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GreenFriends Australia - National Newsletter, e-Mag
leaf Sacred Groves
leaf Seeing the world through the eyes of a Possum
leaf Nature- A gentle Mother is
leaf GreenFriends around the globe
leaf Recent GreenFriends Events
leaf Calendar and Contacts

Welcome to our latest edition of the
National GreenFriends Australia e-Mag

GreenFriends Australia

We begin this winter 2013 issue by exploring the tradition of Sacred Groves and follow this with a story about possums in Victoria. We continue with a nature poem and then take a look at the waste management program at Amma's Kerala headquarters. Finally, we will wrap up with details of upcoming GreenFriends events around Australia and contact details so you can get involved.

We hope everyone is managing to keep warm. Happy reading, take care and catch you again in the Spring. 

“The creation and the Creator are not two.” – Amma

GreenFriends Australia - living consciously
GreenFriends, the environmental wing of Embracing the World
(a worldwide collective of charitable organisations inspired by Mata Amritanandamayi Devi or Amma),  is a rapidly growing international movement to foster lifestyles that respect nature.  GreenFriends encourages us to reawaken our awareness of the unity between nature and humanity, and to cultivate love and reverence for Mother Nature.
living consciously project
GreenFriends Australia - ecology and Consciousness

Sacred Groves

Sacred groves comprise patches of forests or natural vegetation – from a few trees to forests of several acres – that are usually dedicated to local folk deities or tree spirits.  

While staying at a friend's property in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales recently, I was happy to find a circular planting of trees around an old large central Morton Bay Fig tree. The property owner had planted this patch of rainforest under the guidance of local experts about 15 years before. I found the space enchanting. It felt as if this circle of forest was home to some very happy forest spirits.  I was careful not to enter very often, just once in a while to meditate, however I felt drawn to be near the forest and used to circumambulate the area and chant mantras as I walked. The owner of the property planted this forest with the intention of it being a sacred place, to bring back and appease the nature spirits of the area and to give them a safe haven to abide.  I named this little bit of forest a 'sacred grove', never having heard of the phrase before.  However, on researching the words I found out about a tradition of sacred groves around the world and particularly in the state of Kerala, Southern India.                                                                                                                                   Salini Bedford

Traditionally a Sacred Grove is a place to deepen your relationship with Mother Earth and your personal spirituality. By coming to sit and spend time near/or in a sacred grove we can witness the ecosystem at work, the family—the birds, lizards, insects, the ponds, trees and plants. We can begin to experience the oneness of all creation.  Sacred Groves are a microcosm representative of the entire creation and in them we can find our true Mother, Mother Nature.  For some it is difficult to conceptualize Nature as our Mother, but through connecting with sacred groves it can become much easier. When we go near a sacred grove we should be peaceful and quiet—a silent witness to all we see. It should be like we are walking near a room where our grandmother is sleeping. We should be careful not to disturb anything. When we have this respectful attitude, the Mother will reveal Herself to us. 

In India, sacred groves are found all over the country and abundantly along the Western Ghats in the state of Kerala.  Although, there has been no comprehensive study on the sacred groves of the entire country, experts estimate the total number of sacred groves in India could be in the range of 100,000 – 150,000.  Kavus; (as they are called  in Kerala)are prevalent by other names throughout India—Dev in Madhya Pradesh, Devaraee in Maharashtra, Jogmaya in Rajasthan, Lakyntang in Meghalaya…and many other cultures in the East and the West, have similar traditions. For thousands of years, the kavus in Kerala have helped maintain the balance of the ecosystem.

Today many kavus are in danger and of course this is a tragedy, not only are kavus a means for people to worship Nature as a manifestation of the Divine, but also a means to protect biological resources, act as sanctuaries for flora and fauna (especially ayurvedic herbs), provide oxygen to surrounding area as well as provide deep groundwater reserves.  These spaces are protected by local communities because of their religious beliefs and traditional rituals that run through generations.

