"When I hear people saying we're a cult, I say, 'What is this crap?'" Cirillo added. "I don't get it. The allegations are a bunch of baloney."

They wouldn't disappear, however. In the early 1990s, reporters deluged the Kashi ranch like locusts. The Palm Beach Post published an article headlined "Guru Ma: Saintly or Sinister?"and People magazine described how Rosanne Henry had retrieved her 7-year-old daughter with an Indian River County court order and a five-member SWAT team in 1989.

After the child was returned to Henry's home, the girl believed Ma Jaya was God and prayed to her at the dinner table, according to a state health and rehabilitative services' psychological evaluation. (Retired detective Mary Shelly, who'd ordered the raid to remove the girl, declined to comment about Kashi beyond saying "These are some very vindictive individuals" when New Times visited her Vero Beach home.)

Ma Jaya celebrates her birthday in the late '80s. Her clothing reflected her interfaith teaching.
Courtesy of the DiFiore Family
Ma Jaya celebrates her birthday in the late '80s. Her clothing reflected her interfaith teaching.
Ma Jaya and her daughter walk in procession toward a night prayer at Kashi Ashram.
Courtesy of the DiFiore Family
Ma Jaya and her daughter walk in procession toward a night prayer at Kashi Ashram.

After Henry took back her daughter, Ma Jaya descended into apoplexy, Conti said. "She was completely outraged that the kid was taken from her," Conti testified in 2001. "She was trying to scheme all ways to try and steal her back."

In the following months, Henry said Kashi delivered stuffed animals and bicycles to her front stoop in Littleton, Colorado. Agents of Kashi Ashram stalked her child. "At one point," Rosanne Henry said in her 2001 deposition, "I had to decide if I was going to hire a bodyguard for my child."

But Cirillo instead claims that Rosanne Henry had planned on an abortion and that the guru had saved the child's life. "Henry didn't want to take responsibility; she gave up her child. When she wanted her back, all she had to do was make a phone call. But instead, what did she do? It couldn't have been so simple. How do they justify their lying?"

The constant discrepancies between stories illustrate a broader issue that's bedeviled reporters, police, and psychologists who have investigated the Sebastian ranch. Ma Jaya has never been accused or convicted of a crime, except for battery in 1982 for attacking an Albertson's clerk in Stuart. (She was put on probation for one year.) And as Cirillo points out, only disaffected followers have entered any complaints.

Indeed, Ma Jaya was also a person of indefatigable service. At the height of the AIDS scare, she championed gay rights. She pushed graphic pictures of AIDS victims at Pope John Paul II in 1993. Three years later, she delivered an impassioned plea for equality at the Washington Memorial. She cared for the sick and dying at local hospitals, and hundreds looked to her for support. "Ma really walked the walk," said Los Angeles documentarian Janice Engel, whom Ma Jaya taught for decades. "No matter if you were gay, straight, it didn't matter. She would love you no matter who you were."

But her own children wouldn't agree.


On May 31, 2004, Jimmy DiFiore decided to die. Ma Jaya's 43-year-old son stepped into the bathroom at his Staten Island apartment, put on an Elvis record, and unfurled a blanket. He analyzed his handsome and tanned face in the mirror, swallowed a powerful painkiller cocktail, and lay down. Unsheathing a blade, he cut into his left forearm from elbow to wrist and bled to death on the floor.

When the landlord discovered the body, black-and-white photographs of Jimmy and his mother were strewn throughout the house, even in the bathroom next to Jimmy. According to the state coroner's report, five drugs were found in his blood.

Of all the stories swirling around Ma Jaya and her Kashi ranch, perhaps the most tragic are those of her children. Jimmy was 14 when his mother left for Florida. He grew up street-tough, charismatic, and dirt-bike-obsessed, but there was a deep sadness behind his toothy smile. "He had so much going for him, but he was stuck," says his younger sister, Molly. "He couldn't get out of that time. He couldn't stop being 12."

When he was a teenager, his father, Sal, plunged Jimmy into boxing, where he took out his insecurities on lesser foes. Reared in a blue-collar home, he landed on a Coca-Cola delivery route after high school with his father, whose voice thickens when he remembers his son. The two were inseparable, and in August 1993, they even opened a father-son company called Alpine Vending.

But Jimmy kept Sal and his sister, Molly, who left the Kashi Ashram when she was 20, at a distance. Days would pass when he wouldn't leave his father's house, and depression swallowed him. He turned to painkillers, say those close to him. "Jimmy was always troubled," said his ex-wife, Rhonda. "He always had problems."

The most painful involved his relationship with his mother. Occasionally, Jimmy would be in the throes of conversation with family members when he'd fall quiet and look away. He'd glance up, brown eyes shiny, voice guttural. "Why did she leave us?" he'd say. "How could she just abandon us like that?"

"He talked about her all the time," his ex-wife said. "Every day."

His pain escalated as he disappeared into middle age, bounced among failed romances, and discerned disappointments both petty and profound. Sometimes he'd call his mom.

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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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