Our Programme Foci
Learning about Sustainable Living (Past Programme Foci)
Where We Work: National and Urban

Love without borders: happiness is a kind of giving

By Lei Jing (Lecturer in the College of Agriculture, Guangxi University)

The learning trip to Japan has been on my mind since I came home. What is the deepest impression I have of the trip? That Japan is a very clean country? That its water resources are very well preserved? Or is it the various organisations we visited? I was touched by many things I saw on the trip. With the passage of time, many impressions have faded, but some impressions have stuck in my mind and cannot be shaken off.

1. Meditation triggered by a photograph

When we first arrived in Japan, the first place we visited was Biwako Lake. Since it was evening, the lake did not leave me with any impression. Dr Kada Yukiko, the Governor of Shiga Prefecture, introduced us to the programme for the preservation of Biwako Lake, on a boat. Since she was a local government official, when she began to talk about the preservation work, I expected and assumed she would introduce the achievements of the Government in preserving the lake. However, the Governor took out an old picture and told us what she thought of the picture and why the cultural landscape of the lake must be preserved. I was deeply touched. In the eyes of many people, it was only an ordinary photograph of women washing clothes in the lake, but the Governor thought that such a cultural landscape should be preserved, because it was nature-friendly and it facilitated exchange between human beings and nature.

When I saw this photograph, my thoughts went back to my childhood. When I was small, my family always took our dirty clothes to wash in the small river near Nan Street of our village. There was no washing powder in those days. Soap berries were used instead. Soap berries were broken into pieces, put into a basin of water, and rubbed until there were bubbles. The clothes were then washed in the basin. Adults chatted as they washed the clothes, while we played in the water along the river bank. Sometimes we would bring along a winnowing basket to catch fish. We had a good time in the river. However, with development, washing powder has replaced soap berries and taps have gradually been installed in homes. Since every family gets water directly from the tap at home, no one goes to the river to wash their clothes anymore. With the appearance of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, farmers began to use them and the water of the river was no longer clean. There were fewer and fewer fish. As we grew up, we became busy with school work and no longer went to the river. My playmates and I gradually drifted apart. After I left my village for high school, I sometimes wanted to have a look at the river when I came home, because it had left me with many beautiful memories. However the old scenes could no longer be found. The river, which had been three metres wide, had become a stinking ditch only a few dozen centimetres across. All the beautiful sights had gone. After I graduated from university I went home a few times. Then I stopped wanting to go home because I was disappointed every time I went. My home village is no longer the village that lives in my memory. There is no limpid river, filled with the sounds of all sorts of activity.

In recent years I've liked going to rural areas to enjoy the blue mountains and emerald waters and to evoke childhood memories. I have gradually discovered that many villages are going through immense changes. I'm glad to see some of these changes, but there are also changes I'd prefer not to see. I would like to see meadows, and cows grazing on them. I don't like to see meadows being dug up and turned into farmland. Instead of seeing rivers overgrown with green algae I would like to see scenes like those of farming households of Shanglin, where everyone chats as they wash their clothes at the riverside, where fish and ducks swim and buffaloes bathe in the water. Instead of seeing eucalyptus trees lined up neatly on the mountains, I'd rather see different trees growing, flowers blooming and birds singing in the mountains. Wherever I go, I take pictures of flowers and plants because I am afraid that one day they'll no longer be found, just as I can no longer find the river of my childhood.

I don't know who is responsible for all this lost beauty. Perhaps all of us are responsible. I read an article written by Lin Qi entitled, "Who killed our home villages?" He said we are always reminiscing about our home villages and moaning that they are different from before. But we were the ones who completely changed our home villages, he said. If we had acted like the Governor of Shiga, and realised that preserving this lifestyle was a beautiful thing, what we witness today might be different. Our generation is fortunate as well as unfortunate. We are fortunate because we at least had a beautiful childhood; but we have also destroyed the things of beauty, with our own hands, and are therefore no longer able to find our beautiful memories. After we have destroyed all these things of beauty, where may our descendents find happiness? By the time the environment of our everyday life has changed entirely, we will only be able to tell our descendents about the happy childhoods we had with a photograph. What do we think of this, and what will they think?

2. The perseverance of Kawaguchi Yoshikazu

When I went on a work trip with Wenchang, she asked me what I had learnt from the study trip in Japan. "What left me with the deepest impression was the perseverance of Mr Kawaguchi in cultivating water paddies without tilling," I replied. Wenchang was surprised that it was his perseverance and not his farming method that left me with the deepest impression. After all I studied agriculture.

