THEOSOPHY, Vol. 82, No. 5, March, 1994
(Pages 144-149; Size: 13K)

THEOSOPHY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

XVI -- AGRICULTURE OF THE FUTURE (Part 4)

[Part 16 of a 16-part series]

Masanobu Fukuoka is a Japanese man whose agricultural mission of over 50 years in Asia is similar to that of Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry in North America. He came from a small farming village in southern Japan, was trained in microbiology as a plant pathologist, and worked for a time as an agricultural customs inspector at Yokohama. At the age of 25, beset with doubts about the ways of modern agriculture, he evolved agricultural techniques that were easy to use, nondestructive to plant and animal life, and wholly natural. His methods embody Buddhist religious principles, which are part of a long cultural tradition. This revolutionary work has been practiced in parts of Japan, India, and to some extent elsewhere.

Mr. Fukuoka's major writings in order of publication are: The One Straw Revolution (Rodale Press) and The Natural Way of Farming (The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy) (Japan Publications, 1985). It is the latter book to which we refer.

Natural Farming

Fundamental to Mr. Fukuoka's methods are the following philosophical concepts:

Natural farming, the true and original form of agriculture, is the methodless method of nature, the unmoving way of Bodhidharma. Although appearing fragile and vulnerable, it is potent for it brings victory unfought; it is a Buddhist way of farming that is boundless and yielding, and leaves the soil, the plants, and the insects to themselves.

Because it is founded upon principles derived from a fundamental view of nature, natural farming remains current and applicable in any age. Although ancient, it is also forever new. Of course, such a way of natural farming must be able to weather the criticism of science. The question of greatest concern is whether this "green philosophy" and way of farming has the power to criticize science and guide man onto the road back to nature (p. 17).

The Buddhist philosophy toward Nature is expanded throughout The Natural Way of Farming, and Mr. Fukuoka provides many charts to make understanding easier for those with visual orientation. One interesting chart shows the scope of Mahayana natural farming (drawn as a large circle, symbolic of its all-inclusiveness), Hinayana natural farming (a smaller, less inclusive circle within the large one), and "scientific" farming (jagged shape about the size of the Hinayana circle, erratic in its effects, of limited scope).

The Illusions of Natural Science

That part of nature which we are able to grasp is just a small part of "true nature." To illustrate the point, the Shinto deity of agriculture carries a huge sack on his shoulder, and the curious thrust a hand into the sack in an attempt to understand its contents. We cannot comprehend nature by merely examining and observing it from the outside.

The frog living in a well is happy without knowing anything of the outside world. Do we really have a need to know, or rather be informed of, so much? Krishna asks Arjuna near the end of the tenth chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita: "What hast thou to do with so much knowledge as this?"

In discussing the limits of scientific understanding, Mr. Fukuoka points to the four steps of scientific method: focus on and observe something mentally; use reasoning to set up a theory based on the observations; uncover a principle or law based on repeated observations and experiments; lastly, if the observations continue to hold up, declare their truth and add this to the store of scientific "knowledge." This analytical process is purely inductive, and its truths "can never be absolute and universal." Modern scientific knowledge, as scientists are aware, is fragmented and incomplete.

Mr. Fukuoka then criticizes what he calls "the laws of modern agriculture," which have led farming "further and further away from nature." He writes (pp. 62-3):

Life on earth is a story of the birth and death of individual organisms, a cyclic history of the ascendance and fall, the thriving and failure, of communities ... All things are in constant flux while preserving a fixed order; all things move in a recurrent cycle unified by some basic force emanating from one source.

If we had to give this fundamental law a name, we would call it the "Dharmic Law That All Things Return to One." All things revert to a circle, which reverts to a point, and the point to nothing. To man it appears that something has occurred and something has vanished, yet nothing is ever created or destroyed. ... The different laws of agricultural science are merely scattered images, as seen through the prisms of time and circumstance, of this fundamental law that all things return to one.

Natural Versus Scientific

Just adding chemical fertilizer and applying pesticides does not guarantee increased crop yields. Mr. Fukuoka points out that the interacting factors are complex and independent of each other. If pesticides are avoided, for example, a natural increase of predatory insects or spiders reduces the potential crop damage. We are reminded of the admonition in the Voice of the Silence to "help Nature and work on with her." Nature then responds by helping the helper.

Other points made are that plant breeding may produce gains in yield and quality but are never permanent; superior varieties constantly change with time. Tillage methods have also changed with time and are apparently not critical. Heavy fertilization may reduce rather than increase crop yield. "No single factor of production is powerful enough by itself to determine the yield or quality of a harvest."

