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