What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

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What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Luke » Mon Mar 29, 2010 3:48 pm

I am wondering if it's possible to interpret the Buddhist term "sentient being" in terms of modern science.

Are yeast sentient beings? If so, is it unethical to bake bread because this kills them?

Are viruses sentient beings? How about bacteria?

I just went to wikipedia and found out that there are 6 "kindoms": Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaea, Bacteria. Are all the members of these kindoms sentient beings except for the members of the Plantae kingdom?
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Mar 29, 2010 5:03 pm

I generally think a sentient being is defined by having a alayavijnana. Or perhaps it might be better said that a retribution-consciousness or vipakaphalavijnana -- that is to say the cycle of karma-vipaka for an individual sentient-process -- is what delineates a sentient being from insentient processes.

Do mushrooms and plants possess individual vijnana?

I would say no.

Also, if you do not cognize something as a sentient being then you are not committing an akusala karma or unskillful action.

In order for the action of killing to be fully complete, one must cognize something living and sentient that is to be killed, have the intent to kill it, kill it and be satisfied with the action.
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Huifeng » Tue Mar 30, 2010 3:47 am

Luke wrote:I am wondering if it's possible to interpret the Buddhist term "sentient being" in terms of modern science.

Are yeast sentient beings? If so, is it unethical to bake bread because this kills them?

Are viruses sentient beings? How about bacteria?

I just went to wikipedia and found out that there are 6 "kindoms": Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaea, Bacteria. Are all the members of these kindoms sentient beings except for the members of the Plantae kingdom?


It may be first useful to list out the various terms in Indic languages that are used for this purpose.

In particular, note that although in English "sentient being" is very common, the notion of "sentience" seldom appears in the original terms. Elsewhere I have encountered people making a big deal about this term "sentient" as a Buddhist definition, but when shown that it is largely English idiomatic usage, they realized the problem.
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby KeithBC » Tue Mar 30, 2010 5:32 am

My understanding of the term "sentient being" corresponds precisely with the animal kingdom, at least for those sentient beings with whom we come into objective daily contact. I don't think that the biological classification system applies to devas, pretas, etc.

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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Luke » Tue Mar 30, 2010 2:55 pm

Huifeng wrote:It may be first useful to list out the various terms in Indic languages that are used for this purpose.

In particular, note that although in English "sentient being" is very common, the notion of "sentience" seldom appears in the original terms. Elsewhere I have encountered people making a big deal about this term "sentient" as a Buddhist definition, but when shown that it is largely English idiomatic usage, they realized the problem.


If "sentient being" isn't a good translation, then what other term would you recommend, Ven. Huifeng? "Living creature"? "Living being"? "Fauna"? "Members of the animal kingdom"?

It's pretty important to know if what one is killing has Buddha-nature or not.

KeithBC wrote:My understanding of the term "sentient being" corresponds precisely with the animal kingdom, at least for those sentient beings with whom we come into objective daily contact. I don't think that the biological classification system applies to devas, pretas, etc.

Om mani padme hum
Keith


So that would imply that all protozoa, such as amoebas, are sentient beings because they're in the animal kingdom, right?

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(Above: Amoeba prepares to ingest small algal cell.)
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby KeithBC » Tue Mar 30, 2010 3:28 pm

Luke wrote:It's pretty important to know if what one is killing has Buddha-nature or not.

Hmm, I think I would put that differently. It is important not to kill that which might have a Buddha nature.

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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Luke » Tue Mar 30, 2010 6:34 pm

KeithBC wrote:
Luke wrote:It's pretty important to know if what one is killing has Buddha-nature or not.

Hmm, I think I would put that differently. It is important not to kill that which might have a Buddha nature.

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Keith

I agree. What I wrote does sound terrible! I didn't sleep well last night, so my cognitive abilities are quite impaired.

