Plants, bacteria, virus alive?


The damaging of a living plant is to be confessed.
“Now a certain Alavi bhikkhu was chopping down a tree. The devata living in the tree said to the bhikkhu, ‘Sir, do not chop down my dwelling to build a dwelling for yourself.’ The bhikkhu, paying no attention, continued chopping and injured the arm of the devata’s child. The devata thought: ‘What if I were to kill this bhikkhu right here?’ Then another thought occurred to her: ‘But no, that wouldn’t be proper. What if I were to inform the Blessed One of this matter?’ So she went to the Blessed One and on arrival informed him of what had happened.

“‘Very good, devata. It’s very good that you didn’t kill the bhikkhu. If you had, you would have produced much demerit for yourself. Now go, devata. Over there is a vacant tree. Go into it.’ (The Commentary adds here that the tree, being in the Jetavana Monastery, was one of the choicest pieces of devata real estate in those days. Other devas coming to pay their respects to the Buddha also made a point of paying their respects to the devata living in this tree. At any rate:)

“People were offended and annoyed and spread it about, ‘How can these Sakyan contemplatives cut down trees and have them cut down? They are destroying one-facultied life.'”

This is another offense with the four factors of object, effort, perception, and intention.

Object. The Pali term for living plant — bhutagama — literally means the home of a being. This the Sub-commentary explains by saying that devatas may take up residence in plants standing in place by means of a longing on which their consciousness fastens (at the end of their previous lives) as in a dream. This rule is justified, it says, in that the etiquette of a contemplative precludes doing harm to the abodes of living beings. As the origin story shows, though, the reason this rule was laid down in the first place was to prevent bhikkhus from offending people who held to the animist belief that regarded plants as one-facultied life having the sense of touch.

The Vibhanga defines bhutagama as vegetation arising from any of five sources:

1) from bulbs, rhizomes, or tubers (e.g., potatoes, tulips),
2) from cuttings or stakes (e.g., willows, rose bushes),
3) from joints (e.g., sugar cane, bamboo),
4) from runners (e.g., strawberries, couch grass), or
5) from seeds (e.g., corn, beans).
According to the Commentary, a whole plant or part of one that has been removed from its original place is no longer classed as bhutagama. If it is capable of growing again if placed in the ground, it is classed as bijagama, which means “home of a plant.” When a seed is sown, it is regarded as bijagama until the first shoot turns a fresh green color, and the first leaf appears. After that it is regarded as bhutagama.

In line with this criterion, the Commentary classifies as bijagama such lower forms of plant life as mushrooms that still have their spores, fungi, lichens without leaves, and moulds, in that they do not pass through a fresh green stage, have no discernible leaves, and yet are capable of regeneration. Mushrooms that have lost their spores, and parts of any plants that have been removed from place and will not grow, or that have been cooked or otherwise damaged to the point where they are incapable of generation, are not grounds for an offense under this rule.

The Commentary states further that to damage bijagama entails a dukkata. The Vibhanga makes no mention of this point, but the Commentary cites as its justification a passage that occurs in a number of suttas (D.1, D.2, etc.) saying that bhikkhus refrain from harming both bhutagama and bijagama. The Mahavagga and Cullavagga give partial justification to the Commentary’s assertion in two passages, dealing with bhikkhus eating fruit, which we will discuss below. The Jain ascetics follow similar observances, which suggests that both the Buddhists and the Jains adopted this point from the ancient Indian ascetics who predated both religions.

Furthermore, according to the Commentary, there are certain kinds of plants that do not count either as bhutagama or bijagama under this rule, and to damage them entails no offense. To justify this point it quotes a passage from the Cullavagga (VIII.1.2): “If a varnished wall…(or) finished floor has spots of mould (%), it is to be wiped off with a moistened cloth that has been wrung out.” The Commentary extends the Canon’s instructions here to cover not only mould on walls but also other lower forms of plant life — such as algae on the inside of water jars, fungus on toothbrushes, and mould on food — that would count as filth if they were allowed to continue growing.

Effort. According to the Vibhanga, the term damaging includes such actions as cutting, breaking, picking, burning, and cooking. The Commentary defines the term as “dealing with a plant as one likes by cutting it, breaking it, and so on.” Although the word “dealing with,” paribhunjati, literally means “making use of,” the Commentary’s illustrations of what this covers include even such things as shaking a tree limb to get the dry leaves to fall off so that one can sweep them up. Thus, it says, damaging would include picking flowers or leaves, uprooting a plant, engraving one’s initials in a tree trunk, etc. Since no exception is made for doing such things with “benevolent” intentions towards the plant, pruning would be included as well. Given the catch-all nature of the Commentary’s definition, using herbicides to kill plants would also come under the term “damaging.”

Plants growing in water, such as water hyacinths, whose roots do not extend to the earth beneath the water, have the water as their base. To remove them from the water is to damage them, although there is no offense in moving them around in the water. To move them from one body of water to another without incurring a penalty, one may take them together with some of the water in which they originally lived and place them together with that water into the new body of water.

