Knowing that living beings (such as insects) will directly be killed as a result of your actions?

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Hi Mat, I am responding to you because you have been the only person on this thread to even mention plants as I have a few questions on plant life. Someone told me that the Buddha instructed his disciples not to damage plant life so I did a search on access to insight dot com for ‘plant’ and ended up with half a dozen suttas where the Buddha says something along the lines of ‘He abstains from damaging seed and plant life’. Nothing more than that, just a single line.

Since then, I have been pondering the issue a fair bit and find now I have a real problem with mowing the lawn and pulling out weeds. The whole first precept is a bit of an issue for me, when I was younger - long before I even heard about Buddhism, I did a little fishing and hunting. Now I feel a whole lot of guilt about that and am starting to wonder if it has made me a bit overly sensitive in regards to killing plant life. I can’t mow the lawn anymore and I have real trouble with the idea of pulling plants out of the ground, even weeds. I have tried to do it but I get to guilty and the one day I did do it I found I was completely unable to get my mind to settle down in meditation, I kept feeling bad about destroying all the weeds I had pulled out of the ground.

As you can guess, I have taken those brief mentions to mean the Buddha values all life, not just animal life and that we should strive to not take any life, not even plant life, but then I have read this whole thread and no one else seems to have a problem with it so maybe I am overthinking (or more to the point, over-feeling) the issue.

I understand the Bhikkhu’s have some rules that forbid them from ‘killing’ plants or pruning them back, does anyone know if there are any other references to killing/damaging/pruning plants in the suttas? Also does anyone know what the reasons are for these lines about abstaining from damaging plant and seed life?

Perhaps one of the Bhikkhu’s who post here might be able to point me in the right direction or give some clarification?



The rules not to cut down trees/plants or to dig in soil are for monastics. Not only that, but the main reason why they were created, like many other rules, was because lay people observed bhikkhus doing a certain act—like cutting trees, plants or digging—and complained to the Buddha that it was not appropriate for a monk to do so.

Here is the origin story of pācittiya 10 (not to dig in soil):

At Āḷavī in the chief shrine at Āḷavī. Now at that time the monks of Āḷavī, making repairs, dug the ground and had it dug. People looked down upon, criticised, spread it about, saying:
“How can these recluses, sons of the Sakyans, dig the ground and have it dug? These recluses, sons of the Sakyans, are harming life that is one-facultied.”
Monks heard these people who looked down upon, criticised, spread it about. Those who were modest monks looked down upon, criticised, spread it about, saying:
“How can these monks of Āḷavī dig the ground and have it dug?”
“Is it true, as is said, that you, monks, dug the ground and had it dug?”
“It is true, lord,” they said.
Thee enlightened one, the lord, rebuked them, saying:
“How can you, foolish men, dig the ground and have it dug? For, foolish men, people having consciousness as living beings are in the ground. It is not, foolish men, for pleasing those who are not (yet) pleased … And thus, monks, this rule of training should be set forth:
“Whatever monk should dig the ground or have it dug, there is an offence of expiation.”
(Trans.: I.B. Horner)

At the time of the Buddha, Jain beliefs were that plants were one-facultied (ekindriya). However, they are not considered living beings (even if in modern times they are considered as “alive”). They don’t have consciousness.

So, not only is it not breaking the precept, it isn’t even unwholesome to cut down a tree for wood, or a plant as food.


Yes, I am aware of that. But:

“He abstains from damaging seed & plant life.”

“He abstains from damaging seed and plant life.”

'The recluse Gotama abstains from damaging seed and plant life."

“He abstains from damaging seed and plant life.”

“He abstains from damaging seed and plant life.”

“He abstains from damaging seed and plant life.”

I started looking for the same suttas here on SC and found for MN 38 that section has been omitted and there is an editors note saying the same as MN 27 so I looked at that one and found the same reference to not damaging plant and seed life in the section on virtue so I assume the others will all have something similar:

"He abstains from injuring seeds and plants."


