Empower seeds through meditation? India’s Ag Minister endorses peace, love and Yogic Agriculture

Wonder why India has an agricultural crisis?

Forget fertilizer; if you send tomatoes good vibrations of “peace, love and divinity” they will grow more vigorously. You can “empower” seeds through meditation. These propositions are absurd to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of science, but not to Indian Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh.

India of course has been locked into a battle between advocates of modern agricultural techniques, including the use of genetically modified seeds, and proponents of more traditional organic based practices. Early in the 2000s, the country introduced GMO cotton engineered to reduce the spraying of insecticides, and it’s been a huge hit, turning the country into a net exporter of cotton and sharply increasing the income of farmers, but it’s not come without controversy. Many critics say it subverts traditional agrarian practices, Apparently they have the ear of the country’s agricultural minister.

The Minister has endorsed the practice of “sustainable yogic agriculture” (SYA) in which farmers practice meditation not only to improve the health of their plants, but also to improve their own mental and spiritual health. Farmers also use integrated organic farming techniques like crop rotation and cow manure fertilizers, but its the meditation that differentiates SYA from standard organic farming. Singh is quoted as saying that meditation will “enhance fertility of the soil. It will help activity of micro-organisms in the soil too.”

If you are cynical, you might guess that SYA was dreamed up in Santa Barbara or some other affluent, trendy community, someplace where Westerners have embraced (and in some cases perverted) the Hindu discipline of yoga not only as a form of exercise, but also as a gimmick to sell overpriced activewear and organic teas. But you’d be wrong.

SYA was developed by the Brahma Kumaris, a religious movement that originated in what is now Pakistan in the 1930s. The movement centers around the teaching of Raja Yoga, a form of meditation that “redefines the self as a soul and enables a direct connection and relationship with the Supreme Source of purest energy and highest consciousness.”

The supposed effect of Raja Yoga meditation on agriculture was discovered in 2007 when farmers who were studying at the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University in India decided to try an experiment with an infertile, barren plot of land. They claim that through meditation alone, without the use of fertilizers (synthetic or organic), they were able to enrich the soil and restore its suitability for growing plants.

The Brahma Kumaris are not an inconsequential movement. They claim to have more than 800,000 students in over 100 countries. But perhaps more importantly the movement has the cachet of being associated with the United Nations. The Brahma Kumaris operates as an NGO with consultative status with the Economic and Social Council among others and is a flagship member of the Food and Agricultural Organization and Education for Rural People.

SYA is being taken seriously not just by Singh, but also the Indian Council for Agricultural Research which hosted a seminar on the practice in 2013 and promised to study it. It was also discussed among delegates to the UN’s COP18 conference on climate change in late 2012.

But is SYA effective? There are no independent, scientific studies of the practice. The Brahma Kumaris are conducting their own five year study and claim that preliminary results show improved seed germination and quality of produce.

Still, why would India’s Agriculture Minister endorse a practice that with no evidence of effectiveness other than the word of its devotees? Perhaps it has something to do with India’s farmer suicide problem. Thousands of financially pressed farmers take their lives every year, an unsettling practice that has been going on for decades as many poor farmers struggling with high debts and iffy yields.

Recently, Singh has made remarks about the suicide crisis that were taken by some as insensitive victim blaming. As one of the main goals of SYA is improving the mental health of farmers, perhaps Singh sees promoting SYA as a more constructive approach to addressing the suicide issue. Singh is quoted in The Indian Express:

We are supporting organic farming and, along with it, the idea of Rajyog [meditation]. Such exercise is accepted by my ministry essentially to enhance Indian farmers’ confidence. Indian farmers have, over the years, lost confidence in the age-tested knowledge of farming.

While the potential for mediation to improve farmer’s mental health is certainly more plausible and evidence based, SYA’s effectiveness as an agricultural technique has no basis in science. Many see the Agriculture Minister’s endorsement of the technique as “premature and ill-advised.”