Plants such as mistletoe, orchids, and bird vine that grow on trees have the tree as their base. To remove them from the tree is to damage them and so entails a pacittiya.

Perception. If one damages a living plant (%) perceiving it to be something else — say, a dead plant — there is no offense. If one damages a plant in doubt as to whether it is living or dead, then regardless of what it actually is, the offense is a dukkata.

Intention is discussed in detail under the non-offenses, below.

Making Fruit Allowable. Since fruit seeds are bijagama, the question arises as to how bhikkhus should go about eating fruit. The Commentary to this rule discusses in detail two passages, one each in the Mahavagga (VI. 21) and the Cullavagga (V.5.2), dealing with precisely this question. The Cullavagga passage reads, “I allow you, bhikkhus, to consume fruit that has been made allowable for contemplatives in any of five ways: if it is damaged by fire, by a knife, by a nail, if it is seedless, and the fifth is if the seeds are discharged.” The Mahavagga passage reads, “Now at that time there was a great quantity of fruit at Savatthi, but there was no one to make it allowable… (The Buddha said,) ‘I allow you, bhikkhus, to consume fruit that is seedless or whose seeds are discharged, (even if) it has not been made allowable.”

First, to summarize the commentaries’ discussion of seedless fruit and fruit whose seeds have been discharged: According to the Commentary to the Mahavagga, “seedless fruit” includes fruit whose seeds are too immature to grow. As for fruit whose seeds have been discharged, the Sub-commentary states that this means, “Fruit, such as mangoes or jackfruit, which it is possible to eat having removed the seeds and separating them entirely (from the flesh).”

The question sometimes arises as to whether bhikkhus may remove the seeds themselves before eating fruit of this sort, or whether an unordained person has to remove them first, but given the context of the Mahavagga passage and the wording of the Sub-commentary’s explanation, it seems clear that the bhikkhus themselves may discharge the seeds before or while eating the fruit. As the Commentary notes, both these kinds of fruit are allowable in and of themselves, and need not go through any other procedure to make them allowable.

Other kinds of fruit, though, such as those with numerous seeds (such as tomatoes and blackberries) or whose seeds would be difficult to remove undamaged (such as grapes) must be damaged by fire, a knife, or a fingernail before a bhikkhu may eat them. The Commentary’s description of how to do this shows that the damaging need only be symbolic: An unordained person draws a hot object or a knife across the skin of the fruit, or pokes it with a fingernail, saying “allowable” (kappiyam) either while doing the damaging or immediately afterward. The Sub-commentary notes that the word for “allowable” may be stated in any language.

If a heap of fruit, such as grapes, is brought to a bhikkhu, he should say, “Make it allowable,” (Kappiyam karohi,) either to the donor or to any other unordained person who knows how. The unordained person need only make one of the grapes allowable in line with the above procedures for the entire heap to be considered allowable, although he/she should not remove the grape from the heap while doing so.

The Sub-commentary claims that the ceremony of making fruit allowable must always be performed in the presence of a bhikkhu, but the Commentary mentions this factor only in connection with this last case — making an entire heap of fruit allowable by “damaging” only one piece — and not in its basic description of how the procedure is done.

In Communities that follow the Sub-commentary, the custom is as follows: When a donor brings grapes, tomatoes, or similar fruit to a bhikkhu, the bhikkhu says, “Kappiyam karohi (Make it allowable).” The donor damages the fruit in any of the three specified ways and says, “Kappiyam bhante (It is allowable, sir),” while doing the damaging, and then presents the fruit to the bhikkhu.

In Communities that do not follow the Sub-commentary, the donor may perform the act of damaging the fruit beforehand, and simply inform the bhikkhu that the fruit has been made allowable when presenting it to him. In either case, the act of making a heap of fruit allowable by damaging only one piece must be done in the presence of a bhikkhu. And we should note again that seedless fruit or fruit whose seeds may be removed entirely from the flesh of the fruit are allowable in and of themselves, and do not have to go through any procedure before a bhikkhu may accept and eat them.

The two passages in the Mahavagga and Cullavagga that we have been discussing deal specifically only with fruit, but the Commentary extrapolates from them to say that the same conditions apply to other forms of bijagama, such as sugar cane and bean sprouts as well.

Non-offenses. There is no offense for a bhikkhu who cuts a living plant —

unknowingly — e.g., thinking it to be dead,
unthinkingly — e.g., absent-mindedly pulling grass while talking with someone, or

unintentionally — e.g., inadvertently uprooting grass while raking leaves or grabbing onto a plant for support while climbing a hill and inadvertently uprooting it.

Also, there is no penalty in telling an unordained person to make an item allowable; in asking for leaves, flowers, etc. without specifically saying which leaves or flowers are to be picked; or in indicating indirectly that, e.g., the grass needs cutting (“Look at how long the grass is”) or that a tree needs pruning (“This branch is in the way”) without expressly giving the command to cut. In other words, this is another rule where one may avoid an offense by using kappiya-vohara: “wording it right.”

The Cullavagga (V.32.1) says that if a brush fire is approaching a dwelling, one may light a counter-fire to ward it off. In doing so, one is exempt from any penalty imposed by this rule.

