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Plants and consciousness in EBTs?

I create this topic with aim to analyse what is EBTs’ standpoint on the subject of plants and consciousness.

In order to properly approach the topic I reckon it would be beneficial to first try to understand what are the different classifications and definitions of life found in the EBTs and what is the implication of those to the specific question whether plants (and maybe funghi) can be said to fall under the category of living beings or not.

To help with the topic, I would like to point the origin story of the sanghadisesa rule #7, in which we learn that in the time of the early Buddhist Sangha there were people who held the view that perceived trees as living beings. While the Buddha does not seem to endorse that view he established the training rule in question.

The Pali for this view is:

Jīvasaññino hi, moghapurisa, manussā rukkhasmiṃ.

The word of interest here is Jīvasaññino which in turn relates to the concept of jīva

It is noteworthy as well the specific phrasing attributed to those who held that view:

“How can the Sakyan ascetics have such a tree felled? They are hurting life with one faculty.”

The Pali for this concept of one-faculty life is ekindriyaṃ jīvaṃ and this is in found in a number of other minor training rules related to hurting plants in both Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni Vinaya.

I thank you in advance for keeping the conversation civilised and avoiding off topic debates.

To make sure we have a productive discussion let’s pursue a dialogue in which belief is suspended and a genuine effort to gathering information on the topic results in a informing and open exchange of EBT sources and references.

:anjal:

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How about this:

MN 98 (Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation)

“I teach you in order as they really are,
Vāseṭṭha,” said the Blessed One,
“The generic divisions of living beings;
For many are the kinds of birth.

Know first the grass and trees:
Though they lack self-awareness,
Their birth is their distinctive mark;
For many are the kinds of birth.

Next come the moths and butterflies
And so on through to ants and termites:
Their birth is their distinctive mark;
For many are the kinds of birth.

Then know the kinds of quadrupeds
[of varied sorts] both small and large:
Their birth is their distinctive mark;
For many are the kinds of birth.

Know those whose bellies are their feet,
To wit, the long-backed class of snakes:
Their birth is their distinctive mark;
For many are the kinds of birth.

Know too the water-dwelling fish
That pasture in the liquid world:
Their birth is their distinctive mark;
For many are the kinds of birth.

Next know the birds that wing their way
As they range in open skies:
Their birth is their distinctive mark;
For many are the kinds of birth.

“While in these births the differences
of birth make their distinctive mark,
With humans no differences of birth
Make a distinctive mark in them.

The Buddha is teaching two Brahmin students though, so he might just adapt their worldview for his teaching.

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I would like to call the attention to the definition of"where harm will be done" found in the aforementioned origin story of sanghadisesa rule #7.

It is mostly concerned with places which serve as the abode of ants, termites, rats, snakes, scorpions, centipedes, elephants, horses, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, or hyenas, or any other animals (tiracchā­na­).

The only items related to plants are fields of grain or fields of vegetables (i.e. someone else’s cultivated land).

Not sure it is that simple. In Snp3.9 (and MN98) we find:

(Buddha)
I shall analyse for you,
in order due and as they are,
the types of “birth” ’mong living things,
for many are the sorts of birth.

First, there’s grasses and the trees,
though of themselves they nothing know,
each species possessing its own marks,
for many are the sorts of birth.
(Laurence Khantipalo Mills’ translation)

Look at the grass and trees, although they are not aware,
This and the other have attributes peculiar to their births.
(Sister Uppalavanna’s translation)

In order to properly approach the topic I reckon it would be beneficial to first try to understand what are the different classifications and definitions of life found in the EBTs and what is the implication of those to the specific question whether plants (and maybe funghi) can be said to fall under the category of living beings or not.

:anjal:

Hi James,
As per the OP of the thread I will refrain from answering your question on what is my opinion.
The idea here is to investigate what EBTs have to say about it (or not).
To achieve it in the most constructive manner, as per OP as well, we need to suspend belief and avoid framing opinions.
Let’s see what the texts have (or not) to tell us about this topic! :wink:
:anjal:

That is very interesting Ayya.