The degree of sanctity of the sacred forests varies from one grove to another. In some forests even the dry foliage and fallen fruits are not touched. In some traditions people believe that any kind of disturbance will offend the local deity, causing diseases, natural calamities or failure of crops. For example, the Garo and the Khasi tribes of north eastern India completely prohibit any human interference in the sacred groves. While in other groves, deadwood or dried leaves may be picked up, but the live tree or its branches are never cut. For example, the Gonds of central India prohibit the cutting of a tree but allow fallen parts to be used.

In ancient India, the planting and nurturing of trees in sacred groves was a highly evolved practice. Indian sacred groves are sometimes associated with temples / monasteries / shrines or with burial grounds (which is also the case in the Shinto and Ryukyuan religions in Japan).  Typically, such groves reflect with the concept of a "presiding deity (God)". While most of these sacred deities are associated with Hindu gods, sacred groves may have Islamic or Buddhist origins or even smaller local or folk religions and may be highly important in religious rites, festivals and recreation.

Ecological Significance of Sacred Groves in India

  • Conservation of biodiversity – The sacred groves are important repositories of floral and faunal diversity that have been conserved by local communities in a sustainable manner. They are often the last refuge of endemic species in the geographical region.
  • The groves are often associated with ponds, streams or springs, which help meet the water requirements of the local people.
  • Soil conservation - The vegetation cover of the sacred groves improves the soil stability of the area and also prevents soil erosion.

Threats to existing Sacred Groves in India
The threats vary from one region to the other and even from one grove to the other in a local area but the common threats identified are:

  • Disappearance of the traditional belief systems, which were fundamental to the concept of sacred groves. These systems and their rituals are often considered mere superstition.
  • Sacred groves in many parts of the country have been destroyed due to rapid urbanization and developmental interventions such as roads, railways tracks, dams including commercial forestry. Encroachment has led to the shrinkage of some of the largest groves in the country.
  • Many groves are suffering due to the transformation of the primitive forms of nature worship into formal temple worship.
  • Invasion by exotic weeds.
  • Pressures due to increasing livestock and fuel wood collection.

A GreenFriends program for the protection and propagation of sacred groves began in Kerala in 2004. GreenFriends have since held a number of seminars in various places throughout Kerala explaining the significance and importance of Sacred Groves. The people who attend these seminars are then entrusted with the job of further proliferating understanding regarding the value of the groves. They are also asked to draw up action plans for establishing more sacred groves in their areas. Another goal of the program is to catalogue the currently existing sacred groves in Kerala.  

How to Build a Sacred Grove
In essence, a sacred grove is a temple—a natural temple where the deity worshipped is the temple itself. Anyone can establish a sacred grove. It's a matter of setting off a wooded area with the intention that it not be trespassed upon, even by yourself. The sacred grove is like the sanctum sanctorum of a temple.  If necessary you may make some natural fencing around your grove by planting small shrubs etc. Ideally it will have a pond, but it is not absolutely necessary. You may inaugurate the sacred grove with a small prayer. Amma says that "It is only important that the words should come from your heart, as they are the language that Nature understands." 

GreenFriends Australia - Australian Rudraksha Tree
GreenFriends Australia - ecology and Consciousness

Seeing the world through the eyes of a Possum

Benita Davis

A few years ago my daughter found an abandoned juvenile ring tail possum in our back yard.  I am a cat lover, and although I have a large indoor cattery, I confess that sometimes they do escape and this was one of those times.  Within our suburban backyard, some local Possums had made their home at the top of a large Paper Bark Melaleuca tree. The possums had built what is called a 'dray', a large nest made out of twigs and leaves.  On this occasion, my cat Simbah scaled the tree, scared the mother and caused the baby to fall from the mother's back.  This was the beginning of a 6 month learning experience with the beautiful ring tailed possum. 

My mother has a wildlife shelter and permit for caring for orphaned and injured native wildlife, which happens to be very handy when you find wildlife that need help!  So, I rang my mother and she gave me all the advice I needed to deal with the immediate issue of caring for the possum.  Note: Under the laws that govern wildlife permits, permit holders are allowed to have foster carers, people without a licence who  can care for wildlife on a temporary basis under their supervision. If you find an orphaned or injured native wild animal, you should contact a wildlife rescue hotline or take to your local vet who will do the same.