What I wanted to say was "It's important to know which organisms possess Buddha-nature, so that we can prevent ourselves from harming them."
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Wed Mar 31, 2010 6:02 am

It's always been my understanding that sentient beings are those that are capable of experiencing dukkha.

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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Huifeng » Wed Mar 31, 2010 6:23 am

Luke wrote:
Huifeng wrote:It may be first useful to list out the various terms in Indic languages that are used for this purpose.

In particular, note that although in English "sentient being" is very common, the notion of "sentience" seldom appears in the original terms. Elsewhere I have encountered people making a big deal about this term "sentient" as a Buddhist definition, but when shown that it is largely English idiomatic usage, they realized the problem.


If "sentient being" isn't a good translation, then what other term would you recommend, Ven. Huifeng? "Living creature"? "Living being"? "Fauna"? "Members of the animal kingdom"?

It's pretty important to know if what one is killing has Buddha-nature or not.



Well, as I say, first may be helpful to list out all those terms that were used.

Here is a (partial) list, taken from a sutra:

ātma, sattva, jīva, jantu, poṣa, puruṣa, pudgala, manuja, mānava, kāraka, vedaka, jānaka, paśyaka

It may help to first list these out, giving a basic translation and notes about related meaning and so on, for each of these terms.

A useful Skt dictionary may be found here.

As for the Buddha Nature part, well, as mentioned on other threads, there are some radically different interpretations of that very term. One is that it is related to "living beings" (so to speak), but another that it is applicable to all phenomena. Without settling that issue, the question of whether one is killing something with Buddha-Nature or not, would be bound for confusion, I fear!
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Mar 31, 2010 6:39 am

Huifeng wrote:A useful Skt dictionary may be found here.



That there is a useful dictionary.

(H2B) sat-tvá [L=229736] m. a ghost , demon , goblin , monster R. VarBr2S. Katha1s.

May all ghosts, demons, goblins and monsters be free from suffering and its causes. :smile:
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Aemilius » Wed Mar 31, 2010 9:44 am

Luke wrote:I am wondering if it's possible to interpret the Buddhist term "sentient being" in terms of modern science.

Are yeast sentient beings? If so, is it unethical to bake bread because this kills them?

Are viruses sentient beings? How about bacteria?

I just went to wikipedia and found out that there are 6 "kindoms": Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaea, Bacteria. Are all the members of these kindoms sentient beings except for the members of the Plantae kingdom?


Life is difficult enough with animals having sentience and mind, so generally we prefer not to take the issue any further from that. I have found that biologists prefer not to take up that issue whether the different categories of life have mind and sentience or not. And there is a good reason for that.
I don't think humans need much consciousness to be able to float to nearest supermarket to buy something to eat. So what is it that makes them different from bacteria and the rest ?
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Luke » Wed Mar 31, 2010 1:03 pm

"jantu:
a creature , living being , man , person
a kinsman , servant
any animal of the lowest organisation , worms , insects
a tree"

A tree? Well, I've always liked trees...

"jīva" wasn't in that Sanskrit dictionary. A Japanese diva, perhaps? :tongue:

The translation "living being" gets us right back to the question "Which beings are alive?"

Huifeng wrote:As for the Buddha Nature part, well, as mentioned on other threads, there are some radically different interpretations of that very term. One is that it is related to "living beings" (so to speak), but another that it is applicable to all phenomena. Without settling that issue, the question of whether one is killing something with Buddha-Nature or not, would be bound for confusion, I fear!

Okay, I appreciate the fact that you are being very cautious when asked to declare what Buddhist doctrine says about the matter, but I would really be interested in hearing your personal opinion about these issues because I have great respect for your opinion.

I know that microscopes didnt' exist in the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, but I'm sure that the Noble One would not hesitate to protect other small creatures if he felt it was important.

First of all, Ven. Huifeng, do you think it's unethical to kill bacteria, fungi, or amoebas?

Do you have any advice you could give us about ways to avoid harming other beings?

