reminded me of a couple of verses by the buddhist logician/writer Dharmakirti since it talks about count of "kita"s - worms/insects/tiny organisms;

He is writing about Buddha’s knowledge (whether he is a sarvajna - one who knows everything) and if Buddha is an authority to be trusted.

Dharmakirti can be very sharp and witty as these verses will show.
You can see the Sanskrit verses quoted in this link along with the translation:

V31 therefore his knowledge concerning what has to be practised should be examined; As for the complete knowledge of the count of insects(kitas), where would we use it?

V33 Whether he can see things at a distance or not, he sees the desired truth/fact(tattva). If one who sees at a long distance is an authority(pramana), then come, let us worship vultures(grdhra).

Sharing because they are witty that’s all; No rudeness intended, nor any dissuasion of enquiry.

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This term may mean microbe in modern Chinese, but originally it meant small creeping things like insects, worms, and the like. Nobody knew single cell microbes existed before the microscope was invented. This passage likely meant tiny creatures like insect larvae that you wouldn’t notice unless you look closely.


I guess for me it’s all about perception of suffering. I can’t know for sure that anyone/anything suffers (apart from myself), but I can know if I perceive suffering in another. I choose to call that perception of suffering ‘sentient being’.

In the experiments we can firstly see the ecoli scurrying away from chemicals that are at a concentration that are toxic for it. Then in subsequent experiments we see that the ecoli has ‘remembered’ that ‘feeling’ and becomes ‘frightened’ at a lower concentration of the chemical and scurrys away before harm can be done. On that basis I wouldn’t do the experiment a second time, but of course many experimenters would.

I don’t know if structures equivalent to the nano brain in ecoli has been found in plants. It wouldn’t surprise me. But for me, when I perceive suffering external to my own and find out that my actions are the cause, I try to stop. I’m not always successful, but I do try.

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What makes E. Coli more animal-like? Or it is more plant-like? There comes the problem.
It is only the mobility?

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No. A compass needle is mobile. For me it is memory and fear.

If that so, plants would also be so called sentient beings. We are just not advanced enough to study their memory and fear. We cannot claim plants have no memories or fear without studying them. They got simple reactions too. Would that make them sentient?

About signaling…


Yes. That’s right. I completely agree with you. We need to do the experiments. I don’t know if they have been done with plants. They have been done with ecoli and we have also found the mechanism which is super cool.

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As buddhism never consider plants as sentient beings we have to admit that the mechanisms which happens in the most primitive sentient being are much complex than these so called memory and fear found in plants and bacteria.


I think that the Buddha of the EBTs was an excellent teacher who gave a view of the Dhamma to the potential student that they would understand according to their personal knowledge and also embedded in the general culture and knowledges of the day. Maybe if he was giving teachings today he would embed them in the (predominantly scientific) culture and associated knowledges that we share today (as well as homing in on the personal knowledge of the individual)?

What is your definition of ‘sentient being’? Mine is ‘that in which I perceive suffering’. This view is, of course, highly subjective. But it does help with my contemplations into the great extent of suffering in the world. It wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out that ‘suffering’ (and hence ‘sentient being’) was a fundamental aspect of the universe.

Do you happen to know if there is a definition of ‘sentient being’ in the EBTs? :anjal:

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Some links from elsewhere.

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Yes, but it is beyond our senses to decide who could be considered as sattā.

Sir, they speak of this thing called a ‘sentient being’.
“‘satto, satto’ti, bhante, vuccati.
How is a sentient being defined?”
Kittāvatā nu kho, bhante, sattoti vuccatī”ti?

“Rādha, when you cling, strongly cling, to desire, greed, relishing, and craving for form, then a being is spoken of.
Rūpe kho, rādha, yo chando yo rāgo yā nandī yā taṇhā, tatra satto, tatra visatto, tasmā sattoti vuccati.
When you cling, strongly cling, to desire, greed, relishing, and craving for feeling …
perception …
choices …
saṅkhāresu …
consciousness, then a being is spoken of.
viññāṇe yo chando yo rāgo yā nandī yā taṇhā, tatra satto, tatra visatto, tasmā sattoti vuccati (SN 23.2).


That’s great. Thank you. So if I understand correctly then (like my own definition), arahants are not considered sentient beings from an EBT point of view. Or have I misunderstood?

I love that sand castle analogy in the sutta. It reminds me of my first major loss as a child when a supposed friend stole my marbles. Oh the grief! :frowning:


In that case I doubt the term “sentient beings” doesn’t give the proper meaning to satta. Because literally arahants are also sentient, but don’t crave them. Are arahants beings? I mean alive?
I would say yes they really do. This makes more riddles that are off the OP. :thinking:

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I think the modern definition of a plant is an organism that’s able to make it’s own food using chlorophyll. Animals have to eat something else to produce the same thing as plants. Also, plants have a different respiration chemistry, so they consume carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen and water; animals consume oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Plants move quite a bit, but too slowly to notice.

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Problem here is are plants sentient?
EBT says that they are not in an indirect way, not mentioning them as sattā.
When it comes to microbes, we cannot draw into any conclusions due to lack of details in EBTs. This might be due to its less usefulness to the path. At the buddhas time there was no proper understanding about microbes. They have used them without knowing that they are microbes (curd, liquor production etc.).

The buddha never wanted to explain what is not relevant to the path (ṭhapanīya). Therefore, we have to decide with our own assumptions which is a bit tricky.

I think unicellular organisms and plants are not sentient beings even though they have some features that of animals.

And I think one needs a nervous system (that level of complexity) to be a sentient being; to bare the six sense fields. They should be Sacetanika to be sentient beings.

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This week I’m studying DN1 because it talks about what is not relevant to the path and how we might get trapped in the Prime Net. Interestingly, although microbes aren’t mentioned, plants and seeds are:

DN1:1.7.2: And what are the trivial, insignificant details of mere ethics that an ordinary person speaks of?

DN1:1.10.1: ‘The ascetic Gotama refrains from injuring plants and seeds.’

Notably, the above is mentioned in the context of “trivial” things, so microbes would presumably be even more trivial.

DN1 then proceeds to talk about deeper topics and traps that one might get stuck in.