February 2010 Archives

Iceberg with a hole in the strait between Lang...

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Alandi's carbon emissions. Today I checked our household emissions on the EPA site. Since so much happens in our small space, I counted Sadananda and myself each as one person, the temple as one person, the Gurukula as one person and the clinic as one person, since each of those entities uses rooms, utilities, water and laundry.

The good news: 50,173 lbs of CO2 per year or 10,035 pounds of CO2 per year per household member was approximately half of what an average American emits. Our simple lifestyle does make a difference.

The bad news: It doesn't make enough difference. That puts us at five tons per person per year, very far from an optimal goal of one ton per year. According to the EPA website, if we buy one hundred percent green energy, we get to less than one ton per person.

Other changes we plan for this year:

·        Dry more of our laundry on racks/washing lines

·        Replace those last, lingering incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents

·        Look into retiring the landlady's old refrigerators and getting out own energy star refrigerators


Things we already do include turning the furnace all the way off at night, not using any form of air conditioning and having the sleep function enabled on the computer. And we use a carbon neutral server for our websites and email.

Best of all, walk, walk, walk! I do enjoy a pedestrian lifestyle.

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We just watched an excellent documentary on Al Jazeera English about the struggle of the Dongria Kond people  to save the Niyamgiri Hills, their sacred lands, from the improbably named Vedanta Mining Corporation's bauxite mine. After  the government of India's disgregard of the advice of its own  Central Empowered Committee (now Central Disempowered Committee) to halt this mining operation, the indigenous  Dongria people are all that stands between a fragile ecosystem and total devastation. After the Spirit of the Sacred Mountain appeared in dreams to numerous tribal members seeking their help, the Dongria are determined to sacrifice their lives to save their God. Please help their struggle by signing the petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/niyam/

Niyamgiri Hills
Bauxite Processing Factory on Dongria Lands

Petition text:

To: Indian Prime Minister and Indian National Congress Party Chief
Dr. Manmohan Singh
Hon. Prime Minister of India


Sonia Gandhi
Chairperson, United Progressive Alliance
and Indian National Congress Party Chief

We are writing to draw your urgent attention to a matter of grave concern for India and the world, and appealing to you to protect the lives, culture and place of worship of the Kondh Adivasis, and the rich biodiversity which has been conserved due to their beliefs.

Respected Sir and Madam,

The Supreme Court, after a case lasting over three years, is about to give clearance to Sterlite/Vedanta to mine bauxite on the summit of Niyamgiri in the state of Orissa based on the recommendation of the Ministry of Environment and Forests as well as Government of Orissa. If mining is permitted there, two of India's strongest Constitutional guarantees will be overturned: the right of a "primitive tribal group" to their territorial integrity and to decide on their own path of development (Schedule V of the Indian Constitution); and the right to religious practices and beliefs (Article 25 of the Constitution), since the summit of this mountain is sacred place of worship to the Dongria Kondh's supreme deity Niyam Raja.

Your intervention is required because the case has been marked by numerous legal irregularities, starting with the construction of Vedanta's refinery below the mountain without seeking forest clearance for mining it and against strong recommendations from the Central Empowered Committee (the Supreme Court's advisory body). The Court judgment dated 23rd November 2007 concedes that Vedanta is not a trustworthy company, due to its worldwide pattern of human rights and environmental abuses, outlined in a recent Norway Government report. It nevertheless invites Sterlite to form a 'Special Purpose Vehicle' to mine the mountain, despite Sterlite being Vedanta's 80\% owned subsidiary, mentioned for its malpractice throughout the Norway report.

No tribal development or afforestation package can address the loss.

For Dongria and other Konds, mining this mountain would be a sacrilege that no financial package can compensate. Just as it is unthinkable to shift Babri Masjid or Jagannath Temple of Puri, or to substitute the Temple Mount, Al-Aqsa Mosque or Church of Saint Sepulchar, so too the sacred sites of India's indigenous people cannot be moved or replaced. Niyamgiri is as integral to Kondh religion as any place of worship is to other religions. But this is a religion rooted in nature. The Konds understand better than any scientist that the mountain is the source of their life, and that if the sacred summit area they have protected is deforested and mined, their perennial streams will gradually dry up.

