We all know how different types of music can create an atmosphere, affecting our mood and conjuring up old memories and associations. However, most people probably wouldn’t have thought that music could have a noticeable effect on plants as well. Apparently, this is the case—when farmers in Liangshan village in Fujian Province, southeast China, played Buddhist music to their rice crop, the yield is reported to have increased by 15 per cent.
The music included mantras and other soothing chants, which emanated from 500 lotus-shaped speakers installed in the rice paddies over a 400-mu (26.7-hectare) area. The rice grains are also said to have been larger, and the usual crop-devouring insects, rather than staying around to enjoy the melodies, reportedly fled to other, music-deprived fields.
While scientists disagree over the effect of music on plants, analysts at the China Agricultural University have said that particular sound waves—such as those emitting from mantras—produce a resonance that causes the pores on leaves to absorb more sunlight. But only certain types of music are thought to work: “Only positive music aids growth, while rock music would probably harm it,” says a local agriculture officer.
Others feel differently. Last year, a leading gardener in Britain, Chris Beardshaw, conducted an experiment with music on the plants in four of his greenhouses. He found that different types of music caused the same type of plant to grow at different rates. “The ones with Black Sabbath—great big, thumping noise, rowdy music—they were the shortest, but they had the best flowers and the best resistance to pest and disease,” he reported. The plants that were grown with classical music were somewhat shorter than those in the silent, control, greenhouse, but were slightly more floriferous and had fewer pests and less disease.
Mantras are chanted in Sanskrit, which is the language of the Vedas in ancient India. An experiment conducted by Dr. F. T. Travis revealed that reading passages from the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit caused the physiology of subjects to approximate that of people practicing Transcendental Meditation, even though they did not understand what they were saying (Travis et al. 2001). Reading passages in modern languages did not produce the same result. Although plants do not possess a brain or a nervous system, a controversial book written in 1973, The Secret Life of Plants, documented experiments using a polygraph which demonstrated that plants could in fact be sentient. In most schools of Buddhism, plants are not considered sentient since they do not have a mind. However, according the Zen Buddhist master Dogen: “Grass, trees, and lands are mind: thus they are sentient beings. Because they are sentient beings, they are Buddha-nature.”