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Sentience - Dhamma Wheel

Sentience

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Riverbend
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Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Tue Jul 06, 2010 11:45 pm

In Buddhism, how exactly is sentience defined? I hesitate to say this as it will sound facetious but I do not intend it: is it okay for a Buddhist to wash his or her hands because bacteria are not sentient? What about ants in your kitchen? One definition I have heard of sentience is a subjective self awareness. Is that what Buddhists think?

Thank you.
I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]

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Tex
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Re: Sentience

Postby Tex » Tue Jul 06, 2010 11:50 pm

The basic definition is usually something like "conscious life forms" or "beings with a mind". Plants and some life forms like bacteria would not be included. Ants and other insects definitely are included in "sentient beings".

A good qualifying question might be "Is the being capable of making decisions?". Plants, bacteria, etc do respond to stimuli, but there is not a mind making a decision in there.
"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." -- Heraclitus

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Riverbend
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 12:05 am

I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]

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Tex
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Re: Sentience

Postby Tex » Wed Jul 07, 2010 12:39 am

"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." -- Heraclitus

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octathlon
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Re: Sentience

Postby octathlon » Wed Jul 07, 2010 12:45 am

Is there anything in the teachings on where the 'line' is drawn? I tried searching and couldn't find it. Maybe whatever Pali term was used would help, as opposed to trying to guess based on the English translation?

I was thinking the answer be related to creatures in whose bodies rebirth could occur, but couldn't find any clues on what those would be.

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Re: Sentience

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Jul 07, 2010 1:09 am

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Ben
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Re: Sentience

Postby Ben » Wed Jul 07, 2010 2:04 am

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Wind
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Re: Sentience

Postby Wind » Wed Jul 07, 2010 4:18 am

Another way to look at Sentience is in terms of realms of rebirth. The Buddha covers all the possible realms sentient beings can be reborn. So since sentient beings do not reborn as plants, plants are not sentient. There are no bacteria realm either that sentient beings reborn into. Bacteria in my opinion is similar to single cell organism like your skin cells but lives independently. It is part of nature but not sentient. In other words, plants and micro organisms are living "things" but not living "beings".

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Riverbend
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 9:00 am

Thank you all. I always try to avoid killing anything, even spiders, which I am terrified of.

About sentience, though: it has been said that we as humans can do everything we do without being consciously self-aware of it and that an outside observer wouldn't know the difference; that we could go about our daily lives exactly as we do now while never being subjectively conscious of any of it. So we can't really assume that anything is consciously self aware. We know far too little about it. Not that it matters to me: as a vegetable gardener, I feel guilty throwing away seedlings I don't need!

Personally, I see it as not causing suffering to things that are capable of experiencing it. I have no idea if ants can suffer, but I'll play it safe. I prefer this criterion as experiments suggest humans are not consciously self aware until the age of about two.

Richard
I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]

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Ben
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Re: Sentience

Postby Ben » Wed Jul 07, 2010 9:16 am

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:06 am

One standard definition of sentience is does the organism in its functional state respond to painful/pleasurable stimuli ..
By that criterion ants are certainly sentient. They are drawn to honey. They avoid heat etc.

But...here comes the nematode issue. As others have pointed out on this and other forums Nematodes are the cosmos's way of stopping Buddhists becoming too triumphalist about diet purity.. :tongue:
Nematodes are sentient by any definition. They respond to stimuli. They have separate digestive tracts. Many species of nematodes reproduce sexually.
And they live in all plant tissue...all plant tissue. Organic fruit and veg have more nematodes per gm than inorganic f and v. If you cook fruit and veg the nematodes die. If you eat raw fruit and veg you eat live nematodes.
These are not bacteria.They are small multi celled animals. Some are visible to the naked eye.
So, does this mean that we can hunt deer or kill chickens because we are going to eat sentient creatures anyway ?
Of course not. When we eat a carrot we have no intention of killing nematodes..as we would have if we kill a chicken. When we eat carrots the death of nematodes is an unintended consequence. Therefore no vipaka ensues.
The point being that in conditioned existence the death of sentient creatures is an inevitable result of needing food. Its one big chain. Which means that no Buddhist should point the finger at another Buddhist over the food issue. Its all a matter of degree. Purity as another member pointed out recently is impossible in this area.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Riverbend
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:15 am

Hi Ben,

How do you know ants suffer? What do you see that leads you to that? I think you're probably right, by the way, but I only have a feeling to go on. My feelings are often proved wrong, so I 'd like something more concrete to rely on.

I don't have my own children but I helped bring up my niece. That's not really relevant, though, as we can do everything we do without being consciously self aware and that an outside observer would not be able to tell. It is therefore very easy to assume sentience by projecting our own experience onto others who display similar behaviour. Not that the assumption is necessarily wrong: just not necessarily right.

The experiment I alluded to was simple: a baby was allowed to see itself in a mirror. It was then distracted and a coloured sticker was placed on its forehead. When it looked at the mirror again its attention was not drawn to the sticker. When the experiment was repeated with children above a certain age (I think it was two) they would immediately notice the sticker and reach for it.

That is a crude experiment and not proof of anything; but we know so very little about consciousness and it suggests we might not become self-aware until a specific age. It is also very easy, through crude experiments, to disembody our self-awareness so that we feel the sensation of touch even if it is not us being touched and so on.

Really all I am saying is that conscious self-awareness may not be what we assume it to be. It's such an elusive thing: a fleeting, emergent property of our mental processes that we have only just begun to understand. That is why I personally prefer to base sentience on whether or not a living thing is capable of suffering.
I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]

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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:18 am

" suffering " is too narrow Riverbend. A more broad definition held by many is that a sentient organism responds to painful or pleasurable stimuli.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Riverbend
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:23 am

I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]

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Riverbend
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:28 am

I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]

Sanghamitta
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:34 am

Sure its problematic..and for every philosophical solution there will be a problem..
In Theravada Buddhism we tend to the pragmatic. To whatever reduces suffering, and aids insight into the way things are. We tend not to do abstract verities. So we have a rough hewn working definition of a number of things. Including sentience. Buddhadhamma is a verb, Its what we do. Rather than a coherent belief system.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Riverbend
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:48 am

I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]

Sanghamitta
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Re: Sentience

Postby Sanghamitta » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:55 am

Ants will die anyway. Bacteria can live. All we can do is take responsibility for our own actions and leave as small a footprint as possible.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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Riverbend
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Re: Sentience

Postby Riverbend » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:57 am

I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is you'll agree a certain je ne se quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot. [Uncle Monty -- Withnail & I.]

chownah
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Re: Sentience

Postby chownah » Wed Jul 07, 2010 2:23 pm

So far there are no references to any Buddhist text anywere in this discussion unless I have overlooked one......so is this all just personal views with no support from the Buddha's teachings?
chownah


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