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Root Vegetables

TheEccentricTheEccentric Hampshire, UK Veteran
edited May 2013 in Diet & Habits
If plants aren't sentient then why is it suggested in Buddhism that you shouldn't eat root vegetables e.g. onions because in doing so it destroys the plant? Surely you could destroy as many of your own crops as you pleased as long as you weren't affecting negatively another sentient being without it being unethical?

Comments

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited May 2013
    @TheEccentric, I hadn't heard it mentioned not to destroy onions. I had heard that they are bad for the body's channels in some Buddhist yoga type things.

    I have also read that plants are sometimes inhabited by spirits and you can say a prayer for the spirit not to be afraid to find a new home or something like that.
    TheEccentric
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran
    I hadn't heard that before either.
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran
    Well, what do you know. According to google some sects of Buddhism do avoid root vegetables because it kills the plant.

    I don't know TheEccentric, perhaps it isn't an ethical problem but is avoided as a type of behavior modification, ie. if you avoid killing even vegetables you will be more likely to develop gentleness in general and become less likely to kill a sentient being.

    Or perhaps this is one area where you've tested the teachings like a goldsmith tests gold and found them to be flawed and thus not needing to be adopted.
    TheEccentric
  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran
    edited May 2013
    In Theravada Buddhism, there are no general rules against lay people harming plant life. But in accordance with the Vinaya (monastic code of conduct in the Pali Canon), monks are not allowed to harm plant life. The prohibition is interpreted very broadly and includes acts such as picking fruit from a tree, picking a flower from a bush and even damaging fertile seeds or pips. Therefore, monks are also not allowed to eat fruits unless such fruits are seedless, their seeds have been discharged or the fruits made allowable in certain prescribed ways.

    However, it seems that such rules were laid down not because the Buddha believed plant life to be sentient, but because there were many lay people at the time of the Buddha who held the animist belief which regarded plant life as one-facultied life having the sense of touch (This includes Jainists). Thus the monks got criticized by those lay people for harming plant life. Therefore, it seems that the main reason for this rule was to accommodate the widespread beliefs of the lay people at that time so that the monks' behaviour would not offend them. In that way it helps maintain harmony between the monks and the lay community.

    Thanissaro Bikkhu explains the monastic rules on non-harming of plant life as follows:
    The common belief at the time of the Buddha was that plants (and even soil) were 'one-facultied life.' Today we have ecologically 'green' beliefs that are often equivalent — at least they seem to lead to much the same attitudes (In Thailand, forest monks are well known as the best protectors of the jungle.)

    The eleventh Confession offence concerns destroying plant life. It originated because a bhikkhu harmed 'one-facultied life' by cutting down trees. He continued to cut down a tree even when the tree-deva asked him to stop, so she went and complained to the Buddha. This led to lay criticism of such behavior and a rule was set down:

    "Intentionally damaging or destroying a living plant is [an offence of Confession.]"

    Therefore destroying a living plant — for instance, felling a tree, uprooting a flower, burning grass — is a Confession offence; as is picking fruit from a tree, a flower from a bush, etc. It is an offence of wrong-doing (dukka.ta) to damage or destroy fertile seeds or pips, or viable seedlings. (See Kappiya).

    Bhikkhus who live in tropical forest monasteries constantly have to protect both the jungle and themselves. When paths are overgrown, snakes and other dangerous 'creepy-crawlies' can be trodden on — and bite back! There also may be a need for firebreaks. One way that forest monks cope with this is a daily routine of sweeping the paths. However they are not allowed to dig or clear the land.

    The tenth Confession offence arose when bhikkhus dug the ground and got others to dig, and the local people criticized them because they considered the earth to be 'one-facultied life.' The rule is phrased like this:

    "Should any bhikkhu dig soil or have it dug, it is [an offence of Confession.]"

    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.)

    It is, however, allowable for monks to hint to laypeople or novices about what needs doing as long as the words or gestures fall short of a command. When bhikkhus need paths to be cleared, necessary work done on the ground, firebreaks made, etc., any lay attendant wanting to help should listen out for hints and indications: 'A post hole dug over there would be useful'; 'make this ground allowable,' etc. What is needed can then be clarified.

    A more detailed explanation of the vinaya rules on plant life can be found here

    personTheEccentricChrysalid
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    If plants aren't sentient then why is it suggested in Buddhism that you shouldn't eat root vegetables e.g. onions because in doing so it destroys the plant? Surely you could destroy as many of your own crops as you pleased as long as you weren't affecting negatively another sentient being without it being unethical?

    I think it's irrelevant...unless one is planning on not eating animal- or plant-based foods.

    TheEccentric
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran
    Well, technically you could most certainly eat plants without eating root veggies. I personally don't think it's necessary, but I do find value in tending to all life, whether I know it to be sentient or not. As usual, I think we can find a balance between cutting down forests full of trees, and eating potatoes/onion/garlic etc.
    TheEccentric
  • Invincible_summerInvincible_summer Heavy Metal Dhamma We(s)t coast, Canada Veteran
    In Chinese Buddhism, plants like onions, garlic, etc are avoided because they cause too much "passion energy" in the body or something like that.
    TheEccentric
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    :crazy:

    In the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
    a lama instructed his students how to absorb energy from the rock face of the caves they were in. Sadly these students had to come back to the West due to health problems. Indeed.

    So it might be very noble to live on 'cabbages that have died of natural causes' or moonbeams (one step up from breatharianism) but that is a little advanced and even dangerous for anorexics.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inedia

    Find the Middle Way. Be respectful and kind to your turnips. Apologise to your sardines. Eat a balanced diet appropriate to circumstances and personal understanding. If you ever get a chance to eat in the company of sangha, eating mindfully - take note.