PossumWhile we did attempt to return the baby to its mother, it was never retrieved.  Thereupon we placed the baby possum in a soft blanket in a carry cage with a hotty. This sufficed until we were able to set him up permanently on a specially designed heat pad with lactose free milk formula, water, honey, fruits and flowers from the garden.  

Wildlife carers advise that possum babies do better in pairs, so according to this, my mother soon rallied two more orphan babies from other carers.  These three baby possums, named Bushells, Sugar and Maple, were to be raised all together.

As the possums grew, a key daily task was to find blossoms and flowers they could eat from my backyard and the local neighborhood.  I found this to be quite challenging, which helped me to empathize with the local wildlife and their search for sustaining foods.   On researching possum friendly foods, I was surprised to find that there are many native plants and fruits that are suitable for possums as well as learning how many common plants are toxic to the native wildlife.  It occurred to me just how ignorant and blind we can be to what other animals share the land we live on, and the lack of sensitivity many of us have towards their needs.  

PossumRaising Bushells, Maple and Sugar helped me not only become a hunter and gatherer of the possum kind, but when it came time to release my three adorable friends, I was also acutely aware of all the dangers they face from predators and human invasion. Normally possums will be released in the location in which they were found.  However since all three had come from overly developed and highly populated suburban environments we decided to find a safer option and soon an ideal location came along. \

My father is a cattle farmer and member of the local Land Care group in Gippsland. Over the last ten years there have been up to 10,000 shrubs, grasses and trees planted on his 700 acre farm, generating a fully revegetated land teeming with biodiversity.  We decided this land was the perfect place to release our now grown possums as they would have ample water and a large array of plants and insects for survival. Another important consideration was that because this was still a young forest a local ring tail possum colony had not yet been established or overpopulated. 

The day to release the possums came.  We nailed a possum nest box onto a young tree near a small stream and gave them a few nights worth of food to get them settled.  We left all three possums there that night and returned every other day with food for the first few weeks.  After this point, we left the possums to fend for themselves.  Even 12 months later, 2 of the possums were still in the box (the male Bushells and one of the females) obviously a couple and capable of breeding.  We can only assume the other female went off in search of a mate as well.   

Embracing the World

Nature - the Gentlest Mother is
Emily Dickinson

Nature -- the Gentlest Mother is,
Impatient of no Child --
The feeblest -- or the waywardest --
Her Admonition mild --

In Forest -- and the Hill --
By Traveller -- be heard --
Restraining Rampant Squirrel --
Or too impetuous Bird --

  How fair Her Conversation --
A Summer Afternoon --
Her Household -- Her Assembly --
And when the Sun go down --

Her Voice among the Aisles
Incite the timid prayer
Of the minutest Cricket --
The most unworthy Flower --
    When all the Children sleep --
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light Her lamps --
Then bending from the Sky --

With infinite Affection --
And infiniter Care --
Her Golden finger on Her lip --
Wills Silence -- Everywhere --
GreenFriends across the globe

Waste Management at Amma's Amritapuri headquarters. Reduce, Reuse & Recycle

Greenfriends around the worldBack in 1999 recycling began at the Amritapuri Ashram in Kerala as a way to put into action Amma's teachings about our duty to lovingly serve nature. Rather than just throwing trash into landfill, proper sorting was started in order to make the waste useful again and save precious natural resources. The Ashram recycling program has grown and expanded dramatically over the years. Now more and more items are separated to maximize their recycled use and a detailed sorting guide makes it easy for the items to be reused.

The Recycling Centre is a source of inspiration and education to thousands of Ashram visitors from both East and West. The visitors see Amma's teachings being realized and are then inspired to do more recycling themselves.

Sorting is the heart of recycling. There are about six recycling stations placed around the Ashram. Stations are set up to be the first stage of sorting and here residents separate their rubbish into clearly signed bins for paper, recyclable items (hard plastic, glass, metal, etc), soft plastic, food waste and garden waste (leaves, sticks, coconut shells, etc).  With this system Ashram residents learn to sort their rubbish and be more aware of what they throw away.  For many of the local Indian devotees this is their first time experience of recycling. 

