Plant Lives: Borderline Beings in Indian Traditions (review)

Plant Lives: Borderline Beings in Indian Traditions (review) BOOK REVIEWS Plant Lives: Borderline Beings in Indian Traditions.ByEllisonBanksFindly.Delhi: MotilalBanarsidass,2008.Pp.xxxii+617.HardcoverRs.1095. ReviewedbyElisa Freschi University"Sapienza" ReadingPlant Lives: Borderline Beings in Indian TraditionsbyEllisonBanksFindly mayatfirstseemanirritatingexperienceforaSanskritscholar,sinceitappearsto lookinaseeminglyuncriticalwayatmanyinstances,takenfromallsortsoftexts (medical,kvya,religious,mythologic,folkloric,etc.)inwhichtheviewisheldthat plantsarelivingbeingsand,hence,aredeservingofrespect.Afterreflection,however,thismaybeseenasapositiveaspectofthebook,sinceitintroducesSanskritists toenvironmentalethicsandmakesenvironmentalactivistsawareofSanskritsources thattheymightusewhileadvocating(inIndiaorelsewhere)onbehalfofthatportion oftheenvironmentoccupiedbyplants.Hence,ifonesharesthefundamentalgoalof environmentalconservation,thisbookisnotjustaninterestingstudy;itrepresentsa positivesteptowardachievingthisgoal. Letmebeginbyoutliningthepurposeofthebook.Mostofthecriticismthatit mayraiseisindeedlinkedtowhatwewouldlikeittobeabout.Theauthor,instead, statesclearly: Inthisstudy,Ihopetoshowthatmanyofthethingsthatareonourmindstodayabout plantswerealsoonthemindsoftraditionalthinkersinearlyandmedievalIndia,inways thathadclarityandprecisionthenandthatcanbeappreciatedassuchnow.Moreover, the doctrines about plants developed in traditional religious and philosophical circles in India continue to provide formative and grounding material for activist work there undertaken by individuals and groups today.(pp.xxix­xxx;emphasisadded) Ihopenottoforcetoomuchofmyowninterpretationontheauthor'sintentifItry tobridgethefirstandthesecondstatementsandsumupthebookasshowingonly those "doctrines about plants developed in traditional religious and philosophical circlesinIndia"that can"provideformativeandgroundingmaterialforactivistwork thereundertakenbyindividualsandgroupstoday."ThismeansthattheauthorisinterestednotinageneraldiscussionaboutplantsinIndianculture,butinsteadina veryselectivestudyofhowplantsareperceivedbydifferentgroupswithinthelarger Indiantradition: Beinga"borderlinecase"suggests...thatineachofthetraditions...thereareavariety ofviewsaboutplantsandthat,while we have focusedonthosetextsandpassagesthat wemightcall"plant-positive,"manytexts,thinkers,andmovementspaynoattentionto plantsatall rmayholddismissiveviews.Borderline,then,heresuggeststhatthe case --o on behalf of plants is highly selective and may not represent a whole tradition's view. . . . (p.410;emphasisadded). PhilosophyEast&WestVolume61,Number2April2011380­385 ©2011byUniversityofHawai`iPress Accordingly,Findlybasicallydedicatesthewholefirstpart(pp.1­266)andhalfof thesecond(pp.267­336)tothisprocessofselectionfromso-called"Hindu,"Buddhist,andJainaviews,ofallwhichcanberegardedas"positive"towardplantsand canbeappliedincontemporaryenvironmentalistmovements. Thethirdpart(pp.407­574)isdedicatedto(1)theactualizationofthesethemes intheworkofselectedIndianspiritualteachersofthepresenttime,and(2)theway IndianandIndian-inspiredactivistshaveusedtheseideasintheirenvironmentalist work. However, "environmentalism" itself is not a neutral "frame." (In a different context,Findly quotesJohnCortsayingthatenvironmentalismis,togetherwithscientific methods, Copernican astronomy, nationalism, industrial capitalism, globalization,feminism,socialjustice,humanrights,etc.,"oneoftheseveralnewepistemes to which the world's religious traditions have had to respond in recent centuries" [ ohnCort,Green Jainism?p.66;quotedonp.479].) J Findly's adoption of the environmentalist point of view is overt. The second chapterofpart2(pp.337­406)iscalled"PlantRightsandHumanDuties"andstarts withthefollowingwords:"Wenowmovefromtraditionalunderstandingsofwhat is towhat should be"(p.337;emphasisoriginal)."Whatshouldbe"isexemplifiedby the views of environmental ethicists such as PaulTaylor, Christopher Stone, Peter Singer,andJamesA.Nash.ButFindlydoesnotsimplyrecordtheirviews;sheconnectsthemwiththeIndianbackground,againshowinghowIndianclassicalthemes maybeusedintoday'scallforanenvironmentalethic.Moreover,sheproposesfurtherenvironmentalistdevelopmentsofIndianthemes.Forinstance,shesuggeststhat the traditional understanding of plants as related to tamas-gua, one http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Philosophy East and West University of Hawai'I Press

Plant Lives: Borderline Beings in Indian Traditions (review)

