Trees are sentient beings?

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Trees are sentient beings?

Postby TheSpirit » Fri Oct 11, 2013 9:44 pm

I am not exactly sure what Buddhist consider sentient beings. However I am just curious if it is possible for trees to be consider a sentient beings in Buddhism? Is it possible for them to have a spiritual essence like we do?

Thank you,
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Oct 11, 2013 9:45 pm

TheSpirit wrote:I am not exactly sure what Buddhist consider sentient beings. However I am just curious if it is possible for trees to be consider a sentient beings in Buddhism? Is it possible for them to have a spiritual essence like we do?

Thank you,



I've read that earliest forms of Buddhism may have had some bleed through of Jain and animist ideas..but generally trees are not considered sentient beings in most orthodox Buddhist doctrine, to the best of my knowledge. A sentient being is something with some kind of self-awareness, a continuing mindstream, storehouse consciousness etc...something that can experience subjectivity. Since Buddhism rejects the idea of an inherent self or substance or spirit explicitly, you have to look to other factors for a definition of sentience.
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Fri Oct 11, 2013 10:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby Norwegian » Fri Oct 11, 2013 10:08 pm

TheSpirit,

See this topic:

viewtopic.php?f=66&t=8616&start=0
15 pages.

Maybe you can find something of interest in that thread.
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby TheSpirit » Fri Oct 11, 2013 10:52 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
TheSpirit wrote:I am not exactly sure what Buddhist consider sentient beings. However I am just curious if it is possible for trees to be consider a sentient beings in Buddhism? Is it possible for them to have a spiritual essence like we do?

Thank you,



I've read that earliest forms of Buddhism may have had some bleed through of Jain and animist ideas..but generally trees are not considered sentient beings in most orthodox Buddhist doctrine, to the best of my knowledge. A sentient being is something with some kind of self-awareness, a continuing mindstream, storehouse consciousness etc...something that can experience subjectivity. Since Buddhism rejects the idea of an inherent self or substance or spirit explicitly, you have to look to other factors for a definition of sentience.


Thank you for getting back to me Johnny. I am just curious and somewhat confused. If there is no spiritual essence, when what is being reborn in Buddhism?

Another question I want to ask is, does Buddhism consider a bacteria a living sentient?

Thank you,

Norwegian wrote:TheSpirit,

See this topic:

http://dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f= ... 16&start=0
15 pages.

Maybe you can find something of interest in that thread.


Norwegian,

That was great! It covers a lot of things I read and wanted to discuss. Thank you.
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Oct 11, 2013 11:03 pm

Rebirth thing is a long story, lots of threads on it..the short version of what's being reborn according to Buddhism is a constantly changing mindstream or storehouse, not an unchanging soul or essence.

About the bacteria, I have no idea..my hunch is yes, since it moves, eats, etc.. but to date i've seen nothing about that. I'll bet it exists though.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sat Oct 12, 2013 1:24 am

Many years ago, in order to prevent a forest in Thailand from being torn down for a tobacco plantation, many of the trees were ordained as monks, and I think, even given some kind of orange robes. Since they couldn't find any Thai workers who would kill a monk, the forest was saved.

My Thai monk friends told me that the reason that they put little 'spirit houses' in or near trees is that the mind of the deceased, looking for its body, mistakenly thinks that a tree is its body and tries to move in. So, they have these little houses to accommodate them.
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby TheSpirit » Sat Oct 12, 2013 1:46 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Rebirth thing is a long story, lots of threads on it..the short version of what's being reborn according to Buddhism is a constantly changing mindstream or storehouse, not an unchanging soul or essence.

About the bacteria, I have no idea..my hunch is yes, since it moves, eats, etc.. but to date i've seen nothing about that. I'll bet it exists though.


thank you Johnny. I'm still confused by that abstract idea though. What form does this storehouse take and what form does ot takes going from one physical entity to another?

I imagine if bacteria are sentient beings then Tree must be as well. Some bacteria I believe are unicellular. They are nothing more than a functioning biological cell. Trees are made up of millions and millions of those cells with almost I identical parts and functions. Carrying in and food and waste. That is my shallow opinion. What do you think?

I greatly appreciate your effort clarifying up my confusion/ignorance.
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby TheSpirit » Sat Oct 12, 2013 2:03 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:Many years ago, in order to prevent a forest in Thailand from being torn down for a tobacco plantation, many of the trees were ordained as monks, and I think, even given some kind of orange robes. Since they couldn't find any Thai workers who would kill a monk, the forest was saved.

