Thread: Are plants and trees sentient beings?

  1. #1

    Are plants and trees sentient beings?

    Are plants and trees considered to be sentient beings themselves, or just the possible homes of sentient beings?

    I was looking at "The Living Plant Chapter" of the Buddhist monastic code and I'm still quite puzzled about this.

    https://www.dhammatalks.org/vinaya/bmc/Section0017.html

    Any thoughts?


  2. #2
    Forums Member mjaviem's Avatar
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    We can consider them beings but this is our own ignorance which leads us to see a being where there is only leaves, roots, a growing, and a withering. We see a cart where there are only parts of I'm correct.

    And speculating a bit (or a lot), to be a sentient being you need craving, you need clinging and at least one aggregate subject to clinging. I would say there are no plant-aggregates to cling to and therefore coming to be as a plant is not possible. I don't think there is plant-consciousness, plant-thoughts, plant-discriminations, plant-feelings. Do plants sense form? If this is the case, we only need ignorance. Do plants crave?

    That suttas also gets me puzzled. What does it mean to live in a tree? Is it where to rest back against the trunk or what is it?

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    Forums Member KathyLauren's Avatar
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    My understanding is that there are six classes of sentient beings: devas, asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings. Nowhere are plants on that list.

    The quote that Aloka linked to is saying that killing a living plant is a bad thing. It is not alleging that the plant is a sentient being. My understanding of the story is that the issue is environmental: a tree is habitat for sentient beings, and killing it deprives them of their home.

    Om mani padme hum
    Kathy

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    Trees communicate through their roots which connect to other trees via fungal intermediaries called the 'Wood Wide Web', which describes how a whole forest can be seen to communicate. It's an interesting 'in' to plant communication and sensitivity to anyone who is interested. If past Buddhists had known about this they might have included them as sentient beings. The problem using their lists is that they didn't know what they couldn't know yet. Such as mushrooms aren't plants. They do not make their own food so are a different class of living things.

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    Forums Member KathyLauren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by philg View Post
    If past Buddhists had known about this they might have included them as sentient beings. The problem using their lists is that they didn't know what they couldn't know yet. Such as mushrooms aren't plants. They do not make their own food so are a different class of living things.
    I agree that using traditional lists can be problematical, and that our morality should be informed by modern scientific knowledge as well as by traditions.

    In this case, the tradition of drawing a line between animals (sentient beings) and plants (not sentient beings) aligns well with biology, which recognizes plants and animals as separate classes ("kingdoms", technically) of living things, just as plants and fungi are.

    Om mani padme hum
    Kathy

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    My argument is that plants can also be thought of as sentient. There are many examples of living things which are neither plant nor animal, such as fungi and protists. They can all respond to changes in their environment. There may be a sliding scale of attributes, but I don't think that there is any cut-off point for being sentient.

  7. #7
    Interestingly, I have a book which I haven't started reading yet, called "The Hidden Life of Trees" by a German forester called Peter Wohlleben, who explains how a forest is a social network of communications between trees.

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/...-life-of-trees

    This doesn't seem odd to me, because I've always thought trees and plants were living sentient beings, and I chat to them occasionally - particularly my house plants and the Willow tree in my garden!


    .

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    Forums Member mjaviem's Avatar
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    My point is that, from the buddhist point of view, there are no beings for those wise enough to see things as they truly are. We can see plants, fungi, bacteria, animals or humans as beings but that's our own ignorance in regard to the Truth. It's amazing to learn about communication networks of trees but understanding trees as beings or sentient beings in a new way is the hot version of understanding, it's captivating. The dispassionate version about understanding these new findings is seeing as just communication networks of just trees. Just life, just the way things are... Or so they say.

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    Global Moderator Esho's Avatar
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    I don't care what science says or what buddhists tell about sentient or non sentient beings. I relate with trees and plants in a deep manner and my intuition tells me that they are sentient beings too.


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    Quote Originally Posted by mjaviem View Post
    My point is that, from the buddhist point of view, there are no beings for those wise enough to see things as they truly are. We can see plants, fungi, bacteria, animals or humans as beings but that's our own ignorance in regard to the Truth. It's amazing to learn about communication networks of trees but understanding trees as beings or sentient beings in a new way is the hot version of understanding, it's captivating. The dispassionate version about understanding these new findings is seeing as just communication networks of just trees. Just life, just the way things are... Or so they say.
    Hi mjaviem. I don't think that we see things as they truly are, but experience insight which convinces us that there are a infinite ways of seeing things. Following the Buddhist path gives us the ability to choose wisely from the infinite pathways then open to us. Which may be enough to keep us sane afterwards.

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