Would you get in trouble with a homeowner’s association or some other such institution if you just didn’t do any yard work?



Most definitely. The local shire council here takes a dim view of overgrown jungles in peoples back yards, particularly in the wet season. That’s not the real concern though, my brother now does it for me (and that does not bother me in the slightest, absolutely no guilt/remorse over that). I am already quite careful to not kill animals and insects (although I have no qualms about bacteria) but after reading those one line references to not damaging plant and seed life I have found that I feel guilt after doing the weeding and the mowing.

To me it’s a question pertaining to meditation practice and developing sila and I am wondering what the Buddha might have had to say elsewhere on the subject, if there is anything else in the suttas that might help me gain a greater understanding.

There must be some deeper truth underlying the Buddha saying that or he would not have spoken about not damaging seed and plant life where he talks about the development of virtue. Never mind, I guess it makes no difference for me practice wise, I just can’t do it anymore without it affecting my meditation and that’s the way it is, I was just hoping to figure out why. Thanks for your help.


Originally the Buddha seems to object on the grounds that people considered the earth as conscious. The idea then was to maintain the good reputation of the monks, rather than any other reason other than that. It’s import to note that it isn’t mentioned before the people complained about it and would leave me to think it isn’t integral to the gradual path, but important for monks who lived dependant on lay people.

As for feeling guilty after pulling up plants it is possible to feel guilty for things when there is no need to feel guilty especially for things which were culturally relevant 2500 years ago but not now. Inappropriate guilt arises from attachment to precepts (sila upadana), and this attachment leads to suffering, as all attachment can do. It is important to overcome this attachment as otherwise it will cause an agitated mind and disturb one’s meditation sometimes. The Buddha said Buddhists have to let go of all good and bad -eventually and certainly this includes attachment to good and aversion to the bad. It becomes important to mindfully and skilfully navigate ethical conundrums. Less being guided by emotional reactions and more moral thoughts would be a useful way to move forward. :face_with_monocle::slightly_smiling_face:

With metta


LOL, from my experience killing insects or lawn creatures may be one of the least evil bits of kamma for HOAs!


Actually according to Samseva’s above quote he says:

I don’t take that to infer the Buddha thought the ground itself was conscious but instead stated that living beings live in the soil, something we all know to be true.

That is all great but it sidesteps the main issue I am trying to understand.

Why did the Buddha say not to damage seed and plant life? Why is that part of the development of virtue?

Clearly the Buddha has made these statements to not damage plant and seed life not just once but several times in the suttas.

To dismiss it as just some sort of wrong view or attachment to the precepts ignores the reality that the Buddha very clearly said one should abstain from damaging plant and seed life. If it is unimportant, why is that monks have additional rules forbidding them from damaging seed and plant life over and above what is mentioned in the suttas?

All the same thank you for your effort to assist me.

I don’t think that by not damaging plant and seed life my progress on the path will be hindered, at the very least not doing so will ensure that at least my meditation is not unsettled and that I can attain calmness of mind more easily and will not have thoughts of remorse arise when I have managed to calm the mind down. At the end of the day being able to have peace of mind in meditation is more important to me than worrying that I might be erring on the side of striving too hard.

Surely that is the whole point, to avoid having these feelings arise and disturb the mind in the first place. How we behave has much to do with what feelings and emotions arise so if I can prevent them from arising by not engaging in certain behaviours then that is what I will do until someone can give me a good reason to act otherwise.

I am in complete agreement. :smile:


In all the Suttas you mentioned, if you look at the start of those sections, they all begin with:

When he has thus gone forth, endowed with the monks’ training & livelihood, then — […]

When the Buddha says “He abstains from damaging seed and plant life.”, of which he repeated at various times, he is merely describing monastic life—it’s solely descriptive of the life and rules of a monastic (notice the bolded part); it is not prescriptive.

