Fukuoka’s ‘Do-Nothing’ Way

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Masanobu Fukuoka, widely hailed as the godfather of Natural Farming, was more than a farmer.

His fundamental idea was that we don’t and cannot know anything. And he set out to practice this idea through natural farming.

“Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort”

His ideas on living and farming are simple & compelling.

“Instead of offering a hundred explanations, would not practicing this philosophy be the best way?”

“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”

This line of reasoning not only applies to agriculture, but to other aspects of human society as well. Doctors and medicine become necessary when people create a sickly environment. Formal schooling has no intrinsic value, but becomes necessary when humanity creates a condition in which one must become “educated” to get along.

…the world has become so specialized that it has become impossible for people to grasp anything in its entirety.

I think an understanding of nature lies beyond the reach of human intelligence.

until there is a reversal of the sense of values which cares more for size and appearance than for quality, there will be no solving the problem of food pollution.

In general, commercial agriculture is an unstable proposition. The farmer would do much better by growing the food he needs without thinking about making money. If you plant one grain of rice, it becomes more than one thousand grains. One row of turnips makes enough pickles for the entire winter. If you follow this line of thought, you will have enough to eat, more than enough; without struggling. But if you decide to try to make money instead, you get on board the profit wagon, and it runs away with you.

the greater one’s desires, the more one has to work to satisfy

The foods that are nearby are best for human beings, and things that he has to struggle to obtain turn out to be the least beneficial of all.

people who limit themselves to a simple local diet need do less work and use less land than those with an appetite for luxury.

If we do have a food crisis it will not be caused by the insufficiency of nature’s productive power, but by the extravagance of human desire.

In my opinion, if 100% of the people were farming it would be ideal. There is just a quarter-acre of arable land for each person in Japan. If each single person were given one quarter-acre, that is l1⁄4 acres to a family of five, that would be more than enough land to support the family for the whole year. If natural farming were practiced, a farmer would also have plenty of time for leisure and social activities within the village community. I think this is the most direct path toward making this country a happy, pleasant land.

There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song.

To be worried about 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.

…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.

Just to live here and now- this is the true basis of human life.

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.

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.

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.

A natural diet lies right at one’s feet.

The one who goes about his own business, eats and sleeps well, the one with nothing to worry about, would seem to me to be living in the most satisfactory manner. There is no one so great as the one who does not try to accomplish anything.

“If you did nothing at all the world could keep running. What would the world be without development?” “Why do you have to develop? If economic growth rises from 5% to 10%, is happiness going double? What’s wrong with a growth rate of 0% ? Isn’t this a rather stable kind of economics? Could there be anything better than living simply and taking it easy?”

People find something out, learn how it work and put nature to use, thinking this will be for the good of humankind. The result of all this, up to now is that the planet has become polluted, people have become confused, and we have invited in the chaos modern times.

At this farm we practice “do-nothing” farming and eat wholesome and delicious grains, vegetable and citrus. There is meaning and basic satisfaction

The farmer became too busy when people began to investigate the world and decided that it would be “good” if we did this or did that. All my research has been in the direction of not doing this or that. These thirty years have taught me that farmers would have been better off doing almost nothing at all.

The more people do, the more society develops, the more problems arise. The increasing desolation of nature, the exhaustion of resources, the uneasiness and disintegration of the human spirit, all have been brought about by humanity’s trying to accomplish something.

Originally there was no reason to progress, and nothing that had to be done. We have come to the point at which there is no other way than to bring about a “movement” not to bring anything about.

Originally human beings had no purpose. Now, dreaming up some purpose or other, they struggle away trying to find the meaning of life. It is a one man wrestling match. There is no purpose one has to think about, or go out in search of. You would do well to ask the children whether or not a life without purpose is meaningless.

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What If Everyone Is Right?

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It’s often frustrating, even pitiable, when others don’t see the merit in our point of view.

Pitiable because we think it is so obvious we are right and the other person(s) seems to have a mind-block he/she is unable to overcome, despite several strong arguments – logical, rational, moral etc.

Sometimes they come around after a while. But, quite often we see others passionately clinging on to their own ideas & points of view, even until death. We may even despair or be saddened by the opportunity they lost to live better, by refusing to examine and adopt our idea or point of view, which we think is better & right.

But what if everyone is right?

What if even directly opposing points of view are right?

