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.