Friday, December 09, 2005


Exotic colour captures sense
Projected image perverts fact
Transcendence hints of what we lack
As all sages said long hence

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Kings’ College



Religion and Agriculture:
Sustainability in Christianity and Buddhism
Lindsay Falvey

Religion is a powerful expression of culture that is most obviously expressed in our relationships with nature. As our major meeting point with nature is food, this provides a fertile field for cultivating the wisdom that Professor Falvey concludes is the essence of all sustainability. By bringing sustainability, agriculture, global issues, Buddhism, Christianity and a host of other factors into play, we see that our motivations belie our rhetoric – in environmental actions through to trade and aid. This open-spirited book contains a wealth of analysis and alternative logics that make it essential to serious readers about nature, the environment, spirituality and religion, Asia and ourselves.

Beginning with science and spirituality, the discussion moves from immortality to theology to literal misinterpretations and unifies these themes around unacknowledged Western core values. Shifting to philosophy, ethics, and rights, an ecological argument about our selective ‘liberation’ of nature is proffered as an introduction to global issues, including traditional values of poor countries and lost traditions in the West. An engrossing hybrid Oriental-Western dialectic allows chapters to be read alone or as part of an accumulating thesis. Thus Buddhist and Christian teachings are applied to agriculture and sustainability – and they are found to be at one with each other. Whether it is biblical metaphor, karmic logic or enlightened self-interest, the continuous thread of a strong suture stitches a complex set of subjects into a coherent sutra that will vivify the current moribund dialogue between agriculture, science and religion.

Some Reviews:
This work is unique and fills the gap that neither theologians nor scientists will readily attempt to fill; it has not been done before and is critically important Will Johnston, late of University of Massachusetts, currently of Melbourne College of Divinity

… the sutra of sustainability in the final chapter will certainly become a classic … Gabriel Fragnière, Ancien Recteur du Collège d’Europe (editor Dieux, Hommes et Religions)

Table of Contents (305 pages):
Chapter 1 Seeking Agricultural Sustainability: Science and Spirituality
Chapter 2 Immortality: Sustaining Ourselves?
Chapter 3 Agricultural Theology: Why we are Fascinated with Sustainability
Chapter 4 Literal and Historical Christianity and Agriculture: Our Manipulations and Our Undoing
Chapter 5 Some Influencers of the Church: Prophets and Sustainable Agriculture
Chapter 6 From Luther to Jung: Broadening the Insights
Chapter 7 West Meets East: The Salvation of Agriculture
Chapter 8 Pantheistic Agriculture: Investing the Gods in Agriculture
Chapter 9 Agricultural Philosophy and Rights: From Natural Rights to Rights for Nature
Chapter 10 Sustainable Agriculture and Secular Environmentalism: Emerging Ecological Understanding
Chapter 11 The Religion of Sustainable Agriculture: Philosophy and Ethics
Chapter 12 Liberating Nature: Our Rising Awareness
Chapter 13 Sustainable Development: Having it All?
Chapter 14 Sustaining Our Role: Global Sustainable Development
Chapter 15 Words versus Actions in Global Agriculture: Sustainability in Less-Developed Countries
Chapter 16 Learning Sustainability from Less-Developed Countries: Lost Traditions?
Chapter 17 The Emerging Spirit of Sustainable Agriculture: Changing the Western Worldview?
Chapter 18 Unity in Diversity of Views? Spirituality in Modern Agriculture
Chapter 19 Bridging the Break: Reconnecting Through Religion
Chapter 20 Communicating with the Orient: Eastern Sustainable Agriculture
Chapter 21 Non-violence to the Environment: Active Sustainability?
Chapter 22 Sustained Change: The Conditions of Sustainability
Chapter 23 Avoiding the Extremes: Karmic Sustainable Agriculture
Chapter 24 Enlightened or Self-Interested? Sustainable Agriculture as Selfish
Chapter 25 Enlightening Agricultural Sustainability: Seeing More Clearly
Chapter 26 Practical Buddhism: From Scripture to Sustainable Agriculture
Chapter 27 Buddhism and the Environment: Wishful Ascription of Sustainability
Chapter 28 In, Not Of, the World: The Spirit of Agriculture
Chapter 29 Tying the Thread: The Sutra of Sustainability
Poem: Sustainability Sutra
References – some 320 references excluding scriptural references in 628 footnote references