We see politicians argue on ideologies. Businessmen have different takes on strategies & tactics. Scientists, philosophers & religious folks fiercely defend their stances. Family members have different and often opposing ideas on a whole host of issues. Friends debate on myriad subjects.  Even as an individual, in our minds, we often struggle with opposing points of view.

Sometimes, a situation or an outcome may support a point of view. But situations change & outcomes vary. Human lifetimes & experiences are just a speck on time & space. One can’t gauge for certain whats right & whats wrong. We could say a certain idea has withstood a few centuries and so it must be right. But many opposing ideas & points of view have withstood the vagaries of time, often simultaneously.

We may say what’s good for the majority is what is right. But the minority may claim it is a matter of time before their ideas become mainstream. History has many instances when minority ideas & points of view have been adopted by the majority, over time.

A psychopath and serial killer may not have a place in our society, and if caught, maybe sentenced to death. But, from his point of view, wasn’t he right and the rest of us wrong?

What if everyone was right? What do we do then?

We could at best set our own house in order, or at least try to. Introspect. Learn from others. Learn from history. Empathize. Adopt and adapt. This will increase our chances of being right, though we may never know if we were right with absolute certainty.

We go astray or get blindsided when we passionately cling to ideas, and even worse, try hard to convince and persuade others to our points of view. Of course, we need to debate & argue, understand other perspectives and opposing points of view. But, we should also know when to stop. When further arguments are futile.

Perhaps we should even systematically and periodically destroy our best-loved ideas. Give-up our previous conclusions. Re-examine from scratch. Learn to state the opposing points of view & arguments well. Be our own personal devil’s advocate. Over time, this may work wonders. Or, at the least, we may be less agitated, more tranquil & self-assured.

But first we need to wrestle with the difficult idea – what if everyone is right?

 

The Brahman’s Desire…

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…and other speculative delights !

 

The Upanishads talk about the original desire

The desire of the Brahman or Consciousness

Many eons ago, when there was nothing else

But just the Brahman…

 

The awakening of that desire within Brahman

which led to creation as we know it

You, me and everything else

 

When the Brahman itself was awoken by desire

It’s no surprise we, its creations,

Are shaken by desire.

 

Is Brahman, along with us,

Struggling with what has been unleashed?

Knowingly or unknowingly?

 

What does Shiva meditate on?

Fear, desire, anger, repentance, control, self-control…?

Why should he meditate at all?

 

Why all this fuss?

Desire & anger

Disease & pain

Sins & blessings

 

Why can’t it all be simpler & easier?

Or not exist at all?

 

Did the Brahman want to create all this?

Or did it just nudge the dice?

And it all happened, over time, on its own

All this complexity and mystery

 

Is Creation a reckless act of original desire?

The first mistake

A runaway act, out of control?

 

Can no one, Brahman or Shiva, rein it in?

Was there a beginning?

Does it end?

 

Do all the little creations of original desire,

You, me & everything else,

Are we supposed to realize something,

And roll it all back?

 

And go back to the original peace & tranquility

Or whatever it was,

When it was just the Brahman and nothing else

 

What happens then,

When it all ends?

When all desire is dead,

When we all realize whatever we are supposed to realize

Does it start all over again?

Why?

 

Are we the sins of the first desire?

The desire of the Brahman

Will it happen again?

Why?

Leading a horse to water…

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There are times when we think we know better than others. We feel the urge to teach others and show them the way – as a parent, friend, social activist, politician, scientist, school teacher, spiritual guru, spouse etc.

Our ideas need not be mind-bending or world-changing. They can be as mundane as newer & fancier ways to tie shoe laces. Or as profound as achieving enlightenment. Or as practical as creating great personal wealth. We may or may not be right. We may even think we could possibly be wrong. But something within us (call it ego or benevolence) drives us to act, seek people’s attention in a bid to show them the better path we have discovered.

We want to lead the horse to the water. But can we make it drink? Will it drink, realize, change & come back to the water on its own the next time it wants a drink? What are we trying to achieve?

The horse is other people. The water is our ideas. Leading the horse to the water & making it drink is our struggle to change the world as we see fit. 

So, what is the right way?

As with many things in life, whats good for us may not be good for others.

