Simply Serve Nature and All Is Well

Nov 29, 2020

Extravagance of desire is the fundamental cause which has led the world into its present predicament.

Fast rather than slow, more rather than less- this flashy “development” is linked directly to society's impending collapse. It has only served to separate man from nature. Humanity must stop indulging the desire for material possessions and personal gain and move instead toward spiritual awareness.

Agriculture must change from large mechanical operations to small farms attached only to life itself. Material life and diet should be given a simple place. If this is done, work becomes pleasant, and spiritual breathing space becomes plentiful.

The more the farmer increases the scale of his operation, the more his body and spirit are dissipated and the further he falls away from a spiritually satisfying life. A life of small-scale farming may appear to be primitive, but in living such a life, it becomes possible to contemplate the Great Way [the path of spiritual awareness which involves attentiveness to and care for the ordinary activities of daily life]. I believe that if one fathoms deeply one's own neighborhood and the everyday world in which he lives, the greatest of worlds will be revealed.

At the end of the year the one-acre farmer of long ago spent January, February, and March hunting rabbits in the hills. Though he was called a poor peasant, he still had this kind of freedom. The New Year's holiday lasted about three months. Gradually this vacation came to be shortened to two months, one month, and now New Year's has come to be a three-day holiday.

The dwindling of the New Year's holiday indicates how busy the farmer has become and how he has lost his easy-going physical and spiritual well- being. There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song.

The other day I was surprised to notice, while I was cleaning the little village shrine, that there were some plaques hanging on the wall. Brushing off the dust and looking at the dim and faded letters, I could make out dozens of haiku poems. Even in a little village such as this, twenty or thirty people had composed haiku and presented them as offerings. That is how much open space people had in their lives in the old days. Some of the verses must have been several centuries old. Since it was that long ago they were probably poor farmers, but they still had leisure to write haiku.

Now there is no one in this village with enough time to write poetry. During the cold winter months, only a few villagers can find the time to sneak out for a day or two to go after rabbits. For leisure, now, the television is the center of attention, and there is no time at all for the simple pastimes which brought richness to the farmer's daily life. This is what I mean when I say that agriculture has become poor and weak spiritually; it is concerning itself only with material development.

Lao Tzu, the Taoist sage, says that a whole and decent life can be lived in a small village. Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen, spent nine years living in a cave without bustling about. To be worried making money, expanding, developing, growing cash crops and shipping them out is not the way of the farmer. To be here, caring for a small field, in full possession of the freedom and plentitude of each day, every day-this must have been the original way of agriculture.

To break experience in half and call one side physical and the other spiritual is narrowing and confusing. People do not live dependent on food. Ultimately, we cannot know what food is. It would be better if people stopped even thinking about food. Similarly, it would be well if people stopped troubling themselves about discovering the "true meaning of life;" we can never know the answers to great spiritual questions, but it's all right not to understand. We have been born and are living on the earth to face directly the reality of living.

Living is no more than the result of being born. Whatever it is, people eat to live, whatever people think they must eat to live, is nothing more than something they have thought up. The world exists in such a way that if people will set aside their thoughts and be guided instead by nature there is no reason to expect to starve.

Just to live here and now- this is the true basis of human life. When a naive scientific knowledge becomes the basis of living, people come to live as if they are dependent only on starch, fats, and protein, and plants on nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash.

And the scientists, no matter how much they investigate nature, no matter how far they research, they only come to realize in the end how perfect and mysterious nature really is. To believe that by research and invention humanity can create something better than nature is an illusion. I think that people are struggling for no other reason than to come to know what you might call the vast incomprehensibility of nature.

So for the farmer in his work: serve nature and all is well. Farming used to be sacred work. When humanity fell away from this ideal, modern commercial agriculture rose. When the farmer began to grow crops to make money, he forgot the real principles of agriculture.

Of course the merchant has a role to play in society, but glorification of merchant activities tends to draw people away from a recognition of the true source of life. Farming, as an occupation which is within nature, lies close to this source. Many farmers, are unaware of nature even while living and working in natural surroundings, but it seems to me that farming offers many opportunities for greater awareness.

"Whether autumn will bring wind or rain, I cannot know, but today I will be working in the fields." Those are the words of an old country song. They express the truth of farming as a way of life. No matter how the harvest will turn out, whether or not there will be enough food to eat, in simply sowing seed and caring tenderly for plants under nature's guidance there is joy.

Various Schools of Natural Farming
I do not particularly like the word "work." Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think this is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time. I think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping outside in the morning and evening to see if there is something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon, must be a wonderful life.

For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done. To move things in this direction is my goal. It is also the goal of the seven or eight young people who live communally in the huts on the mountain and help out with the farming chores. These young people want to become farmers, to establish new villages and communities, and to give this sort of life a try. They come to my farm to learn the practical skills of farming that they will need to carry out this plan. If you look across the country you might notice that quite a few communes have been springing up recently. If they are called gatherings of hippies, well, they could be viewed that way too, I suppose. But in living and working together, finding the way back to nature, they are the model of the "new farmer." They understand that to become firmly rooted means to live from the yields of their own land. A community that cannot manage to produce its own food will not last long.