About the Author:
Professor Lindsay Falvey is Life Member, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. He was previously Chair of Agriculture and Dean of Land and Food at the University of Melbourne. He holds degrees from Latrobe, Melbourne and Queensland Universities, including two doctoral degrees, and is the author of some ten books and more than 100 professional papers on themes relating to society, food production and international development. Three of his recent works relate to religion and wise agricultural practice on a global basis. He has also managed and consulted for international development companies working in some 20 countries, particularly in Asia and especially in Thailand. He was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 1997 and of his profession’s institute in 1991, and has received several national and international awards for his contributions to international and rural development, including the Australian Centennial Medal in 2003.

1) Publisher: Institute of International Development, 90 Carrington Road, Adelaide SA 5000, Australia
2) Distributor: Silkworm Books / Mekong Press, 104/5 Chiang Mai-Hot Road, Suthep, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
3) or for more information contact


The Spirit of Agriculture is the culmination of an evolution of thought and experience from agricultural science and spirituality informed by knowledge of both less-developed and rich agricultural countries. It acknowledges the strengths of both smallholder and high-technology agriculture, and of both the commercial production of food and of agriculture as a means of understanding life, as it is for billions. Furthermore, it acknowledges the loss of values, including ethical and environmental values, that accrue to separation of agriculture from spirituality.

The concept is far from original. In this iteration it may be traced through a translation of a lecture by a renowned Thai Buddhist monk, a compilation of historical, cultural and economic aspects of Thai agriculture in a detailed and highly researcher book, a further book on alternative conceptions of agricultural history and the illusion of sustainability, and a groundbreaking book to be released the same month as this posting about sustainability in Christianity and Buddhism. All publications are accessible on the web via this posting - see below.

The Duty of Professional Agriculturists

Sustainability: Elusive or Illusion?
Wise Environmental Intervention
(see Chapters 9 &10 especially)

Thai Agriculture:
Golden Cradle of Millennia
(see Chapter 14 especially)
In English:

In Thai:

Religion and Agriculture:
Sustainability in Christianity and Buddhism

Our preferred mode of communications is email to


What Sufi’s see and Buddhists breathe
and whirling Dervish dance

is but Babe’s story from myth freed,
our inner blessed romance.

This section of the Spirit of Agriculture aims to make obvious the linkage between the spiritual knowledge discussed in these pages and the essential spiritual nature of us all.

In suggesting the heading ‘Our Common Heritage’, it is assumed that this spirituality is inherent to human consciousness, is perhaps a product of it and is accessible to all who cultivate it. And this is the association with agriculture – for the very language used by most mystics across the centuries has includes such agricultural metaphors as ‘cultivate’.

The reasons suggest themselves:
  • agriculture was the preoccupation of the majority of the populace at the time that the great scriptures of the continuing religions were compiled;
  • the approach that agriculture takes to creating the optimal conditions for production of its harvest is the same as that recommended by the great traditions for producing insight or wisdom – or attaining the kingdom or whatever tradition’s words we choose to use,
  • it was adoption of agriculture that liberated part of a population to focus on understanding of spirituality.
Suggesting a common spiritual heritage for all persons may appear to conflict with some cultural traditions, but in fact it does not offend their original intent. What are seen as traditions today are often not old in the terms of agricultural history, or even in terms of modern industrial history. But this is not usually a sufficient explanation to convince us if we feel cozy in our unchallenged beliefs. We do not seek to challenge beliefs, though we welcome individuals testing received cultural beliefs about their own spirituality. Too often spirituality is mixed up with religion, which in turn is mixed with political and other hierarchies in powerful institutions. So we are not concerned here with any particular religion – they have all developed from some insight into spirituality in the first place but were not necessary for that insight. Having said that, one’s own culture often provides a religious platform from which one’s spirituality is realized. For that reason, we accept the religious terminology of all cultures to explain that part of ourselves that helps us accord with reality.

When Leibniz coined the name ‘Philosophia Perennis’, he recognized our common feeling or yearning. Aldous Huxley developed it in a more popular manner in his Perennial Philosophy, which provides persuasive linkages between the great traditions. Huxley, like Blake whose print is represented above, sprang from a culture with a theist religion. He therefore uses some terms that others might not understand, such as ‘divine Reality’ and relates this to a psychology to understand the ‘transcendent Ground of all being’. Regardless of his words, the principle discussed here is clear in his assertion that the ‘rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditional lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions’.