  1. We could realize we know better, and just keep it to ourselves.
  2. We can show the way
  3. We can go further & lead the horse to water
  4. Going even further, we can persuade, or even coerce, the horse to drink

There could be many other possibilities, in between and beyond. Each possibility and approach comes with its own expectations, possible outcomes, satisfaction levels, and so on. Perhaps expectations go up, outcomes become more random & uncertain, satisfaction levels are more volatile, when we engage more.

Nevertheless, it is useful & satisfying to identify the approach best suited to our sensibilities. Frustration sets in when we change our approaches often, often subconsciously. When we do that, our expectations don’t match outcomes & satisfaction levels. We are disappointed, depressed, outraged, frustrated….

We may know better than others. But what next?

Why Bother About the Meaning?

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We have discovered better ways to live – how to live well, make our lives more enjoyable, peaceful, happy, satisfying, tranquil etc.

But even after a few millennia, we have not figured out the meaning or purpose of life – answer to the question WHY. 

Why are we here? Why do we live & die? What is life all about? What is the purpose? Is there is a meaning? 

Many godmen, religions, philosophers, scientists & ordinary folks have claimed to have discovered the answers or at least some pointers, but they have not be widely accepted.

The possibilities are many.

  • Life could have a universal meaning, acceptable to all. Basic meaning of life could ring true for all of us, even as we live differently.
  • Or perhaps, there is no universal meaning of life and each of us have our own individual personal meaning.
  • Alternatively, there could exist many possibilities between these 2 extremes
  • Maybe the meaning of life is beyond our understanding and we cannot know it
  • Or, there is no meaning at all

The last possibility has an alarming and appealing simplicity. Embracing it makes living practical and easier.

The question of WHY still lingers, it doesn’t go away. We can still explore all the other possibilities, study what other people & various disciplines have to say, to quench our curiosities and pursue the remote chance we may stumble upon some meaning that makes sense to us.

But, adopting the basic premise that there is no meaning frees us from many burdens. A working hypothesis at the back of our minds, something which we don’t have to bother much about, as we go about our lives. We live as we want to, constantly studying & figuring out ways to improve how we live. If we stumble upon something which shakes our working hypothesis, we could pause and consider it. But, constant pursuit of meaning could be meaningless. The pursuit itself may be enjoyable for a few. But it would be tiresome and wasteful for the rest of us.

In the pursuit of WHY, we miss out on WHAT & HOW.  What to live for, how to live, what to do, how to do it, what & how to improve, how to live well and better. We even confuse WHY with WHAT & HOW.

After a few millennia of thinking & debating about the meaning of life, we have not progressed much.

Should we obsess about WHY?

WHY is important but esoteric & mystical – we may never know the answer.

WHAT & HOW are mundane but practical & satisfying – at least we know some answers.

 

Saying NO

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We want to be free.

But what is freedom? Are we on the right path?

There are many ways to think about this, but one indicator is particularly useful – our ability to say NO.

Observing our own ability or inability to say NO throws up interesting insights about how truly free we are.

Are we able to say NO to our family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, bosses, acquaintances…to our own thoughts, passions, desires, needs, urges…sometimes, occasionally, more often or less often, firmly or shyly, confidently….??

We should be able to say NO when we really want to. When we think of it, we possibly should be saying NO many more times than saying YES. But many are the barriers – social, cultural, mental, emotional… We fear the backlash. We worry about how others will react. We don’t want to lose out. We are uncertain how we will feel about ourselves after we say NO. But we also fret about our inability to say no. We regret the many times we have said YES. Over time, many forget or lose their ability to say NO. We forget we have the choice. We may rationalize things have worked out well. But the possibility of a better alternate life where we had the ability to say NO more often looks interesting.

Saying NO has become more critical now because the world is more complex and we now face a bewildering range of stimuli and choices. Life is not as simple as it was before. We have more choices and are forced to make more decisions. Saying NO to many things simplifies our lives. It makes life more enjoyable.

How to say NO? Where do we start? A good starting point is by developing and living by our own personal inner scorecard. Not worrying or bothering about external benchmarks, expectations, & attachments. It’s good to have our own personal measures of success, failure, achievement, ambition, goals, etc. The inner scorecard develops over time. Study and learn from others, past masters. Fine tune it. Keep it handy. A ready reckoner. The first point of reference for any decision we take. Its our life. While there are broad contours defined by our circumstances, society, lifestyles etc., we still have lots of space to practice living by our inner scorecard. We should have a set of filters, models & ideas in our scorecard which will help us quickly say YES or NO.