Many of these young people travel to India, or to France's Gandhi Village, spend time on a kibbutz in Israel, or visit communes in the mountains and deserts of the American West. There are those like the group on Suwanose Island in the Tokara Island chain of Southern Japan, who try new forms of family living and experience the closeness of tribal ways. I think that the movement of this handful of people is leading the way to a better time. It is among these people that natural farming is now rapidly taking hold and gaining momentum.

In addition, various religious groups have come to take up natural farming. In seeking the essential nature of man, no matter how you go about it, you must begin with the consideration of health. The path which leads to right awareness involves living each day straightforwardly and growing and eating wholesome, natural food. It follows that natural farming has been for many people the best place to begin.

I do not belong to any religious group myself and will freely discuss my views with anyone at all. I do not care much for snaking distinctions among Christianity, Buddhism, Shinto, and the other religions, but it does intrigue me that people of deep religious conviction are attracted to my farm. I think this is because natural farming, unlike other types of farming, is based on a philosophy which penetrates beyond considerations of soil analysis, pH, and harvest yields. Some time ago, a fellow from the Paris Organic Gardening Center climbed up the mountain, and we spent the day talking. Hearing about affairs in France, I learned that they were planning an organic farming conference on an international scale, and as preparation for the meeting, this Frenchman was visiting organic and natural farms all over the world. I showed him around the orchard and then we sat down over a cup of mugwort tea and discussed some of my observations over the past thirty-odd years.

First I said that when you look over the principles of the organic farming popular in the West, you will find that they hardly differ from those of the traditional Oriental agriculture practiced in China, Korea, and Japan for many centuries. All Japanese farmers were still using this type of farming through the Meiji and Taisho Eras [1868-1926] and right up until the end of the Second World War. It was a system which emphasized the fundamental importance of compost and of recycling human and animal waste. The form of management was intensive and included such practices as crop rotation, companion planting, and the use of green manure. Since space was limited, fields were never left untended and the planting and harvesting schedules proceeded with precision. All organic residue was made into compost and returned to the fields. The use of compost was officially encouraged and agricultural research was mainly concerned with organic matter and composting techniques.

So an agriculture joining animals, crops, and human beings into one body existed as the mainstream of Japanese farming up to modern times. It could be said that organic farming as practiced in the West takes as its point of departure this traditional agriculture of the Orient.

I went on to say that among natural farming methods two kinds could be distinguished: broad, transcendent natural farming, and the narrow natural farming of the relative world [this is the world as understood by the intellect]. If I were pressed to talk about it in Buddhist terms, the two could be called respectively as Mahayana and Hinayana natural farming. Broad, Mahayana natural farming arises of itself when a unity exists between man and nature. It conforms to nature as it is, and to the mind as it is. It proceeds from the conviction that if the individual temporarily abandons human will and so allows himself to be guided by nature, nature responds by providing everything. To give a simple analogy, in transcendent natural farming the relationship between humanity and nature can be compared with a husband and wife joined in perfect marriage. The marriage is not bestowed, not received; the perfect pair comes into existence of itself.

Narrow natural farming, on the other hand, is pursuing the way of nature; it self-consciously attempts, by "organic" or other methods, to follow nature. Farming is used for achieving a given objective. Although sincerely loving nature and earnestly proposing to her, the relationship is still tentative. Modern industrial farming desires heaven's wisdom, without grasping its meaning, and at the same time wants to make use of nature. Restlessly searching, it is unable to find anyone to propose to. The narrow view of natural farming says that it is good for the farmer to apply organic material to the soil and good to raise animals, and that this is the best and most efficient way to put nature to use.

To speak in terms of personal practice, this is fine, but with this way alone, the spirit of true natural farming cannot be kept alive. This kind of narrow natural farming is analogous to the school of swordsmanship known as the one-stroke school, which seeks victory through the skilful, yet self-conscious application of technique. Modern industrial farming follows the two-stroke school, which believes that victory can be won by delivering the greatest barrage of sword strokes.

Pure natural farming, by contrast, is the no-stroke school. It goes nowhere and seeks no victory. Putting "doing nothing" into practice is the one thing the farmer should strive to accomplish. Lao Tzu spoke of non-active nature, and I think that if he were a farmer he would certainly practice natural farming. I believe that Gandhi's way, a method-less method, acting with a non-winning, non-opposing state of mind, is akin to natural farming. When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized. The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. [In this paragraph Mr. Fukuoka is drawing a distinction between techniques undertaken in conscious pursuit of a given objective, and those which arise spontaneously as the expression of a person's harmony with nature as he goes about his daily business, free from the domination of the volitional intellect].

- Fukuoka (Japanese Natural Farming Scientist Farmer)