So through this page, we offer a means of sharing knowledge – that is knowledge which has been tested according to one’s own personal spiritual experience. We share it in the form of experiences, writings, poetry, philosophy, science, fine art and music insofar as they can be shared, and in any other form that will help expand the theme of our common spiritual heritage. If it has an agricultural association, so much the better – but it is not essential. Share your knowledge, creative works, experience – our preferred mode of communication is by email to

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Traditional Tai Integrated Village
(Sheng-Ji, Pei., 1985)

Agriculture was not one single step forward in human history. It was a radical experiment that inflicted a high cost on our species. It cost more time than hunting and gathering and the work was probably less enjoyable. Its essential sedentary nature also exacted a high cost through diseases, which easily built-up and spread through a community. Diseases transmitted from domesticated animals in particular took a high toll until the genes with some natural resistance dominated with the deaths of our less resistant relatives – we are still in this phase today. In fact it seems that many communities that tried agriculture abandoned it as a bad idea.

Yet despite being a bad idea, most of the 10,000 year history of agriculture has been successful if difficult. It allowed an increase in human population that could not have been supported by alternative systems of food procurement, it allowed specializations to develop within society that achieved higher levels of efficiency, and it allowed at least one of the classes of non-farmers to examine aspects of human spirituality. This important development produced a period of unparalleled human awakening, a Naissance if you like, about 2,500-3,000 years ago. This critical association of agriculture with the development of spiritual knowledge is one reason for the Spirit of Agriculture’s interest in our common spiritual heritage. Here was are interested in the spiritual aspect, while through another site (, traditional and Asian agricultural history are studied.

However, there is much more to agriculture, food and the environment in general. The writings left to us from the ancient sages across the world indicate the importance of both nature and food in their realizations. Human views of nature changed from it being something external and threatening, to being something to be avoided or subdued, to eventually being known as part of us. But such human progress in understanding is easily lost at community level. In any case, food production came to be understood as part of the way humans do things, and therefore as natural as termites building mounds or ticks sucking blood. Thus it became known as a primary point of interaction with the natural environment. This included the extensive modification of the environment, which is the very basis of agriculture. And it became clear to the sages that, while it was wise to store some grain against droughts, it made no sense to over-crop any field or to store more grain than was needed for the group. It also made no sense, except in the most selfish terms, to trade food for gold on a fixed basis because gold was clearly of lower value.

In addition to wise advice for sustaining agriculture, much of the writings of the sages used agriculture for their spiritual metaphors. Thus we continue today to use such terms as ‘cultivating’ spiritual practices to achieve the ‘fruits’ of the spirit and so on.

Yak: The Tibeto-Mongolian agricultural animal for
meat, milk, alcohol, leather, and pack-transport.

Our aim is to link persons who have a spiritual interest related to agriculture, the environment, food and domestic animals and through this site to provide a means for knowledge and experience to be shared.

Our preferred mode of communication is email to spiritof


Precision of the lingas
Man’s best now pales beside
Nature’s nude weathered fingers
Which Angkor’s faith belie

‘Spirituality’ seems to mean whatever you want it to. For the Spirit of Agriculture, it means that aspect of our humanness that is essential to being whole.

It may be interpreted through the many different symbols given to us by our different cultures, yet is the one thing – an inner need for something more than material and physical satisfaction.

For some, spirituality is an experience that cannot be defined, and we cannot expect to hear from these persons, except perhaps if they seek to share the very ineffability and incommunicability of their experiences. For others, spirituality is visions, life changing experiences that cause lyrical outpourings. Yet others may experience their spirituality as an intellectual awareness of interdependency, sometimes expressed in scientific and philosophical terms.

While a Sufi may express a spiritual experience in terms foreign to a Western Christian, and a Theravada Buddhist may talk of insight rather than an esoteric divinity, all are considered to be the same things in this page. We need not be engaged in literality or by the detail of language when metaphor and allegory seek to assist our understanding of each others experiences.