Meredith Swett Walker is the GeneTrends Daily Digest editor for the Genetic Literacy Project. Follow her on Twitter @mswettwalker

16 thoughts on “Empower seeds through meditation? India’s Ag Minister endorses peace, love and Yogic Agriculture”

  1. Very amusing, but folks, you need an editor proofreading these things before you post them.

    Grammar:
    “These propositions may are absurd”

    Cotton is not corn. Also grammar:
    “Early in the 2000s, the country introduced GMO corn engineered Bt to reduce the spraying of insecticides, and it’s been a huge hit, turning the country into a net exporter of cotton”

  2. I’m still waiting for those yogic powered drones. You send your order in via thought-mail and you experience fulfillment when the product levitates right through your front window !

  3. Why are you ridiculing science? They seem to be conducting an experiment. Why make fun of people trying to apply the scientific method?
    How many times in history were ideas laughed at only to become scientific consensus later.

    “These propositions may are absurd to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of science”.
    If you do have more than a rudimentary knowledge of science you would know that this is perfectly scientific. Unless of course you are one of those “anti-science” people that needs education in quantum physics.

    It’s funny how some people’s science knowledge ends where their own special interest begins.

    You hypocrites.

  4. With so many Buddhist meditators in Boulder, it’s funny how local marijuana is being busted by state agencies for having unapproved pesticides in it. Whaaaaaaa, my dope ain’t organic? Not enough “Ommmmmms” I guess, to alleviate the need for these unapproved pesticides in pot. You’d think they could just meditate their crops to be pesticide-free.

  5. The leaders of the Brahma Kumaris have cult accoutrements: Rolls Royces, virgins, white clothes, a history of dooms day predictions, and a weird Ron Hubbard type founder who wrote the Queen of England and told her to repent.
    The simplicity of magic thinking is a powerful drug. It motivates people to wish for an agriculture where fungi, bacteria, viruses and insects can be defeated by meditation, prayer, consuming pure foods and spirituality. Of course, it doesn’t work if you are sinful. Do I have that right?

        • “cult accoutrements: Rolls Royces, virgins, white clothes, a history of dooms day predictions, and a weird Ron Hubbard type founder”: Sounds like all religions.

          Five year study to determine effects of meditation on soil: sounds like science.

    • So true! I was in a meditation / dharma class once, about 10 years ago, and we were discussing taking the lives of sentient beings. I brought up the issue of my hyper-sensitivity to wasp stings, and that I do remove (kill) yellow jacket nests. One of the people in the class, who obviously thought she was much more enlightened than I am (so?), said I should be “meditating and asking them to take their nests elsewhere.” Surprise, surprise; the nests remained. I sprayed them.

      I guess it didn’t work because I am sinful. (even though in Buddhism there is no concept of sin)

      I think local ag scientists in India need to be asking the agricultural minister “Hey, how’s that workin’ out fer ya?”

  6. This is a very bigoted article purporting to be scientific. Science is supposed to be open-minded so that we can experiment on new hypotheses, not sarcastic/mocking/arrogant. Good on this group for actually putting resources into trialling something that would probably never get funding from the mainstream.

    • Chandrika, science is based on evidence, logic, and experimentation through rigorous design. To the extent that yoga, meditation, and thoughts of peace have never been shown through rigorous double-blind studies to affect crop production, these practices should not be considered seriously. That’s why people stopped throwing virgins into volcanoes to guarantee a good crop. (They have stopped, haven’t they?) Although I don’t think it would be harmful if, in addition to good growing practices, farmers also meditated.

      • Actually science is based on testing hypotheses. If we mock people for having hypotheses that they then intend to put under a 5 year study to test, we are not doing science, we are displaying prejudice under the pretense of science. Science has shown that playing music affects plant growth. Time will tell if this testing yields any interesting results – neither you nor I know the future (do we?). I agree with you about the manner in which testing needs to take place, but that was not the point I was making.

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