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

:anjali:
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Paul » Thu Apr 01, 2010 12:38 pm

Luke wrote:A tree? Well, I've always liked trees...


It's my understanding that there are types of devas that live in trees, similar to the notion of dryads. So it's not the trees per se that you'd be harming but these beings' homes. I might be completely mistaken, though.

Edit - the entry on dryads in wikipedia says something interesting:

Dryads, like all nymphs, were supernaturally long-lived and tied to their homes, but some were a step beyond most nymphs. These were the hamadryads who were an integral part of their trees, such that if the tree died, the hamadryad associated with it died as well. For these reasons, dryads and the Greek gods punished any mortals who harmed trees without first propitiating the tree-nymphs.
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Sönam » Thu Apr 01, 2010 8:05 pm

Huifeng wrote:
Luke wrote:
Huifeng wrote:It may be first useful to list out the various terms in Indic languages that are used for this purpose.

In particular, note that although in English "sentient being" is very common, the notion of "sentience" seldom appears in the original terms. Elsewhere I have encountered people making a big deal about this term "sentient" as a Buddhist definition, but when shown that it is largely English idiomatic usage, they realized the problem.


If "sentient being" isn't a good translation, then what other term would you recommend, Ven. Huifeng? "Living creature"? "Living being"? "Fauna"? "Members of the animal kingdom"?

It's pretty important to know if what one is killing has Buddha-nature or not.



Well, as I say, first may be helpful to list out all those terms that were used.

Here is a (partial) list, taken from a sutra:

ātma, sattva, jīva, jantu, poṣa, puruṣa, pudgala, manuja, mānava, kāraka, vedaka, jānaka, paśyaka

It may help to first list these out, giving a basic translation and notes about related meaning and so on, for each of these terms.

A useful Skt dictionary may be found here.

As for the Buddha Nature part, well, as mentioned on other threads, there are some radically different interpretations of that very term. One is that it is related to "living beings" (so to speak), but another that it is applicable to all phenomena. Without settling that issue, the question of whether one is killing something with Buddha-Nature or not, would be bound for confusion, I fear!


About the Primordial Wisdom, Longchen Rabjam says in the Tshig-Don Po-Ch'e'i mDzod ...

It is luminous intrinsic awareness, the Buddha-essence (Tathagatagarbha) ...
It is primordial wisdom as it is present primordially (Ye) and it is the holy cognition (Shes) ...
Division :
There are three : The primordial wisdom which dwells at the basis; the primordial wisdom which is endowed with characteristics; and the primordial wisdom which pervades all phenomenal objects ... The essence, nature, and compasion are the intrinsic wisdom which dwells at the basis. The primordial wisdoms of the ultimate sphere, mirror-like, equanimity, discriminative, and accomplishment are the primordial wisdom which is endowed with characteristics. Knowing the ultimate truth, quality as it is (Ji-lnTa-Ba mKhyen-Pa) and knowing all phenomena of relative truth as they appear, quantity (Ji-sNyed-Pa mKhyen-Pa) is the primordial wisdom which pervades the phenomenal objects ...
The dwelling place of mind is the universal ground and of primordial wisdom is the Dharmakaya.
By understanding everything you perceive from the perspective of the view, you are freed from the constraints of philosophical beliefs.
By understanding that any and all mental activity is meditation, you are freed from arbitrary divisions between formal sessions and postmeditation activity.
- Longchen Rabjam -
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby muni » Sat Apr 03, 2010 6:06 pm

Huseng wrote:
May all ghosts, demons, goblins and monsters be free from suffering and its causes. :smile:


:smile:
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Aemilius » Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:07 am

Huseng wrote:I generally think a sentient being is defined by having a alayavijnana. Or perhaps it might be better said that a retribution-consciousness or vipakaphalavijnana -- that is to say the cycle of karma-vipaka for an individual sentient-process -- is what delineates a sentient being from insentient processes.

