Growing food without digging

In a former life, perhaps only a year ago, @Khemarato.bhikkhu and I were discussing the Vinaya and gardening, marvelling at how Buddhism transformed in its long journey from India through China and onwards to Japan. Indian monastics relied on alms rounds for food, yet these monastics suffered greatly in China, which often saw them as mere beggars of no worth. Chinese culture values productivity and wealth–gain for gain is a cultural axiom. Asking for food led to starvation.

Monks need food. And agriculture conventionally requires plowing, which is simply digging the earth. With plowing, one furrows the field, digging deep and long gashes in the earth. The Vinaya forbids this.

How the Chinese Buddhists dealt with this is a topic for another thread (perhaps @Khemarato.bhikkhu might shed light on this wonderful topic?) .

But in this thread, we’ll talk about growing food without digging. We’ll talk about how to keep the Vinaya and grow food.

To illustrate, here are tomatoes grown without digging.


MN81:18.12: He’s put down the shovel and doesn’t dig the earth with his own hands.

These tomatoes are grown from seed using the method popularized by Professor Kratky. The Kratky method requires no electricity except for light as necessary. Recent advances in technology this past decade have made such lights affordable and commonly available. Indeed, the plants shown above are growing in the garage during wintertime. Each tomato is a part of a meal. That tomato plant is three months old.

One wonders…

Does such a method permit monastics to grow food and educate their communities on agricultural methods that might benefit society as a whole?


Pardon my ignorance, but isn’t there also a prohibition on picking fruit? I seem to recall a discussion that implied taking and eating fallen fruit was ok, but not picking fruit/veg.

The method you link to is very interesting, as it precludes the need for weeding and other maintenance, and by having a controlled environment, of any issues generated by dealing with pests :slight_smile:


Picking fruit would be a task for lay folk. My wife enjoys harvesting—it takes skill to sense ripeness. My own disinterest makes me oddly clumsy at that simple task.

As you indicated, pest management is much easier. However, I have an ongoing spider mite infestation that I manage by taking plants outside, asking the pests politely to leave and then spraying those that remain with neem spray. It’s not a perfect system, but I have faith that an abundance of prey will narurally give rise to the apprropriate predators who would free me from the burden of eviction. That spraying is also not a task for monastics. Pest management is a task for laity.

Another lay task is perhaps pruning. Pruning is actually for health of the plant since excess foliage is unhealthy and promotes pathogens in close quarters. I doubt monastics would wish to be entangled with such concerns.

However, the teaching and demonstration of hydroponic techniques is perhaps less problematic for novice monastics. It would at least provide one path forward and away from current agricultural practices that still rely on horribly polluting crop-burning, etc. One of the renarkable things I experienced at Chozen-ji was the monastic garden. That garden provided much peace and insight for the ignorant city dweller I am. And, yes, I did weed.


I’m not clear on why any part of the process needs to be done by the mendicants if there are lay people around for pest management, pruning and harvesting. Sure, it could be done on monastery grounds maybe, but why involve mendicants? For me the goal of going forth (which I think is explicitly stated) is for the purpose of nibbana. How would these extra curricular activities further that purpose (of nibbana) in the individual mendicant?


The EBTs have many agricultural metaphors:

SN42.11:5.6: For desire is the root of suffering.’”

When the EBTs were written, most people had direct experience with agriculture, the annual cycle of birth, growth and death. That experience informed their understanding of the suttas with a visceral truth bound to food. The modern experience is quite different, bound as it is to the exchange of money for food. The EBTs do not say that all sentient beings are sustained by money. Instead, the EBTs state quite starkly:

DN33:1.8.2: ‘All sentient beings are sustained by food.’

The experience of weeding in the Zen monastery teaches one mindfulness. Each weed is a proxy for unskillful distracted thought. One does not weed with anger. One weeds with a gentle uprooting and a laying aside. Weeds are pulled up whole from the fertile earth. They are literally uprooted without digging. Plants uprooted in this manner are not killed directly. They are removed from their vital conditions. Eventually, their nutrients are reclaimed by the earth. Gardeners understand the difference between vital condition, seed and root. In contrast, contemporary non-gardeners have an approximate, abstract understanding of these terms that leads to misunderstanding the EBTs by conflating vital condition, seed and root as a hazy notion of “origin”.

Laity and monastics are an integrated whole nurtured by food, requisites and Dhamma. Food isn’t an extra curricular activity. Food sustains us all. So does Dhamma.

@Khemarato.bhikkhu once told a heartbreaking story of a monk who took up vigil outside a western supermarket having faith that food might be given. It was not. That monk eventually disrobed. Apparently, here in the west, we, like the Chinese, value gain for gain. How will Buddhism adapt? If we cannot even feed one monk, how can we feed five hundred?

AN5.180:9.4: Then those five hundred mendicants, living alone, withdrawn, diligent, keen, and resolute, soon realized the supreme culmination of the spiritual path in this very life. They lived having achieved with their own insight the goal for which gentlemen rightly go forth from the lay life to homelessness.


For the record, food was eventually given, and he disrobed for other reasons, unrelated to his occasional days without food.