In taking this non-sectarian approach to spirituality, religious institutions are irrelevant. We are dealing at the level of individual experience, which often transcends social boundaries. So whether one’s religious affiliations are science, money, church, temple or mosque, it is not that association that we seek to share but the personal experience. And with these shared experiences we can link to the residual writings of those who have shared such experiences across the ages, from China to Chile, from the Americas to Africa, from Europe to Oceania, from India to the Islands. This links to the deepening of our knowledge in conjunction with the historical explications of human spirituality as part of the Spirit of Agriculture.

Our theme is agriculture, food, and nature in general. This has importance because food is one of the four basic elements of life, and it is in the obtaining of the basics of life that we might best acknowledge and experience our spiritual natures. The same may be said of basic clothing, shelter and medical care. But it may not be said of the non-essential components of modern life that are in many cases substitutes for spiritual awareness, even though they may masquerade as sources for its acknowledgement.

Our aim is to link persons who have a spiritual interest related to agriculture, the environment, food and domestic animals and through this site to provide a means for knowledge and experience to be shared.

Our preferred method of communication is email to

Red dragonfly rests on grass
Lotus laze in pond
Snap! Gone! Nothing’s changed


Tibetan barley

The Spirit of Agriculture is a simple means of linking persons who have a spiritual interest related to agriculture, the environment, food and domestic animals. It extends from animal welfare, to food quality, to meditation, to wilderness experiences and indeed any other association between our essential spiritual natures and the basic aspects of life.

Why are we doing this?
In agricultural and environmental terms, for 5 reasons:

  1. agriculture is human’s most widespread interaction with nature
  2. nearly all who are likely to read this page rely on agriculture in some way – even when we grow our own vegetables, we rely on agricultural knowledge
  3. among the billions of people who do not have access to this page many continue traditional practices that integrate the spiritual with all other parts of life and which have proven more sustainable than anything we have conceived recently
  4. the integration of spirituality into everyday life is a hallmark of sustainable societies through the ages and is perhaps most evident historically in agriculture
  5. our ability to appreciate wilderness and the bush relies, at present, on intensive agriculture efficiently using other land for food production

Why are we doing this?
In human terms for 5 reasons:

  1. our separation from our spiritual natures reduces our mental health in modern lifestyles
  2. alternative spiritual paths continue to attract increasing numbers of people from rich societies and this is often associated with dietary and environmental realizations
  3. our treatment of animals and nature in general affects and reflects our own natures in terms of aggression and assumptions of dominance and rights
  4. personal special experiences are apparently common yet not widely shared by persons who intensively interact with nature, from farmers to alternative lifestylers, to gardeners, to bushwalkers
  5. for millennia, sages of all cultures have taught of the human need to balance the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of life, and of food as one the four essential components of life.
The Spirit of Agriculture provides a means of communicating and learning between interested persons about our spiritual natures from experiences, writings, ideas, and the wisdom of the sages. It does this by email and web-style publication on this page (see below for making your contribution) and others that it may produce and be linked to. As it is maintained as a voluntary activity, it will inevitably take a few days for some interactions.

It is open to all who are associated with nature – everyone, provided they understand what it is not.

What it is Not:
The Spirit of Agriculture is not a forum for beliefs, bigotry or ‘spiritual’ superiority. Rather it relies on objective reasoning and experience. Where a person elects to substitute belief for personal application, they may not expect a response from the Spirit of Agriculture.

The initiative grows from the book Religion and Agriculture: Sustainability in Christianity and Buddhism by Professor Lindsay Falvey, the full text of which may and follow books/publications links

The book is available from the following sites:

1) Publisher: Institute of International Development, 90 Carrington Road, Adelaide SA 5000, Australia
2) Distributor: Silkworm Books / Mekong Press, 104/5 Chiang Mai-Hot Road, Suthep, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
3) or free for those eligible via

Prof. Falvey will maintain oversight of this project and other Spirit of Agriculture projects and will work with a team of volunteers in specialist, learned and experience-based fields to develop the site as knowledge and experiences of agricultural wisdom is shared.

These activities are partly supported by the Institute for International Development Ltd, an Australian not-for-profit public company limited by guarantee that engages in professional advisory and management services for development projects and which through its Institute for International Development Fund supports publications, seminars, workshops, international exchanges, research, education and culture.

Ganeesh unearthed in Hyderabad agricultural plot, ICRISAT

Our aim is to link persons who have a spiritual interest related to agriculture, the environment, food and domestic animals and through this site to provide a means for knowledge and experience to be shared.

Our preferred method of communication is email to