By Dr Vijaya Venkat
The author recounts her memories of Masanobu Fukuoka, the world- famous advocate of natural farming who passed away recently, and sums up what she owes him
Tiny, lithe and yet strong, clad in a blue Japanese sarong, straw slippers on his feet, a bag of straw and rice grains in his well-worked agile fingers, Masanobu Fukuoka appeared like a Zen master in my life.
My beliefs as a nutritionist/health activist, were deftly kindled and stoked, some abandoned, some clarified, by his koan-like philosophy. Painting pictures with thick ink strokes, Japanese style, Fukuoka opened up a crystal clear and simple way – within. His philosophy integrated nature, health, farming, and most importantly, the reality of everyday living.
It was January 1988. He was visiting India for a month on an invitation to address the Platinum Jubilee of the Indian Science Congress and receive the Deshikottama award from the Vishwabharati University, Shantiniketan. The same year, Fukuoka-San, also received the Magsaysay award for his contribution in the field of agriculture.
To the world at large, he was better known as the founder of natural farming, which he propagated through the international modern classic, One- Straw Revolution, a book which has been translated into more than 12 languages, inspiring and motivating thousands all over the world. Natural farming advocates a policy of minimum interference with nature, the ultimate source of wisdom. His view was, therefore, in stark opposition to modern industrial agriculture. He is internationally hailed as a prophet of a different way of farming, gentler, more sustainable, and in perfect harmony with nature.
Spending time with him, whether it was visiting the nearby farms of Bhaskar Save or Poonamchand Bafna (practitioners of natural farming, or at the Bombay College of Health & Nutrition (started by Kavita Mukhi and me) where we hosted a programme for him or just simply sitting cross-legged in my apartment, sipping bitter-sweet Japanese tea, Fukuoka’s three-day stay with us, was a turning point in my life.
Fukuoka-San spoke about ‘do nothing’ methods of farming, where tilling, weeding, chemicals and over-feeding (with compost/fertilisers) are totally dispensed with. I contrasted this idea to the ‘do-everything-at-any-cost’ methods of modern allopathy! Here testing, surgery, antibiotics, tonics and medicines (like immunisations) are the tools (or interferences!) used to cure and treat patients. Much like modern agricultural practice, which uses high-intensive methods to treat the soil, gradually depleting it of its own vitality. Fukuoka’s experiments with the soil, his strategy of minimal interference, his careful observations about the cycles of nature, was fodder to my own early observations and experiments on healing.
I realised that what is true of the soil is equally true of our body – a principle which could be called the do-nothing method of healing. Ultimately, like Nature and like the soil, our body knows best. This deep realisation, coupled with my involvement and experiences with the Narmada Bacho Andolan (in the ’80s) led to the birth of The Health Awareness Centre (THAC) in September 1989.
No amount of theory or intellectualisation, no amount of philosophy or research, would have provided the proof of nature’s ability to progress in harmony, but for Fukuoka’s experiments. Fukuoka’s insight and convictions, gave me the strength and courage, to share in a formal way, the wonders of nature (as manifested in the organic unity of our body), through the programmes of THAC. My own work was in a sense validated through Fukuoka’s, and thus was born the slogan of THAC – Self-care is health care is Earth care.
“It would be well if people stopped troubling themselves about discovering the true meaning of life,” he had said, “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.”
Today, in teaching and sharing with people the basic ways of experiencing health (i.e. through daily healthful practices), I can never forget what Fukuoka taught me. He taught me what not to do! I could integrate this wisdom and apply it to the five white poisons (salt, sugar, oil, milk, and refined/processed foods), the role of irradiation/immunisation, and today even the role of GM foods, simply by understanding that we cannot isolate one aspect of life from another.
How can I ever forget his invaluable spontaneity (he sat down, personally painted and autographed his books, the walls and sheets and sheets of paper!), his simplicity (he insisted on making a meal especially for me), and his child-like innocence. I was fortunate to experience and live life thorough his eyes, in his simple village in Southern Japan. His semi-primitive hut, amidst the abundance of one and a quarter acres of rice fields and 12½ acres of mandarin oranges, are some of the satori-like moments of my own awakenings.
I never searched or planned to learn or improve from him. He came my way, just like his books, just like the trip to Japan – to stop ODA funding for the Narmada. It just happened, I was led to him. Through him, I discovered the truth, and learnt to live by it.
Wherever he is, he is with the truth. I know to be with him, I have to be with Truth, as revealed by nature. The peace, clarity and simplicity he gave, cannot be disturbed by his physical absence. His life lives on, in the work and enduring efforts of all those who are listening and living and experiencing reality, directly. Our own work at THAC is a daily homage to him – the man we knew as Fukuoka San.
Dr Vijaya Venkat is the founder of Health Awareness Centre through which she has guided thousands to better health and life by teaching them the principles of natural nutrition.
I can never forget what Fukuoka taught me.
He taught me whatnot to do!
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