Another beautiful encounter with an enlightened soul of modern times: Masanobu Fukuoka (1914-2008) was a Japanese farmer who developed what many consider a revolutionary method of sustainable agriculture. The fascination about this method is that it is not only practical and efficient, but also very spiritual.
Fukuoka started as a microbiologist and worked for the Japanese customs until his transformation following an illness and an ecstatic illuminating self-realisation experience. His central insight was: “There is nothing, really nothing at all whether this be the mundane world or God’s world.” After that he gave up science and come back to his father’s farm where he developed his unusual method. In 1975, distressed by the effects of Japan’s post-war modernization, Fukuoka wrote The One-Straw Revolution. In his later years, Fukuoka was involved with several projects to reduce desertification throughout the world. He remained an active farmer until well into his eighties, and continued to give lectures until only a few years before his death at the age of ninety-five.
Today I’ve read The One-straw Revolution -an extraordinary book that distills the deepest of philosophical and spiritual truths into a practical approach to farming that was called natural or do-nothing farming. Since its publication in 1978 in English, the book has shot up to cult status, mandatory reading among advocates of alternative living. I literally “swallowed ” the book, as it was so fresh and meditative…ultimately, it is about quieting our cleverness in a way that allows us to see how we really can do more with less.
I especially enjoyed the way Fukouka came to his conclusions on farming:
“The usual way to go about developing a method is to ask “How about trying this?” or “How about trying that?” bringing in a variety of techniques one upon the other. This is modern agriculture and it only results in making the farmer busier.
My way was opposite. I was aiming at a pleasant, natural way of farming [Farming as simply as possible within and in cooperation with the natural environment, rather than the modern approach of applying increasingly complex techniques to remake nature entirely for the benefit of human beings] which results in making the work easier instead of harder. “How about not doing this? How about not doing that?”- that was my way of thinking. I ultimately reached the conclusion that there was no need to plow, no need to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost, no need to use insecticide. When you get right down to it, there are few agricultural practices that are really necessary.”
(I wonder if this could be the brilliant hint for a modern man in general, in other spheres of of life? 🙂
So what is that special about his natural farming? What makes it that revolutionary?
Unlike traditional farmers, Fukuoka does not hold water in his rice fields throughout the growing season. He also eschews prepared compost on his fields which have been unploughed for decades. Yet his yields compare with those of the most productive Japanese farms. Basically, as unbelievable as it may sound, the natural farming is a low-cost, low-labor method of growing food that requires no heavy machinery, fossil fuels, or processed chemicals… and yet achieves yields comparable to those of more “modern” scientific methods.
The principles of Fukuoka-style natural farming are no tilling(cultivation), no fertilizers, no pesticides, and no weeding -practically a “do-nothing method of natural farming.” What he does do is manipulate habitat to favor the crops he wants to grow. He works within the laws of ecology to tilt the ecosystem in favor of the plants he wants. Then his crops virtually invade and grow like weeds.
What makes his work truly unique, however, is that to Fukuoka, farming is a spiritual path.“Natural farming is not just for growing crops, it is for the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
Fukuoku was sometimes called a Gandhian farmer. It is interesting to read how the Japanese farmer-sage himself explains that: “I did not know it first hand because I have not read many books. But when I heard about his campaign of non-violent resistance, I saw absolutely no contradiction. Unlike many other great men I’ve met throughout the world, I think Gandhi alone embodied total unity of thought and action.I am told that Gandhi did not follow the time of the wristwatch but that of the Ganga. His spinning wheel embodied the cyclic rhythms of nature which are what I would like to follow. I was also moved by his insistence on a return to a village-based life of simplicity and truth. I, too, would like my rice, my methods to be spread among the poorest of the poor to revive the much-abused earth.”
Through his painstaking experimentation, Fukuoku came up with a method of agriculture that reflects the deep affinity he felt with nature. He believed that by expanding our intellect beyond the traditional confines of scientific knowledge — and by trusting the inherent wisdom of life processes — we can learn all we need to know about growing food crops. A farmer, he said, should carefully watch the cycles of nature and then work with those patterns, rather than try to conquer and “tame” them.
Here are some other brilliant Fukuoka’s quotes:
“People often think, in their arrogance and ignorance, that nature needs their assistance to carry on. Well, the truth is that nature actually does much better without such “help” from humans!”
“If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork.”
“When a decision is made to cope with the symptoms of a problem, it is generally assumed that the corrective measures will solve the problem itself. They seldom do. Engineers cannot seem to get this through their heads. These countermeasures are all based on too narrow a definition of what is wrong. Human measures and countermeasures proceed from limited scientific truth and judgment. A true solution can never come about in this way.”
“Natural farming is not just for growing crops, it is for the cultivation and perfection of human beings.
“Giving up your ego is the shortest way to unification with nature.”
“The irony is that science has served only to show how small human knowledge is.”
Interestingly, one could view Fukuoka’s teachings from two different perspectives: as a spiritual guide that uses farming as a path that can lead to personal enlightenment, or as an inspirational guide on how to grow food in an ecologically beneficial and sustainable way.
Whatever it is I am greatly pleased to share the discovery of that master with my readership, for the cases when spirituality and mandaine work meet and marry are still rare and this one is a powerful evidence that it can work – and work so well!