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The Karma of Hydroponics Gardening

Statue of the Buddha Statue of the Buddha

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel a very personal connection to my hydroponics plants and my hydroponic garden set-up.

I don’t look at my hydroponics plants as “living machines.” In fact, the more I pay attention to my plants, the more I recognize they have many of the characteristics of a living “being.” Or, as one of my hydroponics mentors used to say, “Plants are people too.”

Seriously though, when you look at the metaphysical and philosophical definitions of what a being is, you find that hydroponics plants have many of the attributes that are associated with what is called “personhood.”

These include the ability to move, the ability to sense and adjust to changing external conditions, a life cycle that includes youth, middle age, old age and death, and individual characteristics that differentiate one hydroponics plant from another.

You’ve almost certainly noticed interesting and somewhat puzzling circumstances in which hydroponic clones from the same mother, or seedlings from reliable true-breeding seed stock, develop different heights, leaf sizes and growth rates…even though they’re all being grown the same way in the same place.

I became so interested in the idea of “plant personhood” that I studied it academically. I found some fascinating information, but to share this information with you I have to start way back in time approximately 2500 years ago, when a wealthy prince left his fancy palace to wander as a religious seeker in his native India. 

The young prince had been raised in the most luxurious of surroundings, protected from any knowledge of the harsh realities of life. His religious quest began after he became suddenly aware that life was not really as wonderful as what he experienced inside the palace walls.

As the story goes, he was so freaked out by sickness, old age, suffering and death, that he took off his princely garments, put on a monk’s robe, and subjected himself to years of starving, meditation, and other spiritual practices common in India at the time.

After many years on his quest, the young man created a spiritual tradition called Buddhism that claims to offer a rational, non-theistic way to reduce your suffering and increase your happiness while also helping the world.

One of the core teachings of Buddhism is the assurance that causing harm to other beings creates “karma.”

What this means is that violence, lying, cheating, stealing, harsh or untruthful speech and other actions are seen as “unskillful” deeds that create suffering in the doer, and in the rest of the world.

The consequences of our actions, which are tied to the intention that motivated the actions, are called karma. No, this isn’t some magical punishment/reward system set up by an invisible god who lives in the sky.

Instead, you can view Buddhist karma as the spiritual equivalent to the scientific law of cause and effect. Kind of like the cause and effect that happens when your hydroponics pump timer fails while you are away for a week, your hydroponics plants go without water, so your hydroponics garden withers and dies.

And as Buddhism developed, its followers came to believe that causing pain in other beings, be they human or animal, was a primary but avoidable cause of bad karma.

Taken to its extremes, this doctrine places serious restrictions on those who seek to follow it. After all, because life forms have to consume other life forms in order to live, so living without causing any pain to anyone is virtually impossible.

That’s one reason people become vegetarians: they don’t want to participate in or support the slaughter of animals for food.

But what would a Buddhist vegetarian do if even plants feel pain? It would be pretty hard to eat fruits and veggies with a clean conscience if you could hear them screaming in pain.

According to Dr. Elison Banks Findly, a religious studies expert who writes about Buddhism, some Buddhists see plants as “borderline beings” that may possess sentience- the ability to experience feelings of pain or pleasure.

What would Buddha say? The record is murky, but Banks says some early Buddhists saw plants as a type of being that possessed one “sense,” this being the sense of touch. But our hydroponics plants don’t have the same sense of touch you and I have.

Instead, what those Buddhists called “the sense of touch” in plants is that plants have deliberate movement, not just moving because of the wind, but moving from within. You’ve probably noticed how plant leaves follow the sun across the sky. But it gets even more obvious than that…

Carnivorous plants move so they can trap meat. Voila- a plant that is not a vegetarian! A plant that is a hunter! When an unsuspecting insect crawls into the Venus Fly Trap’s trap and triggers its natural alarm system, the plant closes up on the insect. Dinner is served.

In fact, early Buddhist texts note that plants and trees have inherent, impressive abilities that humans do not have. These abilities include being able to take nutrients directly from the atmosphere and ground, produce seed and grow from seed, produce flowers and fruits, grow new parts, and other abilities that could be seen as an “intelligence” that indicates sentience.

The question debated by philosophers is: Do plants know what they are doing, or are they just following the mechanical dictates of their physiology and genetics?

For some, this is a serious matter. Buddhists who view plants as potentially sentient enacted rules to protect plants. Monks prove their virtue by not killing animals and by refusing to harm plants and seeds, which were seen as living beings. There were specific prohibitions on cutting trees. Monks and nuns were cautioned to avoid trampling fields and flowers.

Scholar Lambert Schmithausen, a specialist who interprets the original language of Buddhism’s sacred Pali Canon text, indicates that plants occupy a borderline area between humans, animals and other life forms.

“My personal feeling," he says, “is that plants are certainly not sentient in the same way as men or so-called higher animals. But they may not be entirely insentient either, and they are certainly alive. We simply do not know what it means for a plant itself to live or to be injured or killed."

One key factor is whether our hydroponics plants feel pain. We’ll probably never know for sure if they do, but we do know that plants produce a hormonal rush, similar to the human adrenalin response, when confronted with a threat.

For example, when an insect bites a plant, the plant generates a hormone called jasmonic acid that signals the plant to make defense compounds that repair the plant while also generating a vapor that exits the plant to alert other plants that a threat is present. Some varieties of plants respond to such threats by making a compound that poisons insects!

It’s interesting to note that there’s a hydroponics supplement, Bud Factor X, that creates stronger, more-productive plants by stimulating your hydroponics plants’ immune systems.

To be honest, when I think about whether my plants might be some kind of being with feelings, it makes me feel a bit guilty at harvest time.

I’m definitely performing surgery on my hydroponics plants by cutting off their buds. In some cases, I’m killing the plants. And all this without giving them anesthesia.

I guess what I can say in my own defense is that I lovingly take care of my hydroponics plants while they’re alive. I provide them with an ideal environment, intense light, the purest water, and the best nutrients and supplements.

They’d never get such a safe, predictable and optimum situation in nature. My hydroponics garden is like heaven on earth for my hydroponics plants!

I better study this issue more. I sure don’t need any more bad karma than I already have, but I do want happy, high-yielding plants in my hydroponics garden. Perhaps the best I can do is to treat my hydroponics plants with the utmost respect while they’re alive.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 03 November 2010 23:10

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