Hippies deluged their Brooklyn home, babbling about meditation and spirituality. "I couldn't believe it," DiFiore says. They fawned over his wife, wept in her presence, and did anything she asked. DiFiore discerned something dark in his spouse. "She controlled those people," he says. "They were all superrich kids who were dysfunctional, and they would go to her for guidance. Her norm was high upbeat, like: bom bom bom bom. Then she'd be mellow."

Even today, after decades of analyzing these chaotic months in 1973, he can't comprehend his wife's sudden transformation. Or what happened next.

One night, DiFiore heard a loud crash. He rushed downstairs and saw the future guru frantically careening about the house. She'd had a vision of Christ, she whispered. Wounds, she said, had appeared on her hands. "What are you talking about?" DiFiore remembers exclaiming.

Ma Jaya spoke with a heavy Brooklyn accent and often reminisced about her New York childhood.
PRNewsFoto/Kashi Ashram/Newscom
Ma Jaya spoke with a heavy Brooklyn accent and often reminisced about her New York childhood.

She showed him her pajamas. Red splotches blotted the fabric. "So I took the pajamas to a friend who owned a dry cleaner, and he said it was theatrical blood."

Word nonetheless rippled across the boroughs: There'd been a stigmata. Joyce Green DiFiore soon materialized in basements and parks across the city, delivering nightlong sermons. "I thought, 'Get skinny with Christ or fat without him,'" she later told the Palm Beach Post. "I lost 65 pounds on the Christ diet."

But Christ wouldn't be the only apparition. In the same year, she claimed she had visions of a deceased and bald Indian guru named Neem Ka'roli Baba, who endowed her with the name Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. Her following ballooned to include hundreds of inquisitive college-aged kids mostly convinced Christ had plucked this Jewish housewife from poverty to teach "all ways to God."

In 1975, Ma Jaya left her two oldest children, Jimmy and Denise, and her husband, who filed for divorce a year afterward. Jimmy was especially wrought up over the abandonment, his family said. Those feelings would be with him the rest of his life.

The guru, however, held onto her youngest, Molly. (At the daughter's request, New Times has changed her name.) In 1976, Ma Jaya and her flock fled New York for a sprawling plot of grass and creek in Indian River County, in Central Florida. In one of the most Christian areas in the state — where steeples dominate most horizons — the nascent community built Buddhist and Hindu temples and followed an ascetic existence of celibacy and vegetarianism.

Hidden behind thick foliage, they locked out the world. "This was about finding a way to God," remembers one longtime resident who'd traveled from California. Hundreds of others arrived, bedraggled from the road, and there was Ma — grinning and bejeweled. She hugged them. She called them child. Together, they promised to serve humanity. And in the name of spirituality, Ma Jaya bestowed them with Hindi names and forbade recreational sex, according to interviews with eight former residents.

Without warning, she ordered marriages between devotees who barely knew each other. "Ma married Chandra and Madhava on the spur of the moment last Sunday," one follower named Lyn Deadmore scribbled in her journal on June 5, 1981. "They seem really happy about it." Weeks afterward, on June 22, Deadmore wrote in her diary: "She doesn't care how happy she makes us or how miserable she makes us." In an interview, Deadmore said members abetted her whims because they considered Ma Jaya to be divine.

(Anjani Cirillo, spokesperson for Kashi Ashram, denies that Ma Jaya arranged marriages or that Kashi members worshiped her. "I never heard anything like that," she said. "People married when people wanted. No forced marriages ever happened.")

Whether she was deified or not, every person interviewed for this article agreed that Ma Jaya's charisma was almost preternatural. "When you were around her, it felt like being stoned," Deadmore recalled. "The energy that surrounded her made you feel that way." This, however, is where consensus regarding the guru stops.

Indeed, an examination of court records and in-depth interviews reveals just one theme: obsession. Along the serpentine Sebastian River, Ma Jaya spurred powerful emotion at both extremes. Followers either loved her with such abandon that they couldn't discern a fault. Or they came to hate her so much that it consumed them.