We can’t blame this on the inadequacies of the West? … well, I’m sure a that will appear if we look that way.

More seriously, may that life and all lives be supported in their efforts towards release from suffering.


Well, you can certainly feel free to blame whatever you like! It is rather sad that in a rich country like America, 11% of households are food insecure. And while this former-monk did not blame his food insecurity for his decision, I heard that he did blame a lack of appropriate medical care, which is (of course) in an even more unconscionable state of affairs in the US.

Sādhu! :smile:


Check out Masanobu Fukuwaka One Straw Revolution.

  • no tilling
  • no weeding
  • no fertilizer
  • no irrigation

Buddhist Insights in NYC grow a lot of their own veggies!


Ah. Right. I may have a misunderstanding here. In the suttas I see a division of labour. So we find professions such as musicians, potters, traders etc. We have the notion of right livelihood with advice against being a butcher for example. My assumption was that this division of labour also extended to agriculture. But now that I think about it I can’t remember (although my sutta reading is little and I have a poor memory) anything regarding farmers, so maybe the division of labour didn’t extend to agriculture. Can you (or anyone else) recommend some reading on the subject of food production in the time of the Buddha?

(Physical) food is one of four nutriments that sustain beings, in the EBTs right? SN12.11

Do devas eat physical food I wonder?

Maybe not anger, but maybe ill-will? So, one might imagine … gently removing a troublesome fish from a pond and laying it aside. Pulling it out of the water intact. Leaving no trace of its removal behind. Fish in this manner are not killed directly then? They are removed from their vital conditions?

The very notion of ‘weeds’ is a troublesome one for me. A weed is just a plant like any other, it is just not in the place that we want it to be, and so we call it a weed. Removing that ‘weed’ is exerting and encouraging the control freak in us, rather than containing and examining it. For me that may run counter to the mendicant training. And what of the small creatures that make their home in the ‘weeds’?

Yes, exactly. An integrated whole.

And here I think that the Buddha was very wise in not allowing the mendicants to be fed by their own work. It is one of the very important things that bind the laity to the mendicants. Certainly these days in North India (and I presume in the Buddha’s times as well), there are sects who live off fallen fruit and the likes where they do not damage plants or soil. The problem with these sects is that they are often short lived. The mendicants of these sects go into the forests, meditate and are thus not encouraged to have contact with non-medicants. I think that maybe because the Buddha insisted that his mendicants do not live in this way, and instead rely on there daily meal from the laity that we still have the Dhamma taught today.

We maybe change society instead of changing the Buddhism? Reduce the greed and encourage generosity in the political and social sphere. That way when someone sees a person with no food for the day, they feed them. Everyone’s a winner.

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Thank you, Bhante! Masanobu Fukuwaka One Straw Revolution gladdens my heart.
:pray: :heart:

Here in this one video he discusses intercropping, natural seeding, no-tilling and natural mulches for weed suppression and nutrient recycling. I love his seedball innovations–they are completely novel to me! :open_mouth:

And above all, he farms in full accord with the brahmaviharas, without limits, without intention, spreading love, compassion, rejoicing and equanimity in all directions.
:heart: :infinity:

:man_cartwheeling: :seedling: :sunflower: :sun_with_face:

My own uprooting has more of a confused, clumsy sense of “not this place, not this time”. I only uproot weeds competing directly with a food crop. When plants are crowded, they all suffer. My lack of skill is clumsy, because I have not yet found out how to provide for the weeds.

And when I spray for spidermites, I spray them towards a plant that already has spider mites, again with a confused, clumsy sense of “go there, not here”.

Yes. I can do better. I am a student of gardening, a novice. Masanobu Fukuwaka is a master.

Yet Masanobu Fukuwaka had a farm. Those of us living in crowded cities have concrete patios or balconies. We need simple ways to reconnect with nature in the city. Hydroponics can allow us to farm in the city or even in a closet. When plants bloom in the concrete desert, so too does joy.

The only line that follows “sustained by food” is:

DN33:1.8.3: ‘All sentient beings are sustained by conditions.’

Deva existence is perhaps conditioned and impermanent?

I think both will change as needed. It gladdens my heart to read that Buddhist Insights of NYC grow a lot of their own veggies. Perhaps, over time, the surrounding community will embrace that task wholeheartedly so that the monastics may study the Dhamma more deeply for all.


I discovered it several years ago. It’s a wonderfully different perspective that I have yet to convince my sister, who is the property owner, to try.


I also have difficulty sharing my enthusiasm. When I talk about Buddhism, hydroponics or gardening, people quickly lose interest and inevitably fall asleep. :sleeping:


Perhaps one approach might be random generosity. When I knock on my neighbors’ doors to present fresh homegrown produce, I am invariably met with a surprised smile and an new openness that had previously never manifested despite decades of living near each other. Indeed, some neighbors come back weeks later pleading for new tomatoes. Free food might jumpstart the cycle of giving.

The approach taken by the Buddhist Insights Garden Program also seems quite promising.


Indeed. My work assignment during Ven. Sujato’s retreat at BI was gardening. I was pleasantly surprised at how many veggies they were still harvesting in November.