What makes this case very unusual, and unites conservationists and social activists in a determination to prevent mining, is that the forest which Dongria religion has conserved (covering 670-hectares known as Niyam Dongar) is one of Orissa's last core areas of unspoilt forest - and Sterlite has even described it as bare of forest! It is significant that a multi-dollar report commissioned from J P Morgan (dated November 2003 and instrumental in Vedanta's registration on the London Stock Exchange in December 2003), does not mention the mountain's importance for biodiversity and water, or the presence of the Dongria Konds in Niyamgiri.

Sums offered by the company for tribal development, wildlife management and compensatory afforestation cannot begin to make up for what would be lost. Dongria Kond culture is eminently sustainable, growing fruit, vegetables and millet on the hill slopes. Their name for themselves is Jarnia linking their identity with Niyamgiri's magnificent streams. Bauxite capping a mountain retains monsoon water, releasing it slowly throughout the year. When bauxite is mined, the mountain loses this capacity. When it is still covered in prime forest a unique source of fertility is lost (a fact distorted in company reports stating that mining would aid run-off!). Numerous economic arguments against the project involve the extremely low prices which India gets for bauxite compared to this permanent loss.

Large sums coming in to the area for 'development' would bring unprecedented corruption through contractor-based construction. This is not desired by the people themselves, who have already witnessed large scale corruption and pollution around Lanjigarh, the site of the Vedanta refinery. The kind of development they wish for is small-scale medical and educational services under their own control.

The climate change aspect is also significant. Even the local tribal people understand that if the mountain is mined and its forest cover removed, local rainfall will be greatly reduced, quite apart from the larger negative impact on climate.

We are convinced that a judgment in favour of mining in Niyamgiri would amount to:

1. Irreparable environmental harm and major violations of fundamental religious and cultural rights as guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution,

2. Serious violation of the new Forest Rights Act, which empowers tribal communities to conserve the forest they depend on,

3. Intentional manipulation of the Law to suit the interests of Sterlite and Vedanta at the cost of the environment and the lives of people,

4. Wiping out an indigenous tribe and its civilization.

Sir, you as the head of the Ministry of Environment and Forests can avert this situation by revoking the environmental and forest clearance granted to the project which is bad in law and seriously undermines good governance as well as the faith of the marginalized communities.

Thanking you.


The Undersigned

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It's been thirteen months since my father passed away and I feel that a certain period of the mourning process has been completed. I don't have flashbacks of his last moments on a daily basis any more.  After Shivaratri, we took down the altar commemorating him and created a simpler "ancestral guides and helpers" altar, which currently hosts Dad and Rajaram, our cat. Rajaram was in a very nice little frame which I got as a Christmas present from Kate (my sister) and Dad, meanwhile, just had a laminated photo. So we got a nice wooden frame and new photo for Dad and installed him properly on the new altar. He seemed to like that, as he appeared in a dream last night saying, "I'll always be your father and I'll always be there for you." Very comforting!


The Broken Photograph

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Dark lady, Great-great grandmother
Face lost in mystery
Only a fragment left to us
Your beautiful black hands.
Hands that received gold ring
From Shakespeare-loving Fabian George
Hands that rocked dusky baby girl Olivia
Hands that caressed ivory and ebony keys
Hands that guided pupils in arpeggios
Hands that patted smooth black hair of granddaughter Emily
And grieved her deafness
Hands that smoothed brows, darned socks, peeled apples
Hands crumbled to dust long since,
Reaching out from broken photograph.

Shaper of my sinews
Builder of my bones,
Fire of your sprit
Hidden in my cells
Kindled on what continent?
Do drums of Africa pulse beneath your skin?
Do rainforest dances quiver in your fingers?
Or did your great-great-grandmother pluck the vinar?

Dark lady of my dreams
Radiant black mother
Ancient grandmother
Half-glimpsed through smoky time
Headless goddess of the lightening bolt
Holder of the sword of wisdom
Take my small white hand in yours
Lead me from these fragments
To your mystery.

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Ma's New Year's Letter

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Dear Ones,

I am writing this from the snowy hills and moors of Wales, where I am with my family for the anniversary of my father's death. Every evening, Sadananda and I have been getting together with Mum to read poetry. In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by S.T. Coleridge, the mariner callously kills the albatross, the bird of hope.