Those who condemn Ma Jaya emerged in a vicious 2001 divorce between former Kashi resident Richard Rosenkranz and his wife, Gina, who remains in the ashram. In court filings, several ex-church members remembered scenarios they say constitute mind control. One afternoon in the early 1980s, Richard Rosenkranz dipped his entire head into a vat of red paint. "When asked what had happened, he answered that he'd gotten the message from Ma," onetime resident Helene Rousseau recalled in a sworn statement.

Or they recalled Ma Jaya's sudden fixation on children after she had several miscarriages with her new husband, Soo Se Cho. Rosanne Henry is a former Ashram resident who's now a psychologist in Littleton, Colorado. "My husband and I wanted to have a child in 1981," she remembered in a deposition logged in the Rosenkranz divorce case. "But we had to ask permission."

Before she entered labor on October 21, 1981, Henry says she dyed her blond hair raven to impersonate Ma Jaya. She even signed the guru's name on her daughter's birth certificate. Then, after she was wheeled out of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami carrying her newborn, she spotted a van full of Kashi followers. Without hesitation, she handed over her daughter, who was secreted back to the ranch. (Henry testified to all this in court, adding she did this because she believed Ma Jaya to be the "Divine Mother.")

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9 comments
gr8life05
gr8life05

Terrence McCoy hit the nail on the head.  I lived in Vero Beach next to Sebastian for 25 years.  I have friends who left the ashram and friends who still reside there.  This is a tragic tale of a woman who ultimately let spiritual pride overcome the goodness she achieved.  I will never forget the abuse she doled out to a shaven head follower in my presence at my one and only visit to her Sunday "open" service.  After a lengthy waiting period, Ma was escorted into the service hall by her robed and shaven followers.  She was seated, then exclaimed, "Oh, I see there are visitors, I must be on my best behavior!"  Hardly.  After her less than inspiring monologue (nothing new or profound was shared), she asked for a two year old to be seated on her lap, and the child proceeded to perform as toddlers do, disregarding hierarchy, seeking entertainment, completely dissatisfied with the selection of toys presented by Ma.  Ma took her wrath out on the closest follower to her by hurling the toys directly at the shaven follower and stating her displeasure at the followers lack of ability to produce adequate goods for the child!  The female.shaven follower cringed and cowered in response, it was horrific.  Ma then, unapologetic, continued with her monologue, in which she referenced the death of her son, and in that moment I felt compassion for her, as a mother to a mother.  I learned soon after that her son's death was by suicide.  Then, following her death, to have her daughter come forth with rape accusations, more horror, more tragedy... There are many lovely people who have left the Kashi Ranch (for good reason), and also some who have stayed.  Hopefully the legacy of Ma/Joyce's good works will live on, and the trauma she created and perpetuated will be forgiven and laid to final rest.  God bless her surviving children.   