Do mushrooms and plants possess individual vijnana?

I would say no.

Also, if you do not cognize something as a sentient being then you are not committing an akusala karma or unskillful action.

In order for the action of killing to be fully complete, one must cognize something living and sentient that is to be killed, have the intent to kill it, kill it and be satisfied with the action.


Have you ever thought that the chromosomes might be the Alaya-vijnana or an aspect of it ? The system of chromosomes is similar in all the six realms of beings that Luke mentions, this is to say that all beings from bacteria to humans arise from chromosomes, or is it alaya-vijnana?

Interestingly enough there has been a discussion in the Tendai school if plants and trees posses consciousness and therefore also buddhanature? You have to ask the Tendai about this issue, I believe there is something translated into english from this discussion. Views in the affirmative, as I remember it.
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Huifeng » Fri Apr 09, 2010 7:17 am

Aemilius wrote: Interestingly enough there has been a discussion in the Tendai school if plants and trees posses consciousness and therefore also buddhanature? You have to ask the Tendai about this issue, I believe there is something translated into english from this discussion. Views in the affirmative, as I remember it.


My understanding is that the general Tiantai take is that "buddha-nature" = emptiness, not related to the consciousness / alaya / tathagatagarbha interpretations of "buddha-nature" of other schools. So it is quite a different issue. Not really about "consciousness" at all, for Tiantai.
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby Aemilius » Sat Apr 10, 2010 9:19 am

Huifeng wrote:
Aemilius wrote: Interestingly enough there has been a discussion in the Tendai school if plants and trees posses consciousness and therefore also buddhanature? You have to ask the Tendai about this issue, I believe there is something translated into english from this discussion. Views in the affirmative, as I remember it.


My understanding is that the general Tiantai take is that "buddha-nature" = emptiness, not related to the consciousness / alaya / tathagatagarbha interpretations of "buddha-nature" of other schools. So it is quite a different issue. Not really about "consciousness" at all, for Tiantai.


Is it the case that Tientai (in China) has had a similar discussion as the Tendai( in Japan) has ? Are you trying to confuse the issue by taking up the chinese mother school and not the japanese one ?
I know very little of the Tendai/Tientai thinking, but I'm quite sure there has been a discussion about trees and plants and their consciousness and/or buddhanature. I don't know on which sutras and shastras or on whose spiritual insight this discussion is based, and on which lines it has been carried on. Maybe You could provide us with more information on this topic??
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Apr 11, 2010 7:13 am

Greetings,

A nice definition from the Pali Canon...

SN 23.2: Satta Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi at Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monastery. Then Ven. Radha went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: "'A being,' lord. 'A being,' it's said. To what extent is one said to be 'a being'?"

"Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for form, Radha: when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be 'a being.'

"Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for feeling... perception... fabrications...

"Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for consciousness, Radha: when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be 'a being.'

"Just as when boys or girls are playing with little sand castles: as long as they are not free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for those little sand castles, that's how long they have fun with those sand castles, enjoy them, treasure them, feel possessive of them. But when they become free from passion, desire, love, thirst, fever, & craving for those little sand castles, then they smash them, scatter them, demolish them with their hands or feet and make them unfit for play.

"In the same way, Radha, you too should smash, scatter, & demolish form, and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for form.

"You should smash, scatter, & demolish feeling, and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for feeling.

"You should smash, scatter, & demolish perception, and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for perception.

"You should smash, scatter, & demolish fabrications, and make them unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for fabrications.

"You should smash, scatter, & demolish consciousness and make it unfit for play. Practice for the ending of craving for consciousness — for the ending of craving, Radha, is Unbinding."


Metta,
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Re: What qualifies as a "sentient being"?

Postby viel » Sat Apr 24, 2010 4:05 pm

A sentient being is an organism that experiences, that's what sentience means:)

Dogs are sentient, people are sentient, algae isn't and I am not sure about spiders:)
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