Por Kham Deuang is a farmer elder of Buriram, Thailand who has practiced regeneration in his own way for over 40 years and inspired many with his wisdom and ways.
This however I originally thought was more or less apparent. And while I do hope to share more about his methods, I felt what was most important was this way he understand our role, purpose, and potential as humans.
Interview, translation and write up by Michael B. Commons, Earth Net Foundation, Thailand
Por Kham Deuang- “We have been using our lives incorrectly until they are used up, exchanging them for what we do not know… If I only had 3 minutes of life to live in this world what would I do? What would I exchange my life for?
If I only had 3 minutes to live, I would exchange this life for planting trees. Why? Because in 3 minutes, I cannot do anything. But if I plant a tree, boop, that tree will live on and grow. It can continue to live for 100 years. So I have been able to extend 3 minutes into 100 years. If we used the 3 minutes for something else, it would just disappear. But now we have exchanged our 3 minutes of life for the life of a tree. That tree can grow and provide for the whole world and reduce its suffering. Trees purify the air, hold down the soil and increase its fertility, make the clouds grow, support mushrooms to grow, and they then can spread seeds far and wide that will bring new generations of trees and their benefits.
What can I do in just 3 minutes? Most uses would just be lost, but exchanging my time for a tree, I really have something of value. Now consider exchanging 1 hour, this is even more interesting to exchange. Or what if we exchanged the rest of our lives, even more interesting. For trees there is no stopwatch ticking, three minutes of our lives has passed but for the trees they may live on and on. We have exchanged 3 minutes of our lives for 100 years of life and then our grandchildren can go on to care the trees, their seeds and seedlings which may go on and on from there. Then we haven’t died wasting our lives, we have exchanged the time in our lives for something of greater value.
If one understands this, one will not be confused as to how we are to live on this planet and use its resources, it will be clear. This is the way to live correctly. If we live correctly we are one with our world, and our world will be beautiful and flourish. We will pass this on to the generations that come after us who will not suffer troubles as their ancestors took good care of this inheritance. But now all of the ancestors have just created problems for their offspring. None of the children and grandchildren appreciate ancestors like this. But if we are ancestors doing like I practice, then our children and grandchildren will click “like” for us.”
Michael Commons: When we were together in Hat Yai you talked about how to live in balance with nature, how to find happiness. Please share more about your thoughts?
P K D: “To talk about this I have to go back to the past to understand the roots and reasons. The Earth must be born before humanity. Our Earth is just right in many ways for us. It was in the right place and distance from the sun and with good light and atmosphere, and then so many years passed before there were trees, parasites, or mobile phone signals. Much had to develop such as minerals, water, fish and more before humans could live here. We must understand that everything came before humans and everything that humans would need was ready for their needs without us (humanity) having done anything. When humanity was born, boop- we had all of this without need to build or create anything, whether it’s the air we breathe, the rain that falls, food to feed us; we could just use this. But once we started using these resources that our planet created for us, we hadn’t learnt that these resources were created by our Earth and how we could steward and care for these resources so there would be more and more and they would be better and better as for certain the number of humans had to increase. Back then there were not many humans, but our numbers had to increase and increase. If we considered this, we would know that we needed to steward and build upon this inherited abundance so it could provide for us into the future.