    :wave:
    TheEccentricChrysalidkarasti
  • ChrysalidChrysalid Veteran
    edited May 2013
    Karmablues summed it up well I think. Buddhism didn't evolve in a vacuum, they lived alongside Jains and competed for followers, possibly even shared followers. Jains don't eat root vegetables so it's not a stretch to imagine the practice finding it's way into Buddhism.

    Also, roots like carrots, onions and garlic have been scientifically proven to be very good for you, so the whole idea of onions etc being too passionate for the body can be discarded. I believe if Buddha were alive today he would approve of discarding superstitions and teachings shown to be false or inaccurate, even teachings he gave himself.
    lobsterInvincible_summer
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran
    You'd think, if anything, eating onions and garlic would have the opposite effect on any passions ;) I mean, I think I had read that they serve as aphrodisiacs, and if I tried to get fresh with my hubby after eating onion and/or garlic, he'd make me use mouthwash first!
    I wonder, if they understood what we now know to be health benefits of such foods, if they would still believe they shouldn't be eaten.
    In any case, not for me. I love, love, love garlic, onions, carrots and fresh out of the garden baby red potatoes. We grow them all in our garden, and even though I eat them in the end, my plants are like little friends. In fact, today I am planting the rest of my garden, and I can't wait!
    Invincible_summer
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    Cooking tip: burger (can be bean) with caramelized onions and mushrooms with whole roasted (sweetens and takes the bite) garlic. Delicious.
    Invincible_summer
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited May 2013
    The prohibition is generally on not taking "the five pungent roots" and does not include things like potatoes, etc. But, abstinence from taking the "the five pungent roots" is not really about not killing the plant, it's more about interference with proper Samadhi.

    From the Surangama Sutra:
    ânanda, all beings live if they eat wholesome food and
    die if they take poison. In their search for Samàdhi, they
    should abstain from eating five kinds of pungent roots (i.e.
    garlic, the three kinds of onions and leeks); if eaten cooked,
    they are aphrodisiac and if raw, they cause irritability.
    From the Brahma Net Sutra:
    4. On Five Pungent Herbs

    A disciple of the Buddha should not eat the five pungent herbs -- garlic, chives, leeks, onions, and asafoetida. (44) This is so even if they are added as flavoring to other main dishes. (45) Hence, if he deliberately does so, he commits a secondary offense.

    44. Pungent herbs: "They are: leek, onion, garlic, and a few other such herbs such as asafoetida, an ingredient common in curries etc. Eaten raw they are believed to incite people to anger and disputes; eaten cooked they increase one's sexual desire." Buddhist adepts are advised to avoid them, as their consumption tends to disturb the peacefulness of the mind. "According to the [Surangama Sutra], garlic, three kinds of onions, and leeks are the five forbidden pungent roots. 'If eaten raw, they are said to cause irritability of temper, and if eaten cooked, to act as an aphrodisiac; moreover, the breath of the eater, if reading the sutras, will drive away the good spirits.'"
    Invincible_summer
  • seeker242 said:

    The prohibition is generally on not taking "the five pungent roots" and does not include things like potatoes, etc. But, abstinence from taking the "the five pungent roots" is not really about not killing the plant, it's more about interference with proper Samadhi.

    From the Surangama Sutra:

    ânanda, all beings live if they eat wholesome food and
    die if they take poison. In their search for Samàdhi, they
    should abstain from eating five kinds of pungent roots (i.e.
    garlic, the three kinds of onions and leeks); if eaten cooked,
    they are aphrodisiac and if raw, they cause irritability.
    From the Brahma Net Sutra:
    4. On Five Pungent Herbs

    A disciple of the Buddha should not eat the five pungent herbs -- garlic, chives, leeks, onions, and asafoetida. (44) This is so even if they are added as flavoring to other main dishes. (45) Hence, if he deliberately does so, he commits a secondary offense.

    44. Pungent herbs: "They are: leek, onion, garlic, and a few other such herbs such as asafoetida, an ingredient common in curries etc. Eaten raw they are believed to incite people to anger and disputes; eaten cooked they increase one's sexual desire." Buddhist adepts are advised to avoid them, as their consumption tends to disturb the peacefulness of the mind. "According to the [Surangama Sutra], garlic, three kinds of onions, and leeks are the five forbidden pungent roots. 'If eaten raw, they are said to cause irritability of temper, and if eaten cooked, to act as an aphrodisiac; moreover, the breath of the eater, if reading the sutras, will drive away the good spirits.'"

    This is why I have a problem with just taking sutras as fact, or at face value, they have superstitions woven though them to such a degree that without knowledge to the contrary we take it all as truth.

    Eating raw onions, garlic etc incite anger = false. the onion family actually has several beneficial effects on the body, such as lowing blood pressure, cholesterol and settling an upset stomach.
    Onions are an aphrodisiac = false. Like most aphrodisiacs this myth arises from what the food looks like, in this case the bulb of an onion has a similar shape to the male testicles.

    The breath thing is obviously true, except obviously there is no such thing as spirits but it might drive away good people. ;p
    vinlynlobsterInvincible_summer
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    Hi Chrysalid,

    I'm going to say it's not "superstition" that these are founded on but the very subtle effects it has on a mind and mental processes that are finely tuned in maintaining deep samadhi. It's not really something that can be observed by someone who has not entered deep states of samadhi. It's all about samadhi. Of course, scientists may disagree, but Samadhi is not the realm of scientists. Samadhi is the realm of meditation masters. :)
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