Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Provocative conclusions on sentience of plants in Classical India and in the West

continuum of life
  • For post-Renaissance Westerners, the idea of a continuum between plants-animals-human beings is a recent conquest.
  • In Ancient and Classical India, it seems the default view.
"plants'' as a class
  • For most Westerners, the idea of a plants as members of a whole (just like of “animals” or of “minerals”) is obvious.
  • In Ancient and Classical India, hierarchies among each of these groups, which are not conceived of as closed ones.

According to the Padārthadharmasaṅgraha ad Vaiśeṣika Sūtra 4.1.28 (sthāvarās tṛṇauṣadhivṛkṣagulmalatāvatānavanaspataya iti, where plants figure within a list together with earth and stones) and Buddhist Canonical sources (see Schmithausen's inspiring articles on the sentience of plants),  the common term seems to be sthāvara, but it is far less used than vṛkṣādi or more detailed lists enumerating trees (vanaspati or vṛkṣa), bushes, creepers and herbs.

The latter point also involves the fact that there is much less a cut between the one group and the other. Environmentalism in the West has to face serious objections against the equality (or even similarity) of human beings and animals, not to speak about plants. This objection is not raised as such in India.


  • The concept of “nature” is not at all “natural”.

(The good point is that this means that it can improve.)

Provocative expressions of dissent are welcome.

On sentience of plants, see also this post (be sure to check the interesting comments) and this one (on Buddhism).

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