nepafollies
nepafollies

I was assigned by a newspaper I worked for in Vero Beach Florida to write a piece on Ma Jaya and Kashi in 2004. Ma was an inviting, loving, funny, bright, petite woman who welcomed me and my photographer with open arms. (My photographer, Cliff Partlow, was a no-nonsense man who was a walking history book of the area, and he had no problems with or reservations about Ma) I was instantly comfortable with her. I am also a native New Yorker (Long Island) and I noticed no overly thick Brooklyn accent, although she did sound like a fellow New Yorker. (It sounds to me as though the writer has some sort of prejudice against those with thick accents) Ma was involved directly with caring for cancer patients, AIDS patients, and loved and nurtured those from all walks of life. The Ashram was not hidden. It was a lovely, serene place where likenesses of deities from many religions (including the Virgin Mary and Jesus) were present around a body of water that was originated with water from the Ganges River in India. The ashes of those who Ma cared for, many AIDS patients, rested in Ma's Ganges, where she now rests. Many of the town officials in Sebastian were friendly with Ma, as she was a community-minded woman. Before her death, she was intent upon building senior housing on the Kashi property, to serve independent seniors to those who needed constant care. She had the city of Sebastian's support. I met Anjani Cirillo, who was kind but business-like, and also a familiar figure in Sebastian among the community and the city council. I met young couples who were very much in love, and one couple who was pregnant. The pregnant young woman's mother (not a kashi follower) was welcome at the Ashram and was present at the birth. The parents named the baby boy Emanuel, and Ma did give the baby a Hindu name, as all of her followers were given Hindu names, not unlike Catholic popes, nuns and brothers who take saint names. I attended Ma's birthday and had a blast. No alcohol or drugs, but lots of fun and friendship and celebration into the night. The Kashi followers were normal people who believed in their religion and philosophy. They were not empty-headed cult followers. They planned projects to enhance the community and participated in the community's (Sebastian city) every day life. They once had a school on the Ashram that was well-known and approved of in the area.  Council people and non-Kashi friends of Ma's were at her birthday celebration and welcome at the Ashram. I attended Darshan and yes, the young people and some of the older ones swayed to the music and the words. I suppose the writer has never been to a Baptist Church during a service or to a charismatic Catholic or Christian service; all involve swaying and verbalizing (humming, singing, chanting) along with the words and the music.I attended yoga classes and was never a member. My children had recently lost their father, and I had a 7-year-old son and teenage daughters, and no one at Kashi ever suggested that my children become members, although the primary friend I made at Kashi did, as any friend would, ask how my children and I were doing when we would meet socially for lunch outside of Kashi. Kashi members were in touch with their non-Kashi family members, and were able to get on a plane and visit relatives or friends or take trips. Ma accepted, loved and nurtured gay people, sick people, and all people. I felt wonderful when I was at Kashi, and after leaving Florida, I always wished to g back and see Ma and my friends there, Anjani and Sita Ganga, once more. Unfortunately, that never occurred. I believe that when a person rises from poverty to become a leader and a caregiver, many people become jealous. Any Mother who leaves her children is ridiculed, but our society accepts fathers leaving their families. No one is perfect, and Ma did have a dry sense of humor that could easily be misunderstood by a person without a similarly dry sense of humor (regarding saying she was God, etc.) Her words can be taken out of context and twisted to accommodate an attack, as can anyone's words.  I have a very good sense of people. I always have, and I do not believe that Ma was cruel or vindictive. I  contacted Kashi (as a news reporter) when her son chose to end his life, and they were open and honest regarding that tragedy. I can only say, in closing, that the world would be a better place if there were more people like Ma, Anjani, Sita and those at Kashi Ashram. Folksinger Arlo Guthrie, who followed Ma Jaya's teachings for decades, mourned her without reservation. A quote about Ma from Arlo Guthrie: "I've met a lot of people that were very important," he told reporters. "But I can honestly say no one I ever met in my entire life was as funny and as sincere and as courageous and as unapologetic as she was."

God and the Mother Bless Ma and us all. Namaste.

