Fukuoka and the Action of No-Action Through the Heart Sutra

Fukuoka is seen by some as a sustainable farmer, by others as an organic gardener, yet others see him as a permaculturalist or proponent of a more natural agriculture, and a few actually read Fukuoka and attempt to become natural farmers like him by abiding by his four principles; no tilling, no chemicals, no weeding and no fertiliser.

Since being introduced to the work of Fukuoka by Emilia Hazelip as a necessity before starting out in gardening myself, I have been amongst the last group and have wasted many words, not all of them kind, against those who would see him only as another example of a western reaction to conventional agriculture, however valiant and however sustainable that reaction might be.

Yet, along the path Fukuoka first illuminates with his ‘four principles’ – no tilling, no fertilisers, no chemicals, no weeding, there are turns and crossroads that are concealed on first starting out. It was coming across just such a crossroads that has made me leave Fukuoka’s path and step out on to my own.

This is not a rejection of Fukuoka, quite the reverse, it is the necessity of his path itself – for none of us can walk in the shoes of another, however wise they might be, however good they might be. For Fukuoka makes it clear that the actual inaugural moment of Natural Farming came not with the writing of his ‘four principles’, nor even with many years experience of farming naturally, but from the vision he gained at 25, when he realised, ‘In this world there is nothing’.

It is this awakening vision itself, from a world seemingly close to death to one that was literally overflowing with the plenitude of life, which was the beginning of Natural Farming for Fukuoka.

The ultimate point of NF then becomes the action of no-action, or in Fukuoka’s preferred formulation farming with no-mind. The highest possibility open to the farmer or gardener is to act without reason, without a why, doing what we do because that is what we do. It is no longer the work that sanctifies us (ie even if [perhaps especially!] when we work toward what we think is the saving of the world) but we who sanctify the work! It becomes clear that we can no longer rest on our morals, attempting to do good through following external guides under the empty labels of sustainable, organic, alternative, ecological, or even Natural Farming itself as a an agriculture following ‘four principles’.

What NF reveals when fully experienced, what Fukuoka woke to, was that the highest calling possible requires us to let go of ourselves, to empty ourselves fully (Fukuoka’s ‘no-mind’, mu-shin) so that we may be filled with that which arises endlessly from out of nothing!

There is a call that comes, a call to which it becomes impossible to remain deaf – even if we would want to – which demands that we give over our intellect from rationalising the world for our own benefit to a wise passiveness, a hearkening, so that we can attend to what is being revealed, the speaking of the world itself.

We often claim we are the ‘thinking animal’, where our reason is able to adequately understand knowledge through the action of the senses, to arrive at indubitable truths with which we then live our lives. However, both the senses and rationalisation are but inferior forms of thinking when related to that of opening ourselves to the call. This call does not offer a why, for its source is the why, forever beyond our knowing. But this welling up of the excess of life from out of this source and its overflowing in us is what we must attend to and then having attended tend to what it reveals. This is the highest to which our activity can rise, the action of no-action, because beyond ratio, telos, truth etc…

Some years ago a close follower of Fukuoka’s in Japan let me know that the two texts he returned to again and again were the Christian Bible and (Mahayana) Buddhism’s Heart Sutra. Perhaps for reasons of space and redundancy it is not necessary to quote the Bible here, but for reasons of its brevity and perspicacity I include the Heart Sutra below:

Avalokiteshvara, the Holy Lord and Bodhisattva, was moving in the deep course of the Wisdom which has gone beyond.

He looked down from on high, He beheld but five heaps, and He saw that in their own being they were empty.

Here, O Sariputra,

form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness.

Here, O Sariputra,

all dharmas are marked with emptiness; they are not produced or stopped, not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete.

Therefore, O Sariputra,

in emptiness there is no form nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness; No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to: No mind-consciousness element; There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to: There is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path.

There is no cognition, no attainment and no non-attainment.

Therefore, O Sariputra,

it is because of his non-attainmentness that a Bodhisattva, through having relied on the Perfection of Wisdom, dwells without thought-coverings. In the absence of thought- coverings he has not been made to tremble, he has overcome what can upset, and in the end he attains to Nirvana.

All those who appear as Buddhas in the three periods of time fully awake to the utmost, right and perfect Enlightenment because they have relied on the Perfection of Wisdom.

Therefore one should know the prajnaparamita as the great spell, the spell of great knowledge, the utmost spell, the unequalled spell, allayer of all suffering, in truth – for what could go wrong? By the prajnaparamita has this spell been delivered. It runs like this:

gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.

(Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, all-hail ! — )

This completes the Heart of perfect Wisdom.

(Translated by E. Conze)

It is impossible to be a natural farmer by following the principles or techniques of Fukuoka, or by following any theory based upon rationalisations. The one and only gate through which one can follow Fukuoka and become the fulfilled natural farmer who works from the full emptiness of the action of no-action, is the gateless gate itself which is the first and impenetrable barrier for any true path whatsoever and howsoever it is called: Zen, Advaita, Daoism, Sufism, Kabalah, or Christian Mysticism.


About Jamie Nicol

Living in the forested hills of Catalonia, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Zen teacher, recovering philosopher, small-scale natural farmer. Writing just what comes.
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1 Response to Fukuoka and the Action of No-Action Through the Heart Sutra

  1. Pingback: Story Telling | seedzen

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