Freedom is of many kinds – physical, spacial, mental, emotional, financial, etc. Are we able to think & act the way we want to? What or who is stopping us? Why? Should we rework our inner scorecard? Ok, we have the freedom to act & do certain things. What next? Will that prod us to want more freedom? Is there a limit or do we go on an endless pursuit? Are we thinking more or doing more…what is the balance?

We can contemplate on freedom for a long time and in many ways.

Our ability to say NO is a pragmatic indicator of our personal freedom.

 

Two Good Ideas

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JK (aka J.Krishnamurthi) is an interesting thinker.

Two of his ideas are intriguing & worth experimenting with.

Idea 1 – Know thyself first

We all seek something in life. Some call it happiness, gratification, peace, tranquility. We follow religions, read books, pursue gurus, attend talks and so on, to find that lasting & permanent ‘something’ we seek. As JK puts it, unless the seeker knows himself well, his search will be futile.

“Now without knowing yourself, without knowing your own way of thinking and why you think certain things, without knowing the background of your conditioning, and why you have certain beliefs about art and religion, about your country and your neighbor and about yourself, how can you think truly about anything? Without knowing your background, without knowing the substance of your thought and whence it comes – surely your search is utterly futile, your action has no meaning?”

“Before we can find out what the end-purpose of life is, what it all means – wars, national antagonisms, conflicts, the whole mess – we must being with ourselves, must we not? It sounds so simple, but it is extremely difficult.”

“The pursuit, all the world over, of gurus and their systems, reading the latest books on this and that, and so on, seems to be so utterly empty, so utterly futile, for you may wander all over the earth but you have to come back to yourself.”

“The more you know yourself, the more clarity there is. Self knowledge has no end – you don’t come to an achievement, you don’t come to a conclusion. It is an endless river. As one studies it, as one goes into it more and more, one finds peace. Only when the mind is tranquil – through self-knowledge and not through imposed self-discipline – only then, in that tranquility, in that silence, can reality come into being. It is only then that there can be bliss, that there can be creative action.”

Idea 2 – Just watch your mind.

What wears us out in life is struggle.

“We struggle to become somebody, achieve and maintain a certain position. All these external things soon weigh us down, and thereby we lose the joy of living. Look at the older faces around you, see how sad most of them are, how careworn and rather ill, how withdrawn, aloof and sometimes neurotic, without a smile.”

“When we struggle, the conflict is between what we are and what we should be or want to be.”

“If you observe your mind very quietly without giving explanations, if you just let the mind be aware of its own struggle, you will soon find that there comes a state in which there is no struggle at all, but an astonishing watchfulness. ….the mind is fully awake, and the mind that is fully awake is joyous.”

These 2 ideas – pursuit of self-knowledge and mind (or thought) watching – are related. One needs and supports the other.

Pursuing self-knowledge, we may discover our limitations, weaknesses and strengths. Each of us are different. What each of us seek is also different. What we seek may also change over time, as we age, as situations change & so on. Religions, Sciences, gurus, and books are sources of ideas. We can choose to accept or reject them, only when we know ourselves well.

To know ourselves well, we need to observe our mind and watch the flow of thoughts, without struggling with them or jumping to explanations.

Reversing the ideas is a useful way to remember them.

  • Are we sad & gloomy? Its time to sit quietly, just watch our thoughts flow freely. Let the mind be aware of its own struggle.
  • Are we confused and conflicted, seeking something, but don’t know what it is? Its time to analyze our true thoughts, beliefs & ideas, and know ourselves better.

In our modern extraordinarily busy & chaotic lives, there is little time or inclination to know ourselves or just watch our thoughts. No wonder there is widespread distress, disappointments and despair.

That’s a pity.

 

Overthinking & Mental Traps

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As evolved humans, we think. Sometimes we overthink as well.  And, therein lie the traps.

Our forest dwelling ancestors may not have thought so much. They possibly led simpler lives, largely driven by emotions & impulse, seldom pausing to think (forget over thinking), as they went about hunting & gathering in the wild.

Today, we take pride in our rational thought. We think often. We like to think hard. We believe our ability to reason will help us do well. 

And sometimes, at least some of us, tend to over think. The dangers of over thinking are many.

