This book examines, for the first time, those threads in Indian thought that present a prolife view of plants. Using texts from Vedic, Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions, the author argues that there is strong support in early materials that plants are thought to be alive, to be sentient (and have the one sense of touch), to feel pleasure and pain, to have an interior consciousness, and to be bearers of Karma. Moreover, while plants are traditionally thought to be of tamasic quality with their immobility and dullness, they are sometimes described as Sattvic, with their calmness, even mindedness, and service to others. In fact, the author argues, plants are frequently used to provide a model for the practices ascetic -- in that they bend but don't break with the wind, aren't distracted when buzzed by a mosquito, and flourish in their steadfastness.
Given the theoretical discussion of plants within the range of sentient being, the book then focus on the intimate life humans have with plants. Texts devoted to botany, medicine, law, art, literature, and religion, for example, depict human conversation with trees, humans marrying trees, and humans delineating their responsibilities for the well being of plants in the greatest detail. Most difficult is the problem of eating, and in that Ahimsa or non-violence towards plants would be the ideal in the extreme, vegetarianism shows up the compromise that is made once plants are brought into the sentient realm.
Finally, the author explores the founding premises of several current environmental leaders and movements in India that focus on plants -- e.g., tree protection, tree planting, seed saving, biodiversity -- to examine whether contemporary plant-oriented ecological activism in India reflects older, traditional ideas about plants. Asking whether new Hindu, Jain, or Buddhist movements reflect respective older ideas, the author finds that contemporary Indian practices remain, on the whole, authentic reflections of their older roots.