Mr. Fukuoka explains the approach of inductive and deductive methods in agriculture as follows (p. 71):

Scientific agriculture first conducts research primarily by an inductive, or a posteriori, process, then does an about-face, applying deductive reasoning to draw specific propositions from general premises.

Natural farming arrives at its conclusions by applying deductive, or a priori, reasoning based on intuition. By this, I do not mean the imaginative formulation of wild hypotheses, but a mental process that attempts to reach a broad conclusion through intuitive understanding.

Natural farming starts with conclusions, or truths that can be considered as goals, then finds methods to attain to the goals. For example, food must be wholesome, nutritious, and enjoyable. Theosophy starts with fundamental propositions, which are like Fukuoka's conclusions. Ways of living (or farming) are then devised to be in keeping with fundamental truths or nature's goals. Scientific experimental methods take direction without regard to where they may lead, whereas metaphysical sciences and evolution itself start out with goals that determine directions to be taken. More comments on deduction are:
True deduction originates at a point beyond the world of phenomena. It arises when one has acquired a philosophical understanding of the true essence of the natural world and grasped the ultimate goal ... Induction and deduction can be likened to two climbers ascending a rock face. The lower of the two, who checks his footing before giving the climber in the lead a boost, plays an inductive role, while the lead climber, who lets down a rope and pulls the lower climber up, plays a deductive role.
Where to Start

The word in Eastern philosophy for "nothingness" is Mu, which from its definition is essentially the same as Tao or Brahma. Mu is both the starting and ending point in natural farming and life in general. Theosophists would say that this is the same as having a "universal point of view." Mr. Fukuoka writes that agricultural research "starts from simple economic concerns and proceeds wherever man's desires take him." The results of research to increase crop yields are "fragmented," as are most things in the modern world, because the cause-effect relationships are not understood. Mr. Fukuoka writes:

Although when examined individually, each of the improvements conceived by agricultural scientists may appear fine and proper, when seen collectively they cancel each other out and are totally ineffective.

This property of mutual cancellation derives from the equilibrium of nature. Nature inherently abhors the unnatural and makes every effort to return to its true state by discarding human techniques for increasing harvests (p. 89).

Mr. Fukuoka points out that scientific farming excels only under unnatural, man-made conditions, where natural farming cannot be done. Hinayana farming does as well as scientific under natural conditions, and Mahayana (holistic) farming always does better. "Viewed in a larger sense that transcends space and time, scientific farming is not more economical or productive than natural farming. The superiority of scientific farming is a fragile, short-lived thing, and soon collapses with changing times and circumstances."

Principals of Natural Farming

Natural, or "do nothing," farming is based on four principles: no cultivation, weeding, fertilizer, or pesticides. It is well known that plowing is the main cause of soil erosion, which has made useless a large percentage of our agricultural land. Soil maintains its viability for growing crops without plowing or fertilization, using "organic" methods alone. Pesticides have caused many problems, and the trend is toward their reduced use. Nature takes care of pest problems without the need for toxic chemicals. Earlier articles in this series indicated natural alternatives to pesticides. Imposing violent solutions (killing pests with poisons) does not bring balance at the causal level; it creates new problems and affects everyone's health.

Weeding is attacked chemically with herbicides. Weeds are a natural part of ecology. Mahayana natural farming allows weeds to exist and takes advantage of their loosening of soil to make way for crop plants. In support of this, an agricultural professor, Joseph Cocannouer, wrote a book, Weeds: Guardians of the Soil, which was read with great interest by many theosophists about 40 years ago.

The principles of natural farming are consistent with the philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita and of Theosophy throughout the ages. Although far-sighted men like Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Masanobu Fukuoka may not quite fit the category of "Great Theosophists," they certainly have contributed to an understanding of nature and working with her that is in keeping with theosophical principles. We end this series on the Environment with a tribute to all pioneers of natural living.


COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

There is a kind of work that does not require abuse or misuse, that does not use anything as a substitute for anything else. We are working well when we use ourselves as the fellow creatures of the plants, animals, materials, and other people we are working with. Such work is unifying, healing. It brings us home from pride and from despair, and places us responsibly within the human estate. It defines us as we are: not too good to work with our bodies, but too good to work poorly or joylessly or selfishly or alone. 


--Recollected Essays,
--WENDELL BERRY

[Reminder:  The "THEOSOPHY AND THE ENVIRONMENT" series has now ended.]

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