Also, according to the Sub-commentary to NP 6, a bhikkhu whose robes have been stolen and who cannot find any other cloth to cover himself, may pick grass and leaves to cover himself without incurring any penalty here.

Summary: Intentionally cutting, burning, or killing a living plant is a pacittiya offense.

Hi all, > For people believe, O Bhikkhus, that life dwells in
a tree. This is the key point. The belief that plants and the
earth possess one faculty (either kaayindriya or jiivitindriya) was
held by the Niga.n.thas (Jains) and acelakas (non-affiliated naked
ascetics); since these were the largest and oldest groups at
that time, their beliefs had passed into common lore and so any
worth his salt was expected to conform to them (by keeping the rains
retreat so as not to tread on growing crops, by not digging the earth
or damaging plants, and by taking various precautions when building a
hut). But nowhere does the Buddha actually concede that these beliefs
were correct and in the Vinaya commentaries they are dismissed as
“mere imagining”. Best wishes, Dhammanando
There is no doubt that plants and trees have life but a soul is debatable.
In ancient times people also
believed that there were microscopic beings. In the Milindapanha
King Milanda asks Venerable Nagesena, if it is true that when we
boil water the reason for it splashing up is that the microscopic
beings in it are writhing in pain. Ven. Nagasensa said this is not
At this time we think we are more knowledgeable, and have science to
tell us what is rupa, what is not. But it is not so easy.
The Visuddhimagga talks about the egg and sperm (in pali of course)
and how after they join consciousness has a base for arising. It is
clear from the passage in the Vis. that sperm and egg are considered
only as rupa, no mentality- they are not alive.
Yet if you have seen pictures of sperm they look like little tadpole
and move about exactly like small tadpole- they appear to be living.
Bacteria and virus are smaller than sperm and much smaller than the
egg. They do not move as much as sperm… So I don’t see where there
can be any basis to think they are alive.
Take a tiny drop of bacteria culture, within that there would be
hundreds of thousands of bacteria, or more. Is each one alive, is
each bacteria making kamma? , or is it the whole drop is one living
being, or …It seems unlikely thus I am sure they are only rupa.
But of course there are no direct references to bacteria and virus
in the Pali.

Maybe useful if somebody like to investigate the issue form scholar side a littel. Plants in Early Buddhism and the Far Eastern Idea of the Buddha-Nature of Grasses and Trees

As to the question what kind of birth might be part of samsara and which not or if there are classifications in reagard of birth the best read to understand the question might be “Vāsettha Sutta” MN 98

…The Blessed One said:
Vaseññha, I will tell you step by step how it happens,
The classification of living things in this and other births.
601. Look at the grass and trees, although they are not aware,
This and the other have attributes peculiar to their births.
602. So also insects, like grasshoppers and ants
They have attributes peculiar to their births.
603. Look at the animals small and large
They have attributes peculiar to their births.
604. Look at the serpents with long backs going on their bellies,
They have attributes peculiar to their births.
605. Look at the fish too, who find food in the water.
They have attributes peculiar to their births.
606. Look at the birds flying through the air.
They have attributes peculiar to their births.
607. Although these have various attributes, at birth,
In humans various attributes are not evident at birth.
608. They are not in the hair, head, ears or eyes
Not in the mouth, nose, lips or eye-lashes ….

The ideas to keep plants and other live out of the wheel are the same as in every other religion if it is used for worldy purposes and to justify scarify of other live. A missionary institution needs to scarify some parts. Every religion has its specials in what kind of live can be used without remorse. But such has no place in Buddhas teachings, its just needed if you like to build and grow.

Observe plants, their struggle, their fight, there birth there involvement in Samsara. Even if that seems to be a peaceful places its actually a very hard place.
Think on the sphere of no mind, if you like to think in realms.

As far as I know, you could make a border in regard of fungi and sure it has its limits in regard of bacterias and similar live (but think an allowed medicine, ever there are issues to not simply destroy).

If there is a para-samsara or a samsara without suffering, there will be really no reason for Buddhas way out at all. We just would need to turn to live that is worthy to be destroyed, cultivate it and make more of it. In short, Buddha would have taught farming and ecology and not an path to escape.

The justification to kill animals was always to say that they have no awareness, so it would be really not the best to make such an argument. That would make killing with certain preparations always allowable. And at least, would you harm and kill an Arahant?

Hi all,

This is a re-post as the formatting of the last one was a mess.

> Connie: “For people believe, O Bhikkhus, that life dwells in a tree.”

This is the key point. The belief that plants and the earth possess one
faculty (either kaayindriya or jiivitindriya) was held by the
Niga.n.thas (Jains) and acelakas (non-affiliated naked ascetics); since
these were the largest and oldest groups at that time, their
beliefs had passed into common lore and so any worth his salt
was expected to conform to them (by keeping the rains retreat so as not
to tread on growing crops, by not digging the earth or damaging plants,
and by taking various precautions when building a hut). But nowhere
does the Buddha actually concede that these beliefs were correct and in
the Vinaya commentaries they are dismissed as “mere imagining”.

Best wishes,

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