Andre Kukla, in his interesting book ‘Mental Traps – The Overthinkers Guide to a Happier Life’, points out the common dangers we face. He defines ‘Mental Traps’ as habitual modes of thinking that disturb our ease, take up enormous amounts of our time, and deplete our energy, without accomplishing anything of value for us or for anyone else in return.

Most of us are prey to such modes of thinking. The book identifies common mental traps, labelling them, like persistence, amplification, fixation & so on. It’s useful to be aware of such traps, label & list them to make it easy for us to spot them, and be on constant vigil against falling for them. Almost all of us fall for these traps every day, in all kinds of activities, mundane & esoteric. They make it difficult, sometimes impossible, to pursue what we really value and want to accomplish.

The book is rich with examples for each of the traps, taken from our daily lives. Needless to say, the above traps are encountered largely by people who tend to over think. Sometimes, more than one trap act together, causing the overthinker to constantly wade through a field of landmines.

What’s the way out?

The author suggests we adopt two policies, throughout our lives

  1. Attentiveness – commit ourselves totally to paying careful attention to whatever we’re doing. This will help make us aware of any of the above mental traps we may be heading into.
  2. Practice Thought-watching – allocate some time, periodically, to just sit quietly and watch our thoughts.

Now, both the above ideas are easier said than practiced. A thoughtful life has its downsides and is not easy, but neither is an impulsive life. How to strike a balance? We should know our demons first, before we can wrestle with them.

Thinking is hard. Overthinking more so.

 

More Sex & Junk Food Is Natural?

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We are alarmed, ashamed & frustrated by some of our desires, behavior, actions and thoughts, despite our best efforts to control them.

We often succumb to the temptations of junk food, only to regret and reavow to healthy ways soon after. We are secretly ashamed of being addicted to pornography. We are alarmed by our lustful thoughts, despite all vain attempts to keep them at bay. We regret our irrational decisions to buy expensive cars and gifts. We feel disgusted by our tendencies to over-consume when we realize how they are harming the environment.

Are we alone?  Or is everybody like this?

Evolutionary psychology says its only human to want more sex and binge on junk food.  That’s the way we have evolved.

We may try to curtail or control some impulses, for various reasons. We may succeed or fail. But, there is nothing to be alarmed or ashamed about some of our desires, behaviors, actions or thoughts.

In his engaging & reassuring book ‘The Consuming Instinct’, Gad Saad presents a wide assortment of human consumption patterns – of products, services, ideas, experiences, etc. – and maps them to one of four evolutionary pursuits – survival, reproduction, kin selection & reciprocity.

There is a possible evolutionary reason for all that we think and do.

But, that’s no excuse.

The urge to have more sex and junk food is perhaps natural, but it can be disastrous without self-imposed limits.

Lets be alert, not ashamed or alarmed.

 

Only Violence Levels Inequality?

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We wonder about poverty. Why some people should have it all, while millions of poor starve? Why can’t the world be more fair, egalitarian? Can we do something about it? Can we change the world?

The idea that only mass widespread violence narrows inequality is intriguing.

Walter Scheidel, in his book ‘The Great Leveller’, provides numerous compelling examples from stone age to present age. He points out inequality naturally widens over time, despite all human attempts to fight it. Only extreme violence narrows the inequality gap, for a while, and soon the gap starts to widen again. Specifically, four forms of extreme violence – wars, revolutions, state failure & disease – are capable of leveling inequality. He notes that each of these four possible levelers (in their extreme widespread forms) have a remote chance of showing up in the near future.

That implies that great ideas & benign actions by individuals, groups, institutions & governments, even when executed well, can do little to bring down inequality.

Of course, egalitarian pockets like Sweden exist. But at what costs? Did the rise of Sweden make some other country or community less equal?

The same reasoning could be extended to other types of inequalities – social, political, gender etc.  Wealth has an indirect influence on all other types of inequalities.

So, what can one do? Start a global war? Or just sit & watch the rise and fall of inequality?

Perhaps the best one can do is to be fair & egalitarian in one’s own personal life. One can associate and work with groups, communities & institutions in an attempt to bring down inequalities of all kinds. But, dreams about making the world just and equal can only remain that – dreams (at least in one’s own life time)

Let us do our bit.

Nature, over time, will do the rest.