Filed in Koans

Green Koans Case 39: The Great Natural Way

Clark Strand

Wisdom Collection

To access the content within the Wisdom Collection,
join Tricycle as a Supporting or Sustaining Member

Masanobu Fukuoka with grandchild

CASE #39:    The Great Natural Way

Masanobu Fukuoka once wrote: “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.”


Masanobu Fukuoka        Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) became famous for his Natural Farming method. Fukuoka sowed crops directly on the soil, without tillage and with no use of pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers. In addition to mandarin oranges, he grew rice in summer and wheat in winter, returning the cut straw from each harvest directly to the field. In this way he increased the fertility of the soil each year, producing yields comparable to (and often better than) those obtained using modern methods.

 A life of small-scale farming        Throughout his later life Fukuoka advocated for a return to Natural Farming, insisting that ordinary families could live easily, with only modest effort, on the food produced annually by one or two acres of land.

 May appear to be primitive        The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss suggested that the term “primitive,” when applied to indigenous cultures, was actually a misnomer, since it was used to describe cultures that took their primary bearing in life off nature, rather than from the written word. He referred to such cultures as “without writing.” In his books, Fukuoka often lamented that words were insufficient to express the “Great Way” of Natural Farming.

 To contemplate the Great Way    To explain what he means by this term, Fukuoka wrote:

Mahayana [Great Way] 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.



Where’s the koan here? It seems more like an opinion or a point of view. That is, until we realize that what Fukuoka is saying about farming applies to every other aspect of life. The more we increase our scale of operation, the fewer the human returns.

Fukuoka’s own commentary says it best:

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 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 plenitude of each day, every day—this must have been the original way of agriculture.


Without thinking good
Or bad, just answer quickly
From the heart:
What’s the Zen equivalent
Of Fukuoka’s farm?


Find all the Green Koans here.

Image: Masanobu Fukuoka with grandchild


Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
MiriamManzi32's picture

It should start early and some parents began to help their children learn to love healthy food, providing them with organic baby food. Although it may seem close to anger some parents, but many believe that they laid the foundation for the life of good food.
reusable food pouches

Hernandez's picture

Foods are very essential for all living organisms for several purpose. Basically this is very important for a child as both physically and mental growth takes place at this time. Parents give priority to baby foods and they know its importance. We can found several foods available in market. Basing on these above points our farming sector try to produce more organic food to fulfill the demand of customer. For why they use different fertilizers to increase the productivity of plant as well as soil.

ClarkStrand's picture

As for myself, I guess I'd paraphrase what Fukuoka wrote:
"To be here, tending a small practice, in full possession of the freedom and suffiency of each day, every day—this must have been the original way of Zen." I might add that this was not what I was looking at going forward way back when, as a monk in charge of a temple. It was one reason I left. Maybe I'll devote one of these koans to Deh Chun (aka Ta Tsung), who was my model for the way of thinking and living reflected in these Green Koans. Here's an article about him written some years ago for Tricycle by a fellow "student," if that's what we were.

avalmez's picture

"Just this" in the sense that "this" is the totality of this moment. heh, i have to chuckle at myself because expressing this was a puzzle! what i mean (i think) is that every moment necessarily involves an interaction with our environment. and our immediate environment is this planet we call Earth. so, spending every moment in an essential manner, and no more than essential, is beneficial. and every instance when we do exist in an essential manner benefits all in that it benefits our environment. a sort of existential statement i guess. (above is a corny way of putting this but maybe this makes some sense?)

ClarkStrand's picture

Absolutely, avalmez. This is the basic idea behind the 12 Steps of Ecological Recovery groups we've started. The first step is "We admitted we were powerless over excess--that our lives had become unmanageable." Living each moment in "an essential manner" would be the same as our approach to "eliminating excess one day at a time." Join us for our Friday morning phone meeting if you like, or if you live near Manhattan come to our Monday night face to face meeting off Washington Square Park. We also meet in Woodstock, New York.

Jim Spencer's picture

What’s the Zen equivalent
Of Fukuoka’s farm?

Plain rice.

Rice gruel (zazen) without trappings: no soy sauce, no kimche, no nori...

ClarkStrand's picture

Funny you should mention it. As it turns out, the next koan is about rice. Stay tuned tomorrow.

Jim Spencer's picture

Having had my breakfast, I had better go wash my bowl.

sammie's picture

..just this

ClarkStrand's picture

Which this, sammie?

Interestingly enough, Fukuoka talks about taking over the mandarin orchard from his father when he first started out. Fukuoka had had a very powerful kensho experience while he was recovering from a serious illness in the hospital, at which time he got the basic idea for Natural Farming (he'd been an agricultural researcher up until that time).

Fukuoka went back to the family farm to put his "just nothing" theory of farming into practice and lost most of the harvest and many of the trees in the first year or so. After that, he interpreted "doing nothing" in a much deeper, but less reactive way. Eventually, it paid off and he was able to outproduce many local farmers who used modern chemical-based methods.

ClarkStrand's picture

Not that your "just this" was necessarily like Fukuoka's first version. But it's worth talking about in any case.

Mat Osmond's picture

Thanks Clark.

Mat Osmond's picture

Thanks for this Clark.

Without thinking good
Or bad, just answer quickly
From the heart:

I read this, thought about it, no answer welled up.
I went out and walked in the dark on the beach, with my son and my dog. Thought about our lives, framed by constant electronic exchanges, consumption of goods from afar, fossil fuel transport. Opting out doesn't even seem an issue. Riddled through and through with manufactured needs.

What’s the Zen equivalent
Of Fukuoka’s farm?

That farm will be something we find together, right here, as the supply of distractions, alternatives runs dry. Not a solitary effort, but a rebalancing of our shared lives, our ways of sharing life.

PS Could anyone tell me how to access the Green Bodhisattva column? I can't seem to pull it up through the Search, above?

ClarkStrand's picture

Here's the link to the most recent one, Mat. The third installment should be out in a month or so, whenever the next issue of the magazine goes to print.

Dominic Gomez's picture

"What’s the Zen equivalent of Fukuoka’s farm?"

The sight of one seed sprouting?

ClarkStrand's picture

Nichiren would probably say something like, "This very five-foot body." (People were shorter then.)