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I live in Denmark and here we have gotten an amazing concept called "City Gardens". Its basically a 3 x 3 meter garden in the middle of the city granting city dwellers acces to grow their own vegetables, flowers etc.

Yesterday i got one of these gardens (see picture below). I thought about cleaning it up and plant some new stuff in it but then i saw that there were many small plants and flowers growing in it already.

I do know that the first precept is not broken since it covers life that has a breath and a consciousness. But i was wondering if im breaking any other buddhist ethics or precepts by interfering with that plant life already living there?

Help would be much appreciated. Thank you.

Lanka

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    Wow. You cared for them. Let me appericiate what a beautiful thought you have shared. Bravo 'for the strength that you have in you. – jitin Apr 13 '15 at 7:34
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    Thank you for your comment Jitin. Before i became a buddhist i have worked with gardening and i care deeply about our nature. Nature can provide a natural calming environment for meditation. And gardening actually creates a unique intimate relationship with nature since one can gradually see life processes and life cycles in "real time". It also allows one to really see the characteristic of impermanence. If you ever get the chance to try gardening i would highly recommend it. Gardening can also be having just a single plant at home. Caring for it and watching it grow. – Lanka Apr 13 '15 at 7:50
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    I am blessed that i am in conversation with a person who has a similarity depicting me. – jitin Apr 13 '15 at 8:55
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    Just edited the title to better describe the question so people (and search engines can find it). Hope that's OK - please roll back if not – Crab Bucket Jun 6 '15 at 9:16
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    I added to my answer to mention tiny animals – ChrisW Jun 7 '15 at 7:32

10 Answers 10

4

Buddhist monks

I think that the vinaya forbids monks to dig: see Destroying Vegetation.

That depends on the school/tradition though, e.g. in some countries where the lay society doesn't support the monks, the monks might do agriculture themselves.

Jains

There's some historical relationship between Buddhism and the Jains. Perhaps Gautama studied with Jain teachers before his enlightenment? Jainism takes ahimsa to a level beyond that in Buddhist doctrine, e.g. vegetarianism is mandatory and it forbids the eating of roots etc.

Tiny animals

I think too I read something of someone visiting Tibet a while ago and reporting that people there were careful about how they dug: very slowly, wanting to avoid hurting worms and so on that live in the soil.

Similarly here's a sentence from Wikipedia's description of Jainism,

Strict Jains, including Jain monks and nuns, do not eat root vegetables such as potatoes, onions and garlic, because tiny organisms are injured when the plant is pulled up, and also because a bulb or tuber's ability to sprout is seen as characteristic of a living being.

The introduction to the Buddhist Vinaya that I mentioned above says,

Digging, breaking the surface of the earth, lighting a fire on it, pounding a stake into it are all disallowed. (If such 'earth' is more gravel or sand than 'soil' — and has no living creatures in it — it may then be dug.)

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    A couple of other perspectives on treating earthworms gently from an early Buddhism.SE question. :) – Robin111 Jun 7 '15 at 12:26
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The Buddha reportedly ate a meal of pork at least once in his life. So one pig had to lose its life. The Buddha ate rice pudding so some cow had to eat the grass to produce milk and some weeds must have lost their life to have grown the rice.

It seems that no matter what we do in life some harm is done. Maybe do less harm would be more sensible. The Buddha advocated the middle way between hedonism and asceticism. The Tibetan Buddhists eat meat. So what are we to do?

Do no harm against life for selfish ends. Do no harm against our neighbor to gain advantage. Dedicate your work to all beings.

In your case you could donate some of the crop to food pantries servicing the homeless or needy.

In another sense there is only consciousness. When we weed the garden in meditation we make room for a new consciousness. When we plant seeds in the garden or consciousness, we are planting the divine seed of awakening.

Being paralyzed by fear of doing harm is not the middle way as I see it.