We did not go on that path but we have taken everything and put it into a big pile in front of us and said we are rich. We take and exploit without returning or restoring anything. This was our failing since the beginning. Once we started off with our first steps in the wrong direction, however far we keep going it is still in the wrong direction, and the farther we go the farther we are from the truth. Thus people cannot live with other people if they are all fighting for the same resources which are not sufficient. The more they fight for resources, the more problems and troubles follow. What we seek to solve is not these problems, the ways we try to solve our problems create yet other problems, thus they keep unfolding and unfolding. As all that provides for our lives was not created by us, thus we cannot build and restore this in a short period; we will not make it in time… Just like with our planetary resources, when we want to regenerate them we cannot do this fast enough. Once the glaciers have melted away we cannot just make enough ice to put there and replace them. At this point I don’t really know if we will be able to act fast enough, but we need to start. This is our great mistake. Going back to what I recounted of my own life, this is how it is at the planetary level but also for our families. This is not the failing of one person. 7 billion people are all doing this, the same mistake. So to go back we need to each do this ourselves. We cannot go back through a government policy, a project, or a UN policy, because the way this came to be was not by these ways. We need to start to do this each on a human level, we need to reprogram our minds. A new way of thinking and all new information. We have to completely change our structures and thinking. A completely new program. It needs to be correct and written by ourselves to reach the objectives we have set for all humanity, our planet and environment.
From this I came to trees. Looking at what we can do to restore this, I have found trees to be the key answer and tool for regeneration. Trees are a tool and a way that, when you share and explain, few will fight with you, and in practice it doesn’t cause problems for others. Then for those who understand this, they will help us. So it (planting trees) has a strong energy. Every path to regeneration is good, but I have chosen trees as my principal path.”
M C: Why do you think we as humans have come to where we are now destroying our planet and ourselves?
P K D: “If we look at this from the view of religion, the core of all religions, whether Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, is good and beautiful, but we have gone astray due to our greed and desires, and this has built up as we have not managed or controlled this greed. Even from birth we enter the world already with desire, wanting this and that. But we haven’t asked the question of why and to what purpose we are born from the beginning. When we are born these tendencies are still weak, but then they are reinforced and effectively programmed into us like AI programming. When we cry we are fed or given candy or snacks, we are bathed, we are clothed. We remember all of this. We learn- This is what studying is, this is what teaching is. Work and by working we receive money. Then we use money to buy what we need in our lives. – This is all programmed into us. We never escape from our shell, our cocoon. We become thickly wrapped in all of this programming. We never have time to learn what is real and what is fake. From our first minute of life we are programmed and pushed. Then soon we find ourselves so thickly covered in this while we are still an immature worm inside that we cannot free ourselves from this bind. From here we start to destroy everything. We cut down trees without any thought that this wrong. Policies and laws provide concessions to convert forests into timber. The rules we write ourselves, by those who cut the trees, use the timber, and sell the concessions. The forestry department provides license to cut the trees down even though they didn’t plant any of the trees. All of this is legal. The laws are the regulations of the world. This is not correct in the true sense, but it is correct in line with development plans and such. We start to measure in terms of development plans and objectives and there we have strayed.
We need to act on our own level such as Michael you plant and grow trees and others can see what happens and the benefits 5 years, 10 years, 20 years later and come to understand and this spreads, teaching by example. People can see what will happen.
What is most frightening now is so many people do not see the future. Our political leadership does not see the future. 4, 5 years 10 years into the future no one knows what it will be like. But for me, I see clearly. If I plant trees, if I grow rice, if I grow a diversity of crops, I know what this will bring. I know if I plant 20 forest trees what they will be like in 20 years, 30 years, 50 years. If I grow Hopea odorata, Dipterocarpus alatus, what they will be like. I know about the soil fertility that will be built, the frogs, crabs, fish and other creatures that will come, the mushrooms that will grow.
Why don’t we do what we know? Why do we go where we only can guess? The world is so large and we cannot easily manage and support at this level, but we can create small worlds where we can restore and regenerate on the size and scale we can manage. If this can happen in a small place such as one person’s or family’s land, then this is an example and has the seeds and seedlings to spread. I don’t believe this can change from policy or funding, but from more and more people who create small worlds of abundance and are examples of this in practice. COVID has actually made this much more clear for many here, forcing people to think and see differently. From this it can change, but not in just one lifetime, it may take 2 or more lifetimes to fully manifest. In Buriram we have set a policy that in 300 years we will be the most pleasant community to live in in this world. 8 years have passed and we have 292 years left to realize this. “Fertile and abundant, secure, wealthy and sustainable”…
This was also proposed in the 12th national development plan, but then they removed “อุดมสมบูรณ์” (fertile and abundant), …. and this is the heart and basis for all the rest, so it is likely we will end up with corruption that is secure, wealthy and sustainable.”