My Thai monk friends told me that the reason that they put little 'spirit houses' in or near trees is that the mind of the deceased, looking for its body, mistakenly thinks that a tree is its body and tries to move in. So, they have these little houses to accommodate them.
.
.
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Thank you Padma for sharing such a wonderful story! Definitely wonderful. those monks saved the forest and thousand of creatures.

in Shinto (what I am practicing. Hopefully in combination with Buddhism when I know more) there is something similar. In sacred areas or even trees sometimes there is a miniature shrine, kind of like a kamidana. A spirit house. I think it is a nice they do that. Once again thank you for sharing.
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Oct 12, 2013 2:49 am

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebirth_%28Buddhism%29

Maybe that will help.... You have to let go of the idea of a "what", or self-contained form that gets reborn, basic Buddhist doctrine refutes the idea of an unchanging substance that jumps from body to body, do a search of some of the rebirth threads here maybe.

As to the bacteria..i'm guessing that action would determine sentience in this case, i.e. does it try to preserve itself etc. which makes things like Virii and Bacteria and trees borderline cases seemingly...i'm really not sure, someone else would know more about that than me.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby TheSpirit » Sat Oct 12, 2013 3:30 am

Sorry Johnny. I appreciate you taking the effort explaining rebirth to me but I am having a difficult time grasping this abstract idea. I don't understand what is a continuum or stream..rebirth means being born into a completely different form so there got to be something that go from one to another...I imagine it has to be some substance to manifest in another form....i mean human and creatures are physical and they have past lives so it has to have some physical property or something that really have basis in physical world...or there would be no rebirth...I apologize if I am being confusing.

thank you.
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Oct 12, 2013 3:33 am

TheSpirit wrote:Sorry Johnny. I appreciate you taking the effort explaining rebirth to me but I am having a difficult time grasping this abstract idea. I don't understand what is a continuum or stream..rebirth means being born into a completely different form so there got to be something that go from one to another...I imagine it has to be some substance to manifest in another form....i mean human and creatures are physical and they have past lives so it has to have some physical property or something that really have basis in physical world...or there would be no rebirth...I apologize if I am being confusing.

thank you.


You aren't being confusing, but your questions aren't anything new, and they are pretty well addressed by the link I posted. I'd suggest spending some time with that link, and maybe reading a basic book on Buddhism, I can reccomend The Heart of The Buddhas Teaching by Thich Nhat Han highly.

so it has to have some physical property or something that really have basis in physical world.


This is a gross simplification, but for the purpose of your question "physical beings" exist within what we could call "mind" in many ways of seeing things, so physical birth is an aspect of previous conditioning..not just some empty vessel that get filled with something.

So, in Buddhism, "mind" is not something that is just stuck inside of physical things, physical things exist within mind, and are made by mind...again that's very over simplified to the point that it's leaving out important things.. but I hope it gives you some idea. I'm sure someone can frame that better than me.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby Greg » Sat Oct 12, 2013 4:56 am

Referenced in the other thread are some studies on the topic by Lambert Schmithausen, all worth reading:

Plants in Early Buddhism & the Far Eastern Idea of the Buddha-Nature of Grasses and Trees
http://www.scribd.com/doc/47341101/Plants-in-Early-Buddhism-the-Far-Eastern-Idea-of-the-Buddha-Nature-of-Grasses-and-Trees

The Problem of the Sentience of Plants in Earliest Buddhism
http://www.scribd.com/doc/78950014/The-Problem-of-the-Sentience-of-Plants-in-Earliest-Buddhism

Buddhism and Nature. The Lecture delivered on the Occasion of the EXPO 1990: An Enlarged Version with Notes
http://www.scribd.com/doc/79523265/Buddhism-and-Nature
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby Malcolm » Sat Oct 12, 2013 2:46 pm

TheSpirit wrote:I am not exactly sure what Buddhist consider sentient beings. However I am just curious if it is possible for trees to be consider a sentient beings in Buddhism? Is it possible for them to have a spiritual essence like we do?


In general, most writing in Buddhadharma includes plants as part of container universe.

Plants are recognized to be alive, but not sentient. The general thinking runs that plants have no [observable] sense organs, so they cannot be sentient.