nepafollies
nepafollies

I was assigned by a newspaper I worked for in Vero Beach Florida to write a piece on Ma Jaya and Kashi in 2004. Ma was an inviting, loving, funny, bright, petite woman who welcomed me and my photographer with open arms. (My photographer, Cliff Partlow, was a no-nonsense man who was a walking history book of the area, and he had no problems with or reservations about Ma) I was instantly comfortable with her. I am also a native New Yorker (Long Island) and I noticed no overly thick Brooklyn accent, although she did sound like a fellow New Yorker. (It sounds to me as though the writer has some sort of prejudice against those with thick accents) Ma was involved directly with caring for cancer patients, AIDS patients, and loved and nurtured those from all walks of life. The Ashram was not hidden. It was a lovely, serene place where likenesses of deities from many religions (including the Virgin Mary and Jesus) were present around a body of water that was originated with water from the Ganges River in India. The ashes of those who Ma cared for, many AIDS patients, rested in Ma's Ganges, where she now rests. Many of the town officials in Sebastian were friendly with Ma, as she was a community-minded woman. Before her death, she was intent upon building senior housing on the Kashi property, to serve independent seniors to those who needed constant care. She had the city of Sebastian's support. I met Anjani Cirillo, who was kind but business-like, and also a familiar figure in Sebastian among the community and the city council. I met young couples who were very much in love, and one couple who was pregnant. The pregnant young woman's mother (not a kashi follower) was welcome at the Ashram and was present at the birth. The parents named the baby boy Emanuel, and Ma did give the baby a Hindu name, as all of her followers were given Hindu names, not unlike Catholic popes, nuns and brothers who take saint names. I attended Ma's birthday and had a blast. No alcohol or drugs, but lots of fun and friendship and celebration into the night. The Kashi followers were normal people who believed in their religion and philosophy. They were not empty-headed cult followers. They planned projects to enhance the community and participated in the community's (Sebastian city) every day life. They once had a school on the Ashram that was well-known and approved of in the area.  Council people and non-Kashi friends of Ma's were at her birthday celebration and welcome at the Ashram. I attended Darshan and yes, the young people and some of the older ones swayed to the music and the words. I suppose the writer has never been to a Baptist Church during a service or to a charismatic Catholic or Christian service; all involve swaying and verbalizing (humming, singing, chanting) along with the words and the music.I attended yoga classes and was never a member. My children had recently lost their father, and I had a 7-year-old son and teenage daughters, and no one at Kashi ever suggested that my children become members, although the primary friend I made at Kashi did, as any friend would, ask how me and my children were doing when we would meet socially for lunch outside of Kashi. Kashi members were in touch with their non-Kashi family members, and were able to get on a plane and visit relatives or friends or take trips. Ma accepted, loved and nurtured gay people, sick people, and all people. I felt wonderful when I was at Kashi, and after leaving Florida, I always wished to g back and see Ma and my friends there, Anjani and Sita Ganga, once more. Unfortunately, that never occurred. I believe that when a person rises from poverty to become a leader and a caregiver, many people become jealous. Any Mother who leaves her children is ridiculed, but our society accepts fathers leaving their families. No one is perfect, and Ma did have a dry sense of humor that could easily be misunderstood by a person without a similarly dry sense of humor (regarding saying she was God, etc.) Her words can be taken out of context and twisted to accommodate an attack, as can anyone's words.  I have a very good sense of people. I always have, and I do not believe that Ma was cruel or vindictive. I was contact Kashi (as a news reporter) when her son chose to end his life, and they were open and honest regarding that tragedy. I can only say, in closing, that the world would be a better place if there were more people like Ma, Anjani, Sita and those at Kashi Ashram. Folksinger Arlo Guthrie, who followed Ma Jaya's teachings for decades, mourned her without reservation. A quote about Ma from Arlo Guthrie: "I've met a lot of people that were very important," he told reporters. "But I can honestly say no one I ever met in my entire life was as funny and as sincere and as courageous and as unapologetic as she was."

God and the Mother Bless Ma and us all. Namaste.

beingmenow_99
beingmenow_99

We're very proud to announce that Ma's book, The 11 Karmic Spaces, has been awarded a Gold Medal in the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards!


The book was entered in the New Age (Mind, Body, Spirit) category (scroll down to #59). Ma's daughter, Denise, will be receiving the award on her behalf at the award ceremony on May 29 in New York. See press release.

The 11 Karmic Spaces was published in November 2011, just five short months before Ma succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Ma continues to touch people's lives as more than 2,000 copies of the book have been sold to readers of all backgrounds and situations.

The 11 Karmic Spaces is available through all major booksellers on line, as well as in ebook format.

pavo1994
pavo1994

Great story. I'm amazed i never heard of her.

brokerverde
brokerverde

There's a word for this: "sickophant".


brokerverde
brokerverde

there's a word for this..."sickophant"     ;)

CheckpointCharlie73
CheckpointCharlie73

People that join cults get what they deserve. It is Darwin's Law of Evolution. 

 
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