M.C: Is there a name you use to call your system of practice and or philosophy?
P K D: “The name that is closest and which I am most famous for is as the person who first developed Natural Farming here in Thailand. …. There are these words that Masanobu Fukuoka said to me which I hold closely, “Natural Farming is not the planting or harvesting of crops, but rather it is a tool to plant our spirit of humanity to be more perfect.” When humans are as perfect as they can be they will understand the world, understand nature, and understand the environment, and they will live with nature and the environment without any problems; nor will they have problems with other humans or all that is valuable in this world.”
M C: It sounds like Fukuoka connected with you and your way of thinking?
P K D: “Yes we talked together and stayed together many days, traveling some days together with an interpreter and they took videos of us 2 talking together… I took a lot away from that trip…. We traveled together during his whole visit to Thailand going to Yasothorn, to Tung Kula, and all the other places chosen for that trip. We lodged together, and conversed together. It touched me as he was the only person that understood what I was saying, which I could see and feel in his response. We spoke the same language. But when I would try to explain things elsewhere, I didn’t know if I was wasting my time.”
While I had long heard of Por Kham Deuang, being one of the early leaders and movers in the then developing sustainable farming movement in Thailand, it was only last December that I had the chance to get to meet and exchange with him over a couple of days together in Hat Yai. His wisdom and clarity was good medicine that helped to draw me in deeper. While at that time I had no recorder beyond my attentive brain, key messages sank in and took root.
A key phrase of his was “Don’t practice a profession, but do your role in life.” And for him, which was common to my own thought process and ideas, the human role on this planet is to garden. To help select and move seeds around to create more abundance for the benefit of humans and all beings, and when we just do our simple role to help in a small way to care for nature we don’t have to work hard (as nature’s abundance cares for us).
Then he also explained how we think far too short-sightedly. Many do not want to plant trees as it may be 30 years or more for them to mature. But he sees that we inherit that which the generations before have passed on and we are here very temporarily and if we live good and well we will pass on a richer land and inheritance to our children, grandchildren and so forth. So in this timeline even if we plant trees at 90 years of age, we are connected to them and the air they may help fill with oxygen centuries later, as we inherit the topsoil, the biodiversity, the foods and medicines from our planet and ancestors.
This helped me see life more clearly; how I am connected to many generations back in time and many generations forward in time and within this scope during the limited short time of my existence I have a chance to do my role and if I do it well I help pass on more to the future while I can thank all those who came before.
In Thailand we are blessed to have a number of farmers, traditional doctors, and community activists who have been leading in vision, wisdom and practice to heal our land, our planet and ourselves. I am even more fortunate be close to some of these wise elders and youngers and to be able to carry on with my wife and family from such lineage. While I think this must be true everywhere where there remains culture and relationship to the land, when we look at “regeneration” we do not need to look far. Elders such a Por Kham Deaung have seen and see the whole picture from how we erred, where this started, and how we can go back to heal our planet and ourselves. They see and know this from the land, culture and traditions of their ancestors from many generations back and they live seeing forward to many generations into the future. Por Kham Deuang said that the seed of change and restoration is within ourselves. He said we need to completely change our way of thinking even our structure of thinking to take us to the objectives we seek. I am happy to share a bit of Por Kham Deuang’s medicine. Por Kham Deuang invited me to share and translate his learnings so these seeds may find fertile soil far and wide. While Por Kham Deuang has planted 1000’s of trees and from these trees many 1000’s more seedlings have been distributed and planted far and wide, perhaps the greatest gift he has planted are these seeds of truth and clarity about our role and potential in this world during our short lives.