Can we find anywhere else grass and trees as possible re-birth destinations / kinds of birth?

The sutta above is a bit unusual and quite different from the usual fivefold classification of rebirth destination (that doesn’t mention plants). I’m not aware of any other similar sutta, except for the parallel at Snp 3.9.

More often in the suttas there is the idea that devas can be reborn in plants. Not sure how exactly that works, but they seem to be quite closely linked. They feel pleasure from things touching their plant, and any damage does not cause suffering for the plant itself, but for the deva, p. ex. at MN 45:

It is as if, monks, in the last month of the hot weather, a creeper’s seed-pod should burst and a seed of the creeper, monks, should fall at the root of a sāl-tree. Then, monks, the devatā residing in that sāl-tree, afraid, agitated, might fall a-trembling. Then, monks, the friends and acquaintances, the kith and kin of that devatā who resides in that sāl-tree: devatās of parks, devatās of groves, devatās of trees, devatās residing in medicinal herbs, grasses and woods, gathering together and assembling might give comfort thus: ‘Do not be afraid, revered one, do not be afraid, revered one. For a peacock might swallow this creeper’s seed, or a deer might consume it, or a forest-fire might burn it, or workers in the wood might remove it, or white ants might eat it, or it might not germinate.’ But, monks, if neither a peacock should swallow this creeper’s seed, nor a deer consume it, nor a forest-fire burn it, nor workers in the wood remove it, nor white ants eat it, it might germinate. Rained on heavily by the monsoon clouds, it might grow apace, and a young, soft and downy creeper, clinging to it might fasten on to that sāl-tree. Then, monks, it might occur to the devatā residing in that sāl-tree: ‘Why then, did these worthy friends and acquaintances, kith and kin: devatās of parks, devatās of groves, devatās of trees, devatās residing in medicinal herbs, grasses and woods, seeing future peril in this creeper’s seed, gathering together and assembling, give comfort thus: ‘Do not be afraid, revered one, do not be afraid, revered one. For a peacock might swallow this creeper’s seed, or a deer might consume it, or a forest-fire might burn it, or workers in the wood might remove it, or white ants might eat it, or it might not germinate?’ Pleasant is the touch of this young, soft, downy and clinging creeper.’ It might cover that sāl-tree; when it had covered that sāl-tree, it might form a canopy above it, it might produce dense undergrowth; when it had produced a dense undergrowth, it might strangle every great branch of that sāl-tree.

Then, monks, it might occur to the devatā residing in that sāl-tree: ‘It was because of seeing this future peril in the creeper’s seed, that those worthy friends and acquaintances, kith and kin: devatās of parks, devatās of groves, devatās of trees, devatās residing in medicinal herbs, grasses and woods, seeing future peril in this creeper’s seed, gathering together and assembling, give comfort thus: ‘Do not be afraid, revered one, do not be afraid, revered one. For a peacock might swallow this creeper’s seed, or a deer might consume it, or a forest-fire might burn it, or workers in the wood might remove it, or white ants might eat it, or it might not germinate.’ For I, because of this creeper’s seed, am experiencing painful, sharp, acute feelings.’

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Maybe that’s the case of the ekindriyaṃ jīvaṃ found in the Vinaya?
Interestingly enough in the definition section of the very same Vinaya text there’s no mention to anything close to that. :confused:

With due acknowledgement from @Gabriel_L , I am replying to this discussion. I hope I am not sharing something that you already know, since this thread is quite old :sweat_smile:
Here’s the link Pācittaya Two: The Living Plant Chapter | The Buddhist Monastic Code, Volumes I & II
Although I must admit that the definition and classification of plant life is only in the commentary and subcommentary based on Abhidhamma and not the EBTs.