Philosophy East and West, Volume 61 (2) – Apr 27, 2011

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Abstract

BOOK REVIEWS Plant Lives: Borderline Beings in Indian Traditions.ByEllisonBanksFindly.Delhi: MotilalBanarsidass,2008.Pp.xxxii+617.HardcoverRs.1095. ReviewedbyElisa Freschi University"Sapienza" ReadingPlant Lives: Borderline Beings in Indian TraditionsbyEllisonBanksFindly mayatfirstseemanirritatingexperienceforaSanskritscholar,sinceitappearsto lookinaseeminglyuncriticalwayatmanyinstances,takenfromallsortsoftexts (medical,kvya,religious,mythologic,folkloric,etc.)inwhichtheviewisheldthat plantsarelivingbeingsand,hence,aredeservingofrespect.Afterreflection,however,thismaybeseenasapositiveaspectofthebook,sinceitintroducesSanskritists toenvironmentalethicsandmakesenvironmentalactivistsawareofSanskritsources thattheymightusewhileadvocating(inIndiaorelsewhere)onbehalfofthatportion oftheenvironmentoccupiedbyplants.Hence,ifonesharesthefundamentalgoalof environmentalconservation,thisbookisnotjustaninterestingstudy;itrepresentsa positivesteptowardachievingthisgoal. Letmebeginbyoutliningthepurposeofthebook.Mostofthecriticismthatit mayraiseisindeedlinkedtowhatwewouldlikeittobeabout.Theauthor,instead, statesclearly: Inthisstudy,Ihopetoshowthatmanyofthethingsthatareonourmindstodayabout plantswerealsoonthemindsoftraditionalthinkersinearlyandmedievalIndia,inways thathadclarityandprecisionthenandthatcanbeappreciatedassuchnow.Moreover, the doctrines about plants developed in traditional religious and philosophical circles in India continue to provide formative and grounding material for activist work there undertaken by individuals and groups today.(pp.xxix­xxx;emphasisadded) Ihopenottoforcetoomuchofmyowninterpretationontheauthor'sintentifItry tobridgethefirstandthesecondstatementsandsumupthebookasshowingonly those "doctrines about plants developed in traditional religious and philosophical circlesinIndia"that can"provideformativeandgroundingmaterialforactivistwork thereundertakenbyindividualsandgroupstoday."ThismeansthattheauthorisinterestednotinageneraldiscussionaboutplantsinIndianculture,butinsteadina veryselectivestudyofhowplantsareperceivedbydifferentgroupswithinthelarger Indiantradition: Beinga"borderlinecase"suggests...thatineachofthetraditions...thereareavariety ofviewsaboutplantsandthat,while we have focusedonthosetextsandpassagesthat wemightcall"plant-positive,"manytexts,thinkers,andmovementspaynoattentionto plantsatall rmayholddismissiveviews.Borderline,then,heresuggeststhatthe case --o on behalf of plants is highly selective and may not represent a whole tradition's view. . . . (p.410;emphasisadded). PhilosophyEast&WestVolume61,Number2April2011380­385 ©2011byUniversityofHawai`iPress Accordingly,Findlybasicallydedicatesthewholefirstpart(pp.1­266)andhalfof thesecond(pp.267­336)tothisprocessofselectionfromso-called"Hindu,"Buddhist,andJainaviews,ofallwhichcanberegardedas"positive"towardplantsand canbeappliedincontemporaryenvironmentalistmovements. Thethirdpart(pp.407­574)isdedicatedto(1)theactualizationofthesethemes intheworkofselectedIndianspiritualteachersofthepresenttime,and(2)theway IndianandIndian-inspiredactivistshaveusedtheseideasintheirenvironmentalist work. However, "environmentalism" itself is not a neutral "frame." (In a different context,Findly quotesJohnCortsayingthatenvironmentalismis,togetherwithscientific methods, Copernican astronomy, nationalism, industrial capitalism, globalization,feminism,socialjustice,humanrights,etc.,"oneoftheseveralnewepistemes to which the world's religious traditions have had to respond in recent centuries" [ ohnCort,Green Jainism?p.66;quotedonp.479].) J Findly's adoption of the environmentalist point of view is overt. The second chapterofpart2(pp.337­406)iscalled"PlantRightsandHumanDuties"andstarts withthefollowingwords:"Wenowmovefromtraditionalunderstandingsofwhat is towhat should be"(p.337;emphasisoriginal)."Whatshouldbe"isexemplifiedby the views of environmental ethicists such as PaulTaylor, Christopher Stone, Peter Singer,andJamesA.Nash.ButFindlydoesnotsimplyrecordtheirviews;sheconnectsthemwiththeIndianbackground,againshowinghowIndianclassicalthemes maybeusedintoday'scallforanenvironmentalethic.Moreover,sheproposesfurtherenvironmentalistdevelopmentsofIndianthemes.Forinstance,shesuggeststhat the traditional understanding of plants as related to tamas-gua, one

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Philosophy East and WestUniversity of Hawai'I Press

Published: Apr 27, 2011

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