When I woke this morning there was a heavy fog over Pasadena. Sometimes when I look at the state of affairs in the world today with all its many chaotic situations, it seems as if we are all living in an impenetrable fog. Yet, now as I speak to you this late morning, you can see that the fog has lifted and the day has turned bright and clear. I pray that one day the whole world’s prospects will be as bright and clear as this day has turned out to be. It is with that hope that I will share my understanding of Natural Agriculture with you today.
We should remember that there are two important principles of Natural Agriculture. The first has to do with how we understand nature. The second concerns the underlying spirituality of Natural Agriculture.
When we speak of Natural Agriculture, the natural world and farming are always combined. We cannot separate them. This is very important. But how do we understand nature and how do we truly comprehend it? I would like now to introduce three excerpts from Meishusama’s writings regarding nature and agriculture.
“The principal of the Natural Agriculture method is an overriding respect for nature.”
“Truth means nature as it is.”
“Following nature and enjoying the benefits of nature is the best and wisest way of thinking.”
Meishusama often used the word “nature,” but we have to correctly understand what he meant by that word.
I have been practicing Natural Agriculture for the last ten years and I am always learning from nature and learning to understand what nature is telling me. There is a constant opportunity to learn from nature and so I will continue to learn as long as I can.
As we know, during the twentieth century, human activity caused a great deal of destruction within nature. Now, as the twenty–first century begins, our responsibility as human beings is to preserve and restore nature. We should all work positively with nature and correct the damage that we have done so that nature can recover. But this is not an easy task unless we understand what “nature” means. It is not only our collective responsibility as a species but also our not an easy task unless we understand what “nature” means. It is not only our collective responsibility as a species but also our responsibility as individuals to help repair nature. To do this we must understand what “nature” means for all of us.
I have some questions for you–but this is not a test, so you can relax. Whether your answer is correct or not is for you alone to decide. I would like you to simply answer “yes” or “no” as I ask them.
- Is the cultivation of genetically modified plants, a practice rapidly spreading throughout the United States, natural or unnatural? If you think it is natural, please raise your hands. Remember there are no correct answers for these questions. Your answers are your individual decision to make. I do not want to give you answers. I merely want you to think about what is happening throughout the world today.
- Do you think that the use of herbicides and pesticides is natural or not? If you think this is unnatural, please raise your hand.
- What about using organic fertilizers, is that natural or unnatural? Does anyone here think that it is unnatural? If you think it is natural, raise your hand.
- If a farmer buys seeds from a seed company rather than saving seeds from his or her last crop, is that natural or unnatural?
- When crops suffer insect damage, is it natural or unnatural for the farmer to use pesticides?
- If people eat summer crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants in wintertime, is it natural or unnatural?
- If we use preservatives to prevent food from spoiling, is that natural or unnatural?
- If people use food coloring to make produce look better, is that natural or unnatural?
- When I traveled in the Midwest of the United States, I saw cornfields stretching out forever on the vast plains, but never saw a single home. There were no people in sight. Was this scene natural or unnatural?
- Throughout the Midwest we often visited farmers who grew corn and soybeans but went to the local supermarket to buy their vegetables. They did not grow their own vegetables. Is this natural or unnatural?
- It is very difficult for farmers to control weeds. So the professional farmer depends on herbicides to eliminate them. Is this acceptable or unacceptable?
- Let us suppose that in this room there are a hundred people who live in the same village and that there are only two people among that hundred who are farmers. The rest of the people are engaged in other types of work. In the United States today only two percent of the population work as farmers, in the United Kingdom it is less than that, and on a worldwide scale the ratio of the number of farmers to the number of the population is declining. Is this a natural condition or not?
- When we go to the supermarket to buy vegetables, we do not know who grows them or under what conditions they are cultivated. This is the modern situation. Is this natural or not?
- When we ask children where food comes from, they might very well tell you that our food comes from supermarkets. They might not know that it comes from the soil. Is this natural?
- The microorganisms living in the soil are dying or already destroyed by the use of industrial agricultural chemicals. There are many environmental protection groups in the world to protect animals in the wild, but there is not one organization that has as its purpose the protection of microorganisms in the soil. Is this right or wrong?