I feel that Mr Kawaguchi is a truly enlightened person. He has grasped fully the relationship between all living things and has become one with them himself. He said, "If you are wrong from the start, you can only keep using different measures to make up for your mistake. If you are right from the start, you do not have to interfere anymore. You can simply leave it to nature to make adjustments." I found this philosophy of his very valuable. To make certain that my actions are friendly towards nature and human beings, I began to reflect on whether I could become one with nature. Human beings are not the masters of nature and the earth. We are only the guardians and we should treat animals and plants equally. Only when we treat all living things equally and with respect, love and care will the world be harmonious.

It was not his method of cultivation but his perseverance by which Mr Kawaguchi left me with the deepest impression. Everyone has his or her own interest and preferences, but Mr Kawaguchi has persevered with his method of cultivation despite the incomprehension of others. This is not easy. "Go your own way! Let others say what they like!" This is what we always hear people say. In reality, when we do what we think is right, we are sometimes faced with criticism. Your family and your friends may not be able to understand or accept what you are doing. Soon you may feel you don't fit in this society. In such circumstances, many people slowly change and no longer persist with what they believe in. This is related to a person's desire. If you expect recognition or even praise from most people when you do something, you will be concerned about how they may judge you. If you have high expectations of monetary returns, you will think about your own gains and losses in whatever you do. One is firm when one has no desire. When you don't have too much desire or expectation, you will not have anxiety about possible gains or losses. In the words of many people, you yourself are the biggest obstacle. No one else may decide for you what you think and what you believe in. You are your own master.

3. Happiness in the Yamagishi Association

If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not believe there is such a community. Since I came back from Japan, I keep talking about the Yamagishi Association. I witnessed a community completely different from the wider society. It resembles the world of peace and happiness I have been dreaming of. Living in such a community, you would never be distracted by thoughts that may trouble you. I felt peaceful and happy when I was there. As I recollect the experience, everything is still very vivid in my mind.

The happy children

If you ask who is happiest in the Yamagishi Association, I would say it is the children. Since the time they are small, the children are trained to be independent. They are taught to put their clothes on themselves and they join in preparing food and working in the field. They are taught to live in harmony with others. The children are not pressured to compete among themselves, nor is there any pressure on them to study. They are not expected to enter a famous school like other children, or to become a useful person by earning a lot of money. Because of this, children have a lot of space to be in touch with nature. They join the work of the community and everyone treats one another as though they are of one family. It might be said that life in the Yamagishi Association is carefree. There is nothing to worry about. Born in nature, learn in nature. Nature is something we have to keep learning from. Agriculture is the best place for us to experience oneself, understand others and to look for the laws of nature. The Yamagishi Association knows very well it is very important for children to be in touch with nature and to take part in agricultural work. Children are given a very good environment for their growth. They are liberated from the education that emphasises examinations, and acquire knowledge happily in nature.

Look at the snails! Look how cute they are! Let's make friends with them.
Everyone was happy on the multi-coloured rainbow.
Let's play with sand together!
Where do they come from? Are they part of our big family?

Children around me in my everyday life have all been inculcated with a competitive mentality since they were small. They are not free, even though they are so young. When they are still in kindergarten, they already start to attend all kinds of tutoring class: learning English, dancing, drawing, piano-playing, etc. Since children don't have much time to do things they are interested in, their potential is strangled before they have a chance to show it. A happiness that belongs to children alone is obliterated prematurely. I have asked some parents why they do this. They replied that children nowadays compete and make comparisons among themselves. In order to be able to attend a better school or a better class, apart from being good in school, children have to demonstrate that they have some sort of unique potential. To ensure their children do not lag behind from the start, parents enroll them in all sorts of interest class. I wonder if these children will ever reminisce their childhood, and think it was a happy period of their life. When they grow up, will they be thankful to their parents for providing them with such a "superior" growing environment, or will they remember how they had a happy time with their friends in nature, just as I did?

The children of the Yamagishi Association are happy and fortunate because they have many fathers and mothers. In this big family, everyone is concerned about their growth and they have also learnt to care for and live in harmony with others. A university student who grew up here told us she had a very good relationship with classmates at university because she was used to helping others in the Yamagishi Association, and had also learnt to forgive others when wronged. All her classmates liked her and envied her for having such a good mother. As she had worked in the farm and in the canteen since she was small, she was more independent than her classmates at the university. She loved the big family of the Yamagishi Association because she had not been under any pressure when she grew up, and she had many fathers and mothers concerned for her development. When I saw her smiling happily as she talked about Yamagishi, I sighed and thought: If only heartfelt happiness flowed out from all of us just like this, what a beautiful thing it would be!