Perhaps the saying should be Clear your intentions of doing harm. Have an intention of giving life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path

Right intention[edit] Right intention (samyak-saṃkalpa / sammā sankappa) can also be known as "right thought", "right resolve", "right conception", "right aspiration" or "the exertion of our own will to change". In this factor, the practitioner should constantly aspire to rid themselves of whatever qualities they know to be wrong and immoral. Correct understanding of right view will help the practitioner to discern the differences between right intention and wrong intention. In the Chinese and Pali Canon, it is explained thus:[19][19][21][31][32]

And what is right resolve? Being resolved on renunciation, on freedom from ill will, on harmlessness: This is called right resolve.

It means the renunciation of the worldly things and an accordant greater commitment to the spiritual path; good will; and a commitment to non-violence, or harmlessness, towards other living beings.

  • Thank you for your answer. I appreciate it. Especially the advice of giving some of the plants and flowers to others. I know my "nextdoor garden neightbour" offered me some of her spices so i will give her my plants in return. This way they can live on in another place and be cared for. – Lanka Apr 13 '15 at 19:59
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    Glad you received the comments in the spirit they were given. Intention is the key to the rightness or wrongness of some action. Every action is an opportunity to hone our intention so our intentions are transparent, without selfish implications. – soulsings Apr 18 '15 at 23:41
  • "Every action is an oppertunity to hone our intentions." - Well said. – Lanka Apr 19 '15 at 9:08
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    Keep a smile in your heart! – soulsings Apr 23 '15 at 22:17
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It is all about intention. you must set your intention on peaceable love, fruition of that love in your garden. there are weeds which are essentially herbs, and you may want to leaner a little of them, as they are actually medicine, and food.

On the weekend we had lectures from the venerable Robina Courtin who spoke of a child crying that his shaved head would take the home from his lice. but if you take yogurt, garlic, you kill the bad flora in your gut. If you take sugar, you kill the good bacteria.if you take medicine, you do the same. everything you do, every action is constructive and destructive. and that is beautiful. it is not the action, but the mind. it is vitriol, pleasure in killing, hatred we must steer clear of.

Your intention is to create a thing of beauty, food for others, something lovely and peaceful to provide retreat. I would build on those thoughts. In good health. Do your best. forget the rest.

  • Thank you for this thoughtful answer. I like this advice "Do your best. Forget the rest". – Lanka Aug 18 '15 at 4:35
2

In AN 4.198 (quotes below from Bhikkhu Bodhi translation), we have the Buddha discussing four kinds of persons existing in the world:

  1. the one who torments/tortures himself;
  2. the one who torments/tortures others;
  3. the one who torments/tortures himself and others;
  4. and the one who does not torment/torture himself and others:

And how is a person one who does not torment himself or pursue the practice of torturing himself and does not torment others or pursue the practice of torturing others -- the one who, since he torments neither himself nor others, in this very life dwells hungerless, quenched and cooled, experiencing bliss, having himself become divine?

Among the characteristics of this person, we find:

He abstains from injuring seeds and plants.

2

In "What the Buddha never taught", by Tim Ward, there's a rather humorous section describing the workarounds that monks resort to when they need to kill plants or disturb insects, either to collect firewood, or clear the walking path or empty a water bucket full of mosquito larvae. Since they can't ask a lay person to directly do these harmful deeds for them, they resort to innuendo and hints. This irks the author who resents being the lay assassin for the monks. The author points out that in the end, despite all the fussy rules, of course the jungle always gets cleared one way or the other, and the bucket full of mosquitoes always gets overturned.

Thai Buddhists love their meat, but they can't kill animals, so typically butchers in Thailand are Thai Muslims.

I agree with the author, for I think such workarounds miss the point of Buddhism.

Life is precious, and life needs to be respected. There's no need to make a fuss about it, lest it become a rite and ritual. Nor is it right action to pass on the burden of destruction to someone else.

I'm a vegetarian because I respect life, but if I have to clear a garden I'd rather clear it out myself and take on the karmic consequence than get someone to do it for me.