The reason I am asking you these questions is because the situations they describe are happening all around us every day. Some people pay keen attention to the issues that they present. Others simply say that this is the way things are and nothing can be done about it. But I tell you that what can be done starts with making an individual choice. And I hope that by hearing these questions you will make your own decision as to what you can do to help the world and its environment. Again, I am not telling you the correct answer to my questions or what action to take. That is up to you. My only hope is that all of you will pay attention to what is happening and take action. If your actions or choices are correct then the whole world has a chance to be restored. If not, the destruction of our environment will continue and we will carry on losing many vital species. So, please think about these simple questions.
The words “agriculture,” “cultivate,” and “culture” are all related. In human history, agriculture formed the foundation on which culture and civilization flourished. Culture first arose from agriculture and it will decay with the decline of agriculture. When we examine agriculture throughout human history we find that agriculture has been here for many thousands of years. Is our agriculture improving, flourishing today or is it in decline? For about 10,000 years or so we have been cultivating the land. Is agriculture improving or not? Which direction are we taking? That is the big question.
Its answer depends on how we measure the term “improvement?” Do we measure it by the gross amount of production alone? Or do we measure it by how the food we eat affects our health? Or do we measure it by how food production affects our environment? All these things must be taken into account if we are to understand what is happening in modern agriculture and in our society throughout the whole world today. Here in the United States what is it that is happening in agriculture today? Without understanding all the conditions it is very difficult to measure or make personal decisions. And it is this issue I want to raise here.
Although many of you here today might understand the issues well, many consumers have no idea of what is happening in the agricultural field or simply do not care about it.
Looking back at the dawn of our history we see the very ancient civilizations of the Nile River in Egypt, the Yellow River of China, the Indus River of India, and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers of the Middle East. All these major civilizations disappeared. When civilizations first occur, there is the phenomenon of concentration of the population into cities. With many people living in city centers there is a need to increase food production, and urban planning is necessary. To increase food production, securing water for agriculture, and expanding farmland are necessary. For urban planning, drinking water must be secured, construction materials must be in steady supply, and the urban terrain must be laid out and developed. A lot of development takes place. As a result of the need for so much water and other resources, shortages occur. Many trees are cut down and the land erodes. At a certain point of development the land no longer is able to sustain the population and the civilization comes to an end.
This happened in four isolated areas of the ancient world; it happened in Africa, the Middle East, India, and China. But today, this same process is occurring on a global scale. There is a global imbalance between nature and development. This is what is happening in the southwestern United States. And the cause of this imbalance is greed. We need land for agriculture, so we cut down trees and destroy whole forests to expand our farms. We pump up the ground water for irrigation until our wells run dry. We dam rivers for drinking water. We have to understand that the forests that surround farms are important, as is the ground water, the rivers, lakes, mountains, and oceans that surround the fields that give us food. They are all connected. These elements are not separate from the cultivation of our crops. But because of our greediness a lot of destruction takes place within our environment. The large–scale elimination of microorganisms and many other species of animal and plant life will eventually create a situation where the soil dies. This is what is happening here in the United States. The Midwest, where conventional, corporate agriculture is taking place on an enormous scale, is a good example. But this is not only taking place in the Midwestern states of America but also throughout the United States and throughout the whole world.
And who is responsible for this? We all are responsible. It is not just the farmers. It is all of us. Each one of us is responsible for what is happening. Many of us are not conscious of what is at stake in our relationship with nature. It is this lack of awareness that is the cause of what is happening to our environment throughout the world.
Mokichi Okada, Meishusama, told us that human beings live by breathing air and eating food. They have no time to think of truths when the pressure of making a livelihood is too great. He realized that human society is so disorganized that he needed to state what people should have already known all along. Breathing air and eating food to stay alive is something that everybody should know, after all. Yet, even if everybody knows this fact, the need to restate it over again is proof of how much our way of life is disconnected with nature. Perhaps our way of life is totally unnatural and we do not even notice it. Or maybe we notice it but just accept it—and take no action to change it. Perhaps the problems we encounter today are due to our lifestyles being completely disengaged from nature. We forget the importance of the soil from which our food comes.