The happy elderly people

I think the elderly people of Yamagishi have a happy life. The reasons I think they have a happy life are the following: 1. They are assigned work that suits them. Though they are old, they don't feel useless. Yamagishi assigns them roles they are capable of, and they feel they are still taking part in the building of Yamagishi. When they work, they chat among themselves. They have a happy and leisurely life. 2. It's a comfortable life. A house with the name "Sunlight Building" was built for the elderly people. It was designed taking into consideration the special needs of old people. This makes them feel very comfortable. They can have fun inside the building. They don't have to worry about their daily life because there are special nurses and carers. 3. They don't have to worry about their children. Apart from the elderly people, there are others living in this building. To ensure that the elderly people see their families and spend time with them, their children also live in the building. In the daytime, their children work without having to worry about their parents. After they finish work, they come back and live with their parents. It is different from the elderly homes in China where the old people leave their families once they are admitted into an elderly home. If the children are pious, they may visit their parents regularly. If not, it isn't easy for the old people to see their children. Because of this, many elderly people don't want to go to elderly homes. As a result, their children have to take care of both their elderly parents and their own children at the same time. One can imagine the pressure and burden they have.

When we left the Yamagishi Association, not only were we sorry to say goodbye, the elderly people also saw us off with reluctance.
Sharing with the elderly people of the Sunlight Building.

The happy young and middle-aged people

Compared with the children and the elderly, the middle-aged and young people of the Yamagishi Association may have some pressure, but still I think they are happy. In Yamagishi, people change their work every six months. In other words, you can choose what you like to do. I found this very pleasant. For someone like me who likes to have contact with the land, I could choose to do farm work. When we signed up for what kind of work we wanted to take part in, without any hesitation I put my name under farm work. Working in the Yamagishi's farm is satisfying. We started off growing garlic. Since the soil was rather loose, it didn't take long to plant the seedlings in two long rows. Then we picked different types of greens for the canteen. We had worked only for a while when an auntie came to invite us to have tea. She said there was no need to do too much work in a day. Work is something happy and not a burden to exhaust yourself with. She often takes a rest after a while. She'll have tea in the day room and then return to work. For her, the most blessed thing in a day is when she goes home after finishing her easy work and finds there is already hot water in the bath and delicious food in the canteen. Moreover she is able to eat vegetables she grows herself. Someone washes her clothes everyday, so there is no need to do these chores after work. All she needs to do is a good job growing vegetables. Life is simple and happy.

Faces brimmed with happy smiles when they saw the fruits they harvested.
Talking about farm work, which to this lady is something that brings happiness.
Easy and happy food-processing work.
A young man sharing stories of his work and emotional life with us.

Since the Yamagishi Association is made up of many different families, of course every person has different needs. It's impossible for the Association to satisfy all these needs. In the Yamagishi Association, a big family is made up of small families and members of the families are not necessarily each other's kin. They are only small collectives in Yamagishi for the people to meet regularly to discuss things together. When we interviewed one big family, we asked: "When someone has a need, how may it be satisfied?" They replied that a person with a need may make a proposal. The proposal is not approved by a specific department of the Yamagishi Association. It is instead discussed by delegates sent by the big families. (The delegates sent to the discussion may not be the same person every time. Whoever has the time is sent to take part in the discussion. This is because they believe that any affair of the Yamagishi Association is one's own affair and the affair of all. The question of who is responsible does not exist.) When the proposal is approved, a person's need is satisfied. I asked whether they would feel upset if their proposal wasn't approved. Their answer surprised me. They said they wouldn't feel upset because they were more concerned about the process of discussion than its result. They hold meetings also when they decide to do something. Sometimes they are unable to reach a consensus. They don't think it is necessary to have a consensus all the time. This is completely beyond my usual way of thinking. We always expect results when we do something. That is why we always anticipate coming up with a common purpose in a meeting and to start working only when a decision is made on a plan which everyone accepts. In reality, it makes it difficult for other people to turn their ideas into reality. We always advocate diversity, but it is rarely realised in reality. When we do something, we rarely look at the process and the unintended consequences, those we didn't anticipate but which nevertheless arise from it. We only examine whether the objectives set down have been reached. Before something is being done, we already anticipate its results. When the result doesn't meet our expectations, most of the time we think the plan has not be carried out well, and criticise ourselves all the time.

The Yamagishi Association shows us a sustainable life of communion between human beings and between humans and nature. The Association is able to bring about harmony between humans and nature because of the members' openness and their respect for nature. Demonstrating an immense openness, the Yamagishi Association accepts people with different opinions and of different backgrounds. In living as a community, they embrace people with different needs and thoughts as well as all living things that live with them in this community. From the history of the Association, we learnt how they respect and revere all living things and nature. They treat animals they raise as though they are their children, and take care of them conscientiously. They adopt farming methods that are friendly to the land and plants. Only when we respect and revere all lives are we able to feel the beauty of life. Only then will we treasure life and only then will the world be filled with opportunities. Great love has no barrier. Let us love and respect all the lives of this world. Happiness is a kind of giving. When you give others your love, you will harvest your share of happiness.