"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 1980s. Her clothing reflected her interfaith teaching.
Courtesy of the DiFiore Family
Ma Jaya celebrates her birthday in the late 1980s. Her clothing reflected her interfaith teaching.
Ma Jaya and her daughter, Molly, walk in procession toward a night prayer at Kashi Ashram.
Courtesy of the DiFiore Family
Ma Jaya and her daughter, Molly, 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
Larry Herrero
Larry Herrero

John Lennon (in part..): "Imagine there's no heaven....and no religion too...."

Michael Fiorellino
Michael Fiorellino

all religions started out as cults, so in my opinion all cults and religions are dangerous

Timothy Brenden Stout
Timothy Brenden Stout

Scouted the property to propose lighting for a wedding...thankful I did not get the job. Never been so creeped in all my life!

Lleo A Knight
Lleo A Knight

Ashrams ... people do not understand any way of life that isn't their own. I have no idea what was going on there, however these claims could be explained by people ignorant of the workings within the ashram

 
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