And I had done an hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.

As a result of this cruelty, the ship and all on it face environmental catastrophe.

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon...

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
For many of us, the climate conference at Copenhagen may have seemed to kill or at least cripple our bird of hope, leaving us to face consequences every bit as severe as those described by Coleridge. We longed for, yet did not accomplish, an ambitious, fair and binding treaty. Where now? Perhaps the most important lesson from Copenhagen is that change comes from people, not from politicians. This New Year's letter comes to bring renewed hope in the form of an action plan going forward.
There are actions for us to take in each of the Four Worlds described in Kabbalah. In assiyah, the world of action, we can act individually and as communities to take our own carbon inventory and reduce our own emissions. There are many possible reductions in emissions that will benefit not only the planet but also our family budget, by lowering our utility bills. We can also limit our consumption of cheap plastic goods from China and plan our shopping to support local farmers and artisans as well as local businesses. We can walk, bus, bike or carpool to work. We can reduce our meat consumption or embrace a vegetarian lifestyle. And we can gain greater connection with the earth by growing our own vegetables. To estimate your emissions visit and find ways to reduce them visit http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx or http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ind_calculator.html .

The most ambitious version of this plan would be voluntary carbon rationing, which would enable us to demonstrate the feasibility of mandatory carbon rationing. If millions of us got together in a concerted effort, we could put this type of pilot project in place.
And there really are millions of us and we have shown our capacity for concerted action. This brings us to yetzirah, the world of feelings and connection. While the climate conference may have been a disappointment, the way the ordinary citizens of the world have come together to speak with one voice has been anything but disappointing--in fact it has been incredibly inspiring. I would like to commend to you two organizations, 350.org http://www.350.org , which organized a massive day of protest around the world on 24 October, bringing the world together to speak with one voice, as well as its partner organization, Avaaz http://www.avaaz.org/en/ , which organized a petition signed by 14 million people .The two organizations collaborated to create candlelight vigils around the world on 12 December as well as floods of phone calls, emails, fasts and rallies. If you care about the issue of climate change and haven't yet joined both these organizations, I encourage you to do so. Together, we can make a difference.
Also in yetzirah, the feeling world, we can connect with others through sharing our resources. None of us would sit down to a full dinner knowing that next door, our neighbour's children were starving...yet on a global level, that's what we do every day. To help redress the balance and provide climate change mitigation for the world's poorest, visit http://www.oxfam.org/ and pledge a monthly contribution. Oxfam is involved both in social justice and food security and also in climate advocacy, and is a strong voice for the environment as well as for those who suffer most from drought and floods.
Now we come to beriah, the conceptual world. Information is power, and where climate change is concerned, disinformation is rife. While here in the UK, Sadananda and I watched a fantastic three part BBC series, Climate Wars, by Dr. Iain Stewart, a geology professor at Plymouth University in the UK. I recommend this series for its support in untangling scientific information from polluter propaganda. Here's a You Tube link for watching the whole series in 18 ten minute segments. http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=7294A54B49823E65&search_query=climate+wars
Most important of all, now is the time for powerful and effective action in atziluth, the spiritual world. Greed and fear marred the Copenhagen talks. Are we really going to go down squabbling and take most other species with us in a 4-6'C temperature rise? The time has come for a global loving-kindness initiative on a massive scale. In tandem with the actions we have discussed in the other three worlds, this is a vital way to prepare for the next round of climate talks. We must match rising levels of greenhouse gases with rising levels of loving-kindness and compassion. Through a planet-wide initiative of this kind, we can activate the most positive aspects of our human potential. I am pleading for millions around the world to spend some time each day breathing in the phrase 'May I be happy' and breathing out 'May all beings be happy' or whatever is the equivalent wording within each person's faith view. In Sanskrit it is Lokah samasthah sukhino bhavantu. Only a treaty based on love and care for all Earth's inhabitants will meet the need for action that is truly just. In the Ancient Mariner's moment of spiritual awakening he declares,
O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare :
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware :
And this can't come from our leaders; it comes from us, from the love that millions of us generate in our hearts. In the concluding verses of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Wishing you a joyous New Year and a time of new beginnings,
With my love and blessings always,
Alakananda Ma
PS, please feel free to forward this!

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    This page is an archive of entries from February 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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