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Learning about Sustainable Living (Past Programme Foci)
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Tokkoh—A beautiful kind of brainwashing

By Lu Wendong (Assistant to Director, Guangxi Museum of Nationalities)

I am grateful for the rare opportunity that PCD gave me of an overseas learning experience, which I treasure a lot. The visit to Japan to study ecological agriculture and community spirit has left me with a lot of emotions and thoughts.

1. A trip with the Book ofDao

Laozi's Book of Dao is erudite and profound. Every one of the Japanese people who accompanied us on our trip had a different understanding of the book, but Laozi's ideas, such as "the Dao follows Nature" (dao fa zi ran) and "do nothing and everything is done" (wu wei er wu bu wei), were born of reality. Dao embodies the magnificent power of human nature and universal values. It represents a precious legacy of spiritual wealth which belongs not only to China but to all people. On the trip we visited many places in keeping with the spirit of the Book of Dao. This shows that thoughts of ancient times are not all "out of date and useless". People of ancient times put it very well when they said: "All things learnt from books are superficial. One has to practise and experience them to truly understand them." The Book of Dao was a string that linked the pearls of the sites we visited, each of which played an indispensable part.

"Natural Farming" —The One Straw Revolution

The visit to Mr Kawaguchi Yoshikazu, and witnessing his Natural Farming method, has left me with deep impressions. I grew up in a rural area. Since I was small, I saw my parents going out early in the morning and coming home late in the evening, working hard to earn our living. The harder you work, the more you get. The lazy people in our village are all poor. Having seen these with my own eyes, it was hard to believe you can have a harvest without using any fertiliser, or without tilling the land and clearing weeds. This is diametrically opposed to our traditional practice of "intensive and meticulous farming". It was only when I saw with my own eyes the crops cultivated by Mr Kawaguchi, and heard his explanations, that I understood there are many laws of nature which modern human beings have not fully grasped. Of course, Mr Kawaguchi has done a lot of experiments to discover the point of balance for his natural farming method, which is not really "doing nothing at all". Rather, one has to know what needs to be done and what can be left alone. Only then will one be able to reach the objectives one aims at. "Do not exact too much from the land, and treat the land with thankfulness." "In the beginning, agriculture was meant to nurture life, but modern agriculture threatens life instead." The Natural Farming method of Mr Kawaguchi may not be applicable in all places and all times. What is important is not the concrete ways to do it but the philosophy behind the method.

Does farming have a philosophy? Isn't farming something which labourers with little education can do, with brute force? Only after our exchange with Mr Kawaguchi did I realise that farmers do not have to be uncultured people. A farmer who thinks can be a great person. We saw many university students who work as apprentices with Mr Kawaguchi, a farmer. It is difficult to imagine this occurring in China. Farmers of our country have always been at the bottom rung of society. They are seen as next to "worthless". Mr Kawaguchi made us reflect on our "conventional perceptions" about agriculture and farmers. The ideas of Mr Maori of Hareyaka Farm are similar to those of Mr Kawaguchi.

Agriculture is not only about producing agricultural products. There is someone behind the product. When producing, every producer should be able to see that a consumer is a living person and not a vague group of people to whom you need not feel any responsibility. An organic link should be built between "putting consumers' minds at ease" and the "responsibility of the producer". If every producer thinks in this way, there will not be agricultural products contaminated by toxic substances. During our visits to the Shiraocho Agriculture Cooperative and the Omi Rice Farm in Maibara, I felt that a deep humanistic concern was incorporated into the process of agricultural production in these farms. This is something that had never entered our minds, or certainly that we had not reflected enough about.

2. Kasugayama Village of the Yamagishi Association: a mysterious example of community collaboration

On this trip we spent the longest period of time with the Yamagishi Association, and had a lot of exchanges with their members. This was also the place that touched me most. As Mainland Chinese who have received education on "the ideal of a future beautiful communist society", we could not but envy Yamagishi practices such as cooperation, all for one and one for all, common ownership of property, distribution based on need, getting along with each other as good friends, and also the relatively rich and high-quality life. This was something I had wanted to understand more deeply in our exchange with the people of the Yamagishi Association. In the end I was convinced they were not influenced by Marxist thought. Some had no idea at all what Marxism was about, while others interpreted Marxism in a way completely different to us. In Mainland China, for many years there have been a lot of discussions on what a "communist society" is like. The idea has gradually become a utopia which no one believes will ever come true. Whenever it is mentioned, people simply smile.

However, in Kasugayama Village, I seemed to catch a glimpse of "dawn". It does not matter whether it is called "communism". What is important is that it is an attempt to build a fraternal society—"to show respect to one's own aged parents and also to those of others, and to care for one's own children and those of others" [1]. Since everyone makes his or her due contribution to the community and to others, happiness naturally flows from within. How to help every person, who is selfish by nature, to organise and control their selfish thought without prior agreement (which means not having to "control" it deliberately but "to allow it to disappear naturally"), so as to build a "simple happiness"? A person with little desire is a happy person.

Actually we all know that giving is something that makes one happy. Perhaps we have given a lot but since we did not see or believe that others were giving as much, we gradually gave less and less, and ended up living in a selfish society. We may be dissatisfied with this way of life but we are used to it. At Kasugayama Village, what we witnessed was a community completely different from the wider society. How do they do it? Rich and high-quality living conditions are obviously not the most important factor. From what we know, before a person joins the Yamagishi Association, he or she has to go through tokkoh (special talks) and kensan meetings (study meetings). In some way the effect of tokkoh may not be very different from that of "brainwashing" and "working on one's mind" (a neutral term without any negative connotation). How does this sort of "brainwashing" work? In particular, how does one "wash away one's selfishness," which is as innate to human beings as to other living creatures? The time we stayed at Kasugayama Village was too short for us to take part in a tokkoh, so for us it became something covered with a mysterious veil.

We often say it is most difficult to work on one's mind. Perhaps it is because we have not yet found the correct way to do it. Perhaps what we are doing is too different from what a community is thinking. If the ideal advocated by PCD were realised in some communities, PCD would have its own intentional communities which practise ecological agriculture, harmony between human beings and nature, and harmony among human beings. Most people support these ideas. Our work is to bring out what people already have in their minds, and to encourage them to work for sustainable development. This is a belief common to all PCD participants. The problem is what should we do, concretely, in every project and every community? Of course, the circumstances of every community differ. We may not be able to accomplish all that is happening in Japan because Japan is a developed country. The standard of living of Japanese people is generally higher and their basic material needs are already met. Most of the communities in which we work are instead still struggling to survive. Even in communities which are better off, their material conditions are not that good. Can our ideals overcome the given material conditions? How can we overcome them? This is something I have been thinking about since I returned from the trip.

Photo sharing:
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We have a meaningful exchange of views with the villagers in Kasugayama Village.
We sit on the lawn of a kindergarten to discuss the education system of Kasugayama Village.
In children of a Yamagishi community, a spirit of "all for one and one for all" is cultivated.

 


Notes:

  1. Translator's note: This is a quote from Mengzi, an ancient Confucian scholar that describes what an ideal society is like.

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