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    Thank you for the reference Buddho. I too think that it's not good ethics to pass on the burden of destruction to someone else. We ourselves must take the responsibility for that. – Lanka Jul 23 '15 at 6:58
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    @SriLanka You will enjoy reading "One straw revolution" by Masanobu Fukuoka - see free PDF/ebook. A Japanese customs officer has a kensho awakening, and embraces farming and Zen, cultivating his crops without weeding the land by intelligent use of insects and crops. He finds yields are better and healthier with far less effort and violence. – Buddho Jul 23 '15 at 8:11
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Good question or better Sadhu for being that heedful! In short remember aside of getting support by certain opinions simply the advises to Rahula and simply process according to them. Maybe Atma can provide some food for thoughts and arguments to deny certain views later.

1

People who worry about sentience of plant life as beings are actually considered delusional.

I will revise this answer when I find which Buddhist text I read this from but just know that if my memory serves me well, then I remember reading a original Buddhist text Q&A about sentience with the answer ending with a list of delusional trains of thoughts: "there are certain people whom think that since plants are sentient they are also beings, like our brothers and sisters, and to eat them would be wrong. This is a delusion and false thinking."

The take home message: just because something is sentient does not mean it is a being.

However, this does not give you license to go out trampling every plant you see (anger karma and an unnecessarily decreased beneficial thing in the world--you aren't eating it you are smashing it away).

I also add that the attitude of care and love that you approach plants with is excellent and definitely beneficial.

  • Thank you Ahmed for your comment. Even though plant life dont have a breath they are still living things and thereby worthy of care and respect. Also plants and trees provide oxygen for animals and humans by making photosynthesis. – Lanka Apr 14 '15 at 8:30
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    They are worthy of the utmost care and respect. They breathe like us and perfectly complement our own breath and health. This might sound like a contradiction to what I said but I talk to my plants sometimes and I do it because they are sentient and can feel and respond to my feelings and wishes. But according to Buddhism they are not sentient beings and cannot attain Awakening. – Ahmed Apr 14 '15 at 17:05
  • Actually all sentient beings might be considered delusional. Wikipedia defines "sentient" as "composed of the five aggregates" (my guess is that plants are not of all five). However, "A tree deva is a deity that 'lives' in a tree." Except for the existence of devas I would have guessed slightly the opposite of what you said, i.e. I would assume that plants are in some sense "beings" (because they are certainly composed of form, albeit limited by anatta) but are not entirely "sentient" (that they are composed of sensation and even perception, but I doubt mental formations or consciousness). – ChrisW Jun 7 '15 at 7:43
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    @ChrisW I agree. I don't know if it is the complentarity of our natures that gives the semblance of a spirit but yes.. nonetheless this animism is reprimanded though in a Theravadin scriptural Q&A I read on the internet through some vegetarian subreddit... – Ahmed Jun 7 '15 at 17:00
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I am too concerned that I am hurting the 'weeds' when clearing my garden. It's hard to find a balance when you want to be clean of clutter in a communal space. For the most part, I have let the weeds flower at least, giving the insects plenty of available food sources. I've been particular about leaving certain plants ie. Ragwort, as I know cinnabar moth caterpillars eat only this. But now the flowers have died off, I'm now just going to have to dig them up. It's going to be a long task, but I'm also looking forward to the end result of a clean patio ready for my friends to come over and enjoy the summer with me in the garden :)

1

It's not a sin, however, for doing plant killing you would curse yourself and every generation would be affected. If you kill plant life, make sure you plant one; one to one; Theruwan saranayi

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A simple answer would be no,

2 things to remember, the modern science is categorizing plants as living creatures. (not that Buddha rejected)

1) it's the "karma" and your intention in your mind does the "karma". unless you are not intentionally hurting any living thing( assume plants are not living things) it is okay. as per your saying, your intention was clean it up and make it more grown

2) it may affect, if you are cutting whole set of trees in a huge jungle, coz, that would result in, destroying living places for animals, might kill small creatures in the process, and eventually you are helping to pollute the air, by removing it's cleaning agent, which will kill humans. will break first precept

i think now you can decide on your own

  • Hi Sachyy_J, Welcome to Buddhism SE! We as Buddhism SE encourage our community to use teachings to answer questions and not to base on personal opinions when answering questions. So beware next time to not to include guesses or personal perspective, But if it is necessary directly say that in your answer before mentioning your opinion. – Theravada Feb 8 '16 at 18:26

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