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If we do something without understanding what it means to do nothing, then what we create is chaos, not harmony.

Perhaps no one knew this better than a small-scale Japanese farmer named Masanobu Fukuoka.

Around the time of World War 2, he was sitting under a tree one day when, in a flash, he had a realization that everything produced by the mind is inherently false. Inspired, he went around trying to share this insight with others -- and failed miserably. No one understood. Instead of giving up, this young man did something that at first glance seemed bizarre, but turned out to be brilliant. He turned his hand to farming. In doing so, he was choosing to manifest his insights in a way that everyday people could relate to.

So Fukuoka took over his father's barren farm, and started experimenting with a technique he called "Do Nothing farming". By this, he meant that he would strive to minimize his physical footprint on the farm. "Let nature grow the plants," he said. And his job was to get out of the way, as much as possible. In his farming context, Fukuoka specified precisely what ‘do nothing’ meant -- no weeding, no tilling, no fertilizers, and no pesticides. This didn’t mean he just sat around all day. Far from it. He often joked that ‘doing nothing’ was really hard work.

Getting out of the way, figuring out the minimal intervention, is an extremely difficult task. One has to first become aware of all the relationships in the ecosystem, and then use that information alongside insight and intuition, to tune into the perfect acupuncture points that can trigger massive ripple effects.

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. For a farmer, this means yields must be high, and the produce better be good. And for Fukuoka it surely was. People flew across the world just to taste his apples. And no surprise, since his were no ordinary, mono-cropped apples. In fact, Fukuoka's farm didn't look like a farm at all; it looked more like a jungle, unorganized and wild. In “doing nothing”, Fukuoka was simply holding space for all the complex parts of the ecosystem to connect organically and find a natural equilibrium. In every bite of a Fukuoka apple, what you were tasting wasn’t just the richness of that one apple, or even that one apple tree, but the immense contributions of the entire ecosystem, that were all invisibly connected below the surface.


To give you a flavor of this remarkable  hero of our time, here is chapter 4 from Masanobu Fukuoaka:

For thirty years I lived only in my farming and had little contact with people outside my own community.  During those years I was heading in a straight line toward a "do nothing" agricultural method.

The usual way to go about developing a method is to ask, "How about trying this?" or "How about trying that?" bringing in a variety of techniques one upon the other.  This is modern agriculture and it only results in making the farmer busier.

My way was opposite.  I was aiming at a pleasant, natural way of farming which results in making the work easier instead of harder.  "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.

The reason that man's improved techniques seem to be necessary is that the natural balance has been so badly upset beforehand by those same techniques, that the land has become dependent on them.

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.

Before the end of the war, when I went up to the citrus orchard to practice what I then thought was natural farming, I did no pruning and left the orchard to itself.  The branches became tangled, the trees were attacked by insects and almost two acres of mandarin orange trees withered and died.  From that time on, the question, "What is the natural pattern?" was always in my mind.  In the process of arriving at the answer, I wiped out another 400 acres.  Finally I felt I could say with certainty: "This is the natural pattern."

To the extent that trees deviate from their natural form, pruning and insect extermination become necessary; to the extent that human society separates itself from a life close to nature, schooling becomes necessary.  In nature, formal schooling has no function.

In raising children, many parents make the same mistake I made in the orchard at first.  For example, teaching music to children is as unnecessary as pruning orchard trees.  A child's ear catches the music.  The murmuring of a stream, the sound of frogs croaking by the riverbank, the rustling of leaves in the forest, all these natural sounds are music -- true music.  But when a variety of disturbing noises enter and confuse the ear, the child's pure, direct appreciation of music degenerates.  If left to continue along that path, the child will be unable to hear the call of the bird or the sounds of the wind as songs.  That is why music is thought to be beneficial to the child's development.

The child who is raised with an ear pure and clear may not be able to play the popular tunes on the violin or the piano, but I do not think this has anything to do with the ability to hear true music or to sing.  It is when the heart is filled with song that the child can be said to be musically gifted.

Almost everyone thinks that "nature" is a good thing, but few can grasp the difference between natural and unnatural.

If a single new bud is snipped off a fruit tree with a pair of scissors, that may bring about disorder which cannot be undone.  When growing according to natural form, branches spread alternately from the trunk and the leaves receive sunlight uniformly.  If this sequence is disrupted the branches come into conflict, lie one upon another and become tangled, and the leaves wither in the places where the sun cannot penetrate.  Insect damage develops.  If the tree is not pruned the following year more withered branches will appear.

Human beings with their tampering do something wrong, leave the damage unrepaired, and when the adverse results accumulate, work with all their might to correct them.  When the corrective actions appear to be successful, they come to view these measures as successful accomplishments.  People do this over and over again.  It is as if a fool were to stomp on and break the tiles of his roof.  Then when it starts to rain and the ceiling begins to rot away, he hastily climbs up to mend the damage, rejoicing in the end that he has accomplished a miraculous solution.

It it the same way with the scientist.  He pores over books night and day, straining his eyes and becoming nearsighted, and if you wonder what on earth he has been working on all the time -- it is to become the inventor of eyeglasses to correct nearsightedness.  

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Masanobu Fukuoka (Japanese: 福岡 正信, HepburnFukuoka Masanobu, 2 February 1913 – 16 August 2008) was a Japanese farmer and philosopher celebrated for his natural farming and re-vegetation of desertified lands. He was a proponent of no-till, herbicide and pesticide free cultivation methods from which he created a particular method of agriculture, commonly referred to as "natural farming" or "do-nothing farming".