If you go back to the origin story of the rule—which you should if you want to understand the rule—again, the Buddha created this rule because lay people, who believed plants to be one-facultied life (ekindriya) from following Jain doctrines, complained that monks were doing bad actions (even if they were not). To avoid conflict with the laity, the Buddha created the rule.


Yeah ok, I get that it’s a monastic rule. In effect what you are saying is that it’s only a rule that pertains to monastics, it was only created for monastics only and it doesn’t matter to your practice at all if you are unable to ordain. By that logic except where explicitly stated, every other training rule could also be able to be dispensed with while still allowing successful navigation of the path without any need to adhere to any of them unless you are an ordained monastic. I don’t quite think it works that way, it is in effect saying that the only way to practice is via ordination and if that were the case paccekabuddha’s would never have existed, not even as a concept.

So is this reasoning given in the suttas? Are there any textual references (in english hopefully - pali is not so good yet) for this claim or is it your own supposition regarding cultural mores of the time and place? I would like to see some sort of textual evidence to support that explanation and the origin story you have posted above does not make it clear that this was only a Jain doctrine and not also a Buddhist one.

I tend to think that if the Buddha believed that if this doctrine was incorrect the Buddha would not have just ‘gone along’ with it, he would have clarified his position as he has done elsewhere in correcting what he saw as false doctrine of the Jains and other sects. So in effect the Buddha here gives his assent to the doctrine that taking ‘one facultied life’ is ignoble and is therefore something to be avoided by practitioners.

Also the other thing that is not clear from the passage you have quoted above is whether ‘one facultied life’ includes plant or fungal life or does it just mean worms, centipedes and other animals that live or burrow in the soil.

I appreciate the time and effort you have taken in responding to me, so I would like to thank you very much for your efforts in trying to clear this up for me.



It doesn’t work like that; every rule is different—lay life and monasticism as well.

I already did—the passage describing the origin of the rule, from the Sutta Vibaṅgha (translated by I.B. Horner), which comes from the Vinaya Piṭaka.

Like I and Matt have already said, monks constantly digging in soil and destroying plants was creating lots of conflict with lay people, especially since Jain beliefs were highly prevalent in the the time of the Buddha, in what is now known as India.

One-falcultied life (ekindriya-jīva) is having only one sense faculty—the faculty of touch. Jains believed that tress, plants, soil (and even water) were essentially alive—which is completely false. If there is no consciousness to cognize perceptions, or anything else, it is not a living being—they merely react to stimuli, similar to how muscle cells will contract due to sodium.

Insects and invertebrates, however, are fully-living beings.


This definition of living beings is interesting, but problematic. Is it canon?


MN56 has the Buddha discussing the Jains’ view that bodily actions are more heinous than mental ones and goes into the basics of their views on killing, but you might want to check the Jain texts for their doctrine. I believe it’s available online… somewhere


This site has some good stuff on Jainism -

Concept of Non-Violence in Jainism


The Jain beliefs are false, and if they are in the Suttas, they are discussed as to refute them. The second part is science (slightly graphic).


When characterizing so many beliefs, it might be more palatable to exercise a little more specificity. Simply as a matter of logic, the statement “The Jains beliefs are false” is also probably false. Because Buddhists have SOME beliefs in common with theirs… Indirectly, your statment implies every believer is false… which might be true, and even consistent with canon, if the Buddha was not a believer.

But aside from logic, no need to be unfriendly.


By saying that ‘the Jain beliefs are false’ (I did use ‘the’), I was referring to the first part of my post about Jain beliefs stating that trees, plants, soil and water are living beings.

Although my answer was brief, I don’t see which part was unfriendly.


::shrug:: your last message seemed a little curt, and had an unpleasant link. I think if a child saw that, they might cry or have nightmares.

But I see your post does warn the video is “slightly graphic”. Labeling it as science, with the laughter in the video, seems overstated. Perhaps however a better actually scientific demonstration was not to be found…


I feel same, have you stopped driving or going to holidays ???


I feel same, can we talk??