Recently in the Philippines many people, almost a thousand, died because of floods and typhoon. This was a so–called “natural disaster.” But it was not alone a natural disaster. It was also caused by the activity of human beings and their relationship with nature. There were no trees on the mountains in the area where these tragic floods took place. A Japanese trading company went to the Philippines and cut them all down so that they could be exported to Japan. So, when the heavy rains came there were no trees, which have the natural capacity to hold water, and so the water ran in a torrent down the slopes, causing this disaster. It was in this way that almost a thousand people perished.
This year many typhoons also hit Japan. In my hometown five people died in a landslide. But it was a different situation from that which took place in the Philippines. The difference was that people planted trees on the mountains to create forested areas. However, it was this interaction with nature that was the cause of the problem. I have learned that once people interact with nature, they must continually work with nature. Once trees are planted, they should not be left alone and forgotten about until it is time to harvest them. What happens when planted trees are left unattended is that their upper branches eventually block the sunlight from reaching the forest’s floor, so other plants cannot grow underneath them. Because there were no smaller plants beneath these trees to stop the rush of water and mud, many homes were destroyed. If human beings do not interact with nature at all the natural system is balanced. But once we go into the mountain forests to grow trees for our usage we have to take care of them. Nowadays, however, people have become lazy. We plant trees, let them grow unattended, and destroy the mountains’ ecological system. That was the cause of the flooding in Japan last year.
We humans are very clever, very smart, but we are estranged from nature. We forget to learn from nature. A plant living wild generally has little or no insect damage. It is only plants that we grow in fields for food that have much insect damage or disease. Why is this? We have to learn from nature. The word “weed” is a human usage. A weed is just a plant that is out of place and gets in the way of food production. The weed has to live too. So do insects. That is part of nature. But it is very inconvenient for us, so we call them “weeds” and “pests,” and use chemical poisons to get rid of them.
We have to learn from nature. The ultimate method of the Natural Agriculture is to learn from nature and deal with the plants we cultivate as nature does. That is the Natural Agriculture practice.
When I began, I presented three sayings of Mokichi Okada. I will repeat them one more time. “The principle of Natural Agriculture method is an overriding respect for nature.” “Truth means nature as it is.” “Following nature and enjoying the benefits of nature is the best and wisest way of thinking.”
Natural Agriculture is not just another method of producing crops without chemicals. It is a way of life. We have to find a life that is in harmony with nature. We all have to eat but we must never forget that our food comes from the soil and that we are all part of nature. Finding a way to live in harmony with nature is Natural Agriculture’s goal. In our daily life each one of us must find a connection with nature and the soil. In that way we can have a great impact. We can change the world for the better.
Agriculture is not just an issue for farmers. It is an issue for all of us because we all have to eat. We all have to think, perhaps in a small way, about our lifestyle and its relationship with nature. That is where we must begin.
We cannot just depend on the two percent of our population that are farmers. They will not change their ways unless the other ninety-eight percent of us change our way of life. If we do not change, we cannot expect the world to change. It is not solely the farmers’ responsibility. If the consumers change their way of life, the farmers will help us all change the whole world for the better.
Even if a farmer does not want to use chemicals, sometimes they must, simply to make a living. Chemical companies might know that the use of their products in food production might not be good for human consumption, but human greediness compels their use. And the consumers might know about the dangers but might not care. Even though farmers, distributors, and processors know the danger of the chemicals they sell, they continue to sell them. Farmers might know the harm these chemicals do, but they cannot make a living without them. They might know that herbicides and pesticides accelerate environmental destruction but they cannot stop using them. And most of the consumers say that is the way it is and we have no choice.
We emphasize the importance of spirituality in the practice of Natural Agriculture. There is a reason for this. We could practice farming without using pesticides and chemical fertilizer if we really wanted to. Each person should know that preserving life and the environment is much more important than making money. And we all know that greediness is the cause of nature’s destruction. But no matter how much we consider various agricultural techniques or farm management we will not solve the problems of our food supply or the environment unless the spirituality within each one of us is awakened and enhanced. That is why spiritual enhancement is the key, because environmental destruction is caused by human vice. And without a rapid enhancement of spirituality within us all, the environmental destruction caused by our desires and greediness will completely forestall our ability to regenerate the earth.