There are some trends in East Asian Buddhism, however, as well as in Tibetan Buddhism (Dzogchen) that run counter to this commonly accepted notion of the nonsentience of plants.

Personally, I think plants exhibit sentient properties of various kinds. And because they use prāṇa, exhibit digestion, preferences, communicate Whatever sentience they have however is likely to be very different than the sentience we ascribe to creatures in the invertebrate/vertebrate phylums.
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby KonchokZoepa » Sat Oct 12, 2013 2:51 pm

could it be that i.e trees could be ''containers'' of a spirit. that would categorize in normal terms as a sentient being?
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby Alfredo » Sat Oct 12, 2013 3:41 pm

Wasn't Gendun Choephel declared a heretic over this idea?
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby Norwegian » Sat Oct 12, 2013 3:43 pm

If he was, the question begs by whom?
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby KonchokZoepa » Sat Oct 12, 2013 3:59 pm

there could actually be some truth to it due to the fact of ayahuasca and the effect it has on people. and if you ask shamans of amazon rainforest they will tell you for sure that at least some of the trees and plants have spirits in them or are spirits. the shamans actually learn songs called '' icaros'' from the plants themselves.

i dont want to take any side or opinion on this though since i dont know for sure. but im interested in what are peoples thoughts about the contemplation or question.
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sat Oct 12, 2013 4:36 pm

TheSpirit wrote: I'm still confused by that abstract idea though. What form does this storehouse take and what form does it takes going from one physical entity to another?

the mind doesn't go anywhere.
it's the bodies that come and go.
What we experience is similar to the effect of
looking up at the clouds
and getting the impression that you are moving but the clouds are motionless
or when you are in a train, next to another train,
and the one next to you moves, but you think your train is the one moving.
Where else can the mind be
other than where you place it at the moment?

The glitch here comes from thinking that
the mind is a manifestation of the activity of the body.
The causes of cognition, the grounds of awareness, are already there.
It is through the arising of physical attributes that this awareness
is manifested, is experienced, as cognition.

The two arise together.
it's like talking about mass and gravity in space.
Mass occurs because of gravity
and gravity arises because of mass.
There is cohesion because there is something to cohere.

awareness of an object is what creates the awareness of that object.

My understanding is that Buddha taught that trees and plants are not sentient beings.
this does not prevent a person from believing he is a tree.
But then, technically speaking, the human body is not a sentient being either.
if it were, then you would lose some of your identity
every time you got a haircut or trimmed your fingernails.

This is a good time to read the Diamond Sutra,
in which the Buddha explains that sentient beings are in fact, not sentient beings
but, that they are only called sentient beings.
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby TheSpirit » Sat Oct 12, 2013 6:08 pm

Malcolm wrote:
TheSpirit wrote:I am not exactly sure what Buddhist consider sentient beings. However I am just curious if it is possible for trees to be consider a sentient beings in Buddhism? Is it possible for them to have a spiritual essence like we do?


In general, most writing in Buddhadharma includes plants as part of container universe.

Plants are recognized to be alive, but not sentient. The general thinking runs that plants have no [observable] sense organs, so they cannot be sentient.

There are some trends in East Asian Buddhism, however, as well as in Tibetan Buddhism (Dzogchen) that run counter to this commonly accepted notion of the nonsentience of plants.

Personally, I think plants exhibit sentient properties of various kinds. And because they use prāṇa, exhibit digestion, preferences, communicate Whatever sentience they have however is likely to be very different than the sentience we ascribe to creatures in the invertebrate/vertebrate phylums.


thank you for this response. I came across an interesting articles by a biologist on the consciousness of plant and it is just exactly as you said. I think plants are very much conscious as well even if it does experience the world through the senses like we do.

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/842090




KonchokZoepa wrote:there could actually be some truth to it due to the fact of ayahuasca and the effect it has on people. and if you ask shamans of amazon rainforest they will tell you for sure that at least some of the trees and plants have spirits in them or are spirits. the shamans actually learn songs called '' icaros'' from the plants themselves.

i dont want to take any side or opinion on this though since i dont know for sure. but im interested in what are peoples thoughts about the contemplation or question.


Thank you for sharing. I have to look up more on this for further reading.
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Re: Trees are sentient beings?

Postby TheSpirit » Sat Oct 12, 2013 6:11 pm

Thank You Padma and all those that try to explain rebirth and mind to me. I will be honest and say I still don't quite understand it but I will do more research on my part. I am utmost grateful.
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