Once or twice a day the rubbish is collected and all waste is brought to the Recycling Centre for more detailed sorting. The Centre sits just outside of the main ashram gates on the foreshore. Two sorting tables make it easy and fast to do all the detailed separation. Volunteers gather around the tables and separate all the rubbish into bags. The sorting tables are also a place where volunteers trade stories and jokes during the sorting, thus building community spirit among people from all over the world. Amma's bhajans and chants play in the background accompanied by the sharing and laughter of the sorting team.  

Once the bags are filled, they are tied and properly labeled. On a regular basis the sorted and bagged waste is transported to the large Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) hospital which has a system for transferring the sorted items to organizations which recycle and reuse it. AIMS has its own large recycling centre. Some of the bags also go to Amrita Ettimadai University which sends it to other recyclers. Also, all usable items, which people donate to the ashram instead of throwing away, are cleaned, repaired, and eventually reused by someone else. In this way, less plastic or other waste materials are sent to landfill or burned, protecting the atmosphere from toxic fumes. Moreover, the amount of new raw materials produced is also reduced. 
Even though plastic, paper, glass, and metal can be recycled, this process uses quite a large amount of water and electricity. So if objects made from these materials are in good enough condition, it is even better to reuse them directly. This is Amma's way of recycling.

An Australian devotee who recently volunteered at the Ashram recycling centre reflected on her personal experience.

"This volunteer work provided powerful lessons on being thoughtful with what I choose to use in my daily life and helped me to recognise the journey objects go on after I discard them.  Many times these objects might be tossed into landfill, but at the Ashram, every effort is made to carefully extract the most value possible from this 'trash'. The process of meticulously sorting through the rubbish with my own hands became an incredibly humbling, purifying time as well as bringing a sense of joy for being part of such an inspiring project.  On reflection, I believe I experienced some of my most profound connections to Amma and Her wisdom while being with fellow volunteers, sorting trash and looking across the beach."

Sydney Eco Meditation
Recent GreenFriends Events in Australia
Photos from recent GreenFriends Events around Australia
Syndey Eco Meditations Eco Meditation in Sydney
Eco Meditation at Sydney's Centennial Parklands
Sydney GreenFriends Eco Meditation Photos at Centennial Park
GreenFriends Australia - Calendar and Contacts

Calendar of Upcoming Events

August 24th: « Eco Meditation in Sydney» Education Centre, Centennial Park, Sydney. 8am. For directions: www.ammaaustralia.org.au/GreenFriends/EcoMeditation/Eco-Meditation-Sydney-2012.pdf    Contact: gfsydney@ammaaustralia.org.au for more details 

Sept 28th: « Eco Meditation in Sydney» Education Centre, Centennial Park, Sydney. 8am. For directions: www.ammaaustralia.org.au/GreenFriends/EcoMeditation/Eco-Meditation-Sydney-2012.pdf    Contact: gfsydney@ammaaustralia.org.au for more details

Contacts - To find out more, receive local updates or get involved please contact your local GreenFriends coordinator.

National greenfriends@ammaaustralia.org.au  
Adelaide gfadelaide@ammaaustralia.org.au Abhiram Rob Molloy
Brisbane gfbrisbane@ammaaustralia.org.au Lalana Davidson and Gemma Waddington
Byron Bay gfbyronbay@ammaaustralia.org.au Salini Bedford
Melbourne gfmelbourne@ammaaustralia.org.au Benita Davis
Newcastle  gfnewcastle@ammaaustralia.org.au Anna Zerafa
Sunshine Coast gfsunshinecoast@ammaaustralia.org.au Sri Devi Woodhead
Sydney   gfsydney@ammaaustralia.org.au Thankam Rydstrand
Tasmania gftasmania@ammaaustralia.org.au  Greg and Libby Maulder

“When we see Mother Nature as the embodiment of God,
we will automatically serve and protect her.”

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