"Jimmy," Ma Jaya told him when they spoke, Molly remembers, "you're my eyes. You're my life and soul."

But the whispers inside his head only grew louder.

"I can't imagine being a family member of Ma," says 20-year-old Ganga Devi Braun, who was born into the church and raised by Ma Jaya, whom she loved fiercely. "It would be such a terrible thing. You want your mom to be there. Ma had so much love and energy, but it wasn't focused on her children... It was hard for her family to understand the love she was giving to other people."

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.

The week before Jimmy slit his wrists, he was checked into a hospital in Staten Island, wracked with drug addiction and melancholy. Every night that week, he called Molly, who says she phoned their mother. "Jimmy needs help," Molly told her.

"You selfish bitch," she recalls Ma Jaya saying. "I have people dying of AIDS and a student dying of cancer on Kashi and have much more important things to worry about."

That weekend, Jimmy left the hospital and called Molly. "He only talked about our mom and how could she ignore us," his sister said.

After the suicide, Ma Jaya was shattered by grief. The morning of June 9, the guru wrote an email to her followers. "So many of you know how close Jimmy was to us, especially His Mommy. He proudly sat by His Mom watching Her take care of so many. All he had to say over and over is, 'I AM PROUD OF YOU MOMMY.' His last words to his Mom were THAT 'I LOVE YOU MORE THAN ANYONE MY MOMMY. I just want to sleep, Mom. I just want to sleep.' "

Jimmy's 13-year-old daughter, Alexa, discovered the note and was sickened with anger. The evening of June 12, she responded with an email. Her father, she wrote to the congregation, never said those last words. "I just want to show people what a terrible 'thing' Joyce is," Alexa typed. "What a bitch. This may be hard to hear or believe, but as long as you have lived on the ranch, you have been LIED to. My grandmother didn't care about my dad when he was alive, and she definitely doesn't now... My dad had a lot of mental problems, and Joyce just added to them. She helped to kill him."

Then the girl signed the note: "I have heard of many people Joyce brainwashed. One day, she will get caught, and I can't wait."


Weeks ago, the night of Ma Jaya's commemoration, the chanting spread like hayseed in wind. A mass of white-clad Kashi followers encircled a fire and a portrait of Ma Jaya beside an open-air Hindu temple. Chimes and drums pulsed. The blaze burned higher and higher. The droning built to crescendo. Individual consciousness evaporated.

From across the nation, more than 100 followers came to this recent anniversary of Ma Jaya's death. A billboard bearing the guru's countenance clung to the side of the ranch's main house. Her black eyes, crinkled with mischief, looked upon her monks below. They lay before her and, one by one, kissed the ground.

Then there came a Brooklyn twang. "And this dance between night and day goes on," Ma Jaya's recorded voice echoed across the pond and grass. "And this night I dedicate to all of humanity. Let the calmness come over you. The sweetness. Let joy of life embrace you. For this is Kashi."

Attendants wept with the memory: On a Friday night in April 2012, Ma Jaya died in her bed at age 71 of pancreatic cancer. She'd wanted to "leave her body" on the ranch and had forbidden any attempt at resuscitation.

After she died, scores of people streamed down the streets of tiny Sebastian. Folksinger Arlo Guthrie, who followed Ma Jaya's teachings for decades, mourned her without reservation. "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."

Actress Julia Roberts was next. She had discovered Ma Jaya while preparing for her role in the 2010 movie Eat, Pray, Love. "There are few people in one's life that create only the warmest and most powerfully positive impact imaginable," she emailed the memorial service. "She was one of those people to me and my family."

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles to the north, in a bedroom nestled inside a brick house in Bradford, Pennsylvania, Molly's iPhone chirped with a fresh message. "Yes, Molly, it's true," the message said. "At 9:49 p.m. last night."

Molly, then 44, with hair dyed blond, put down the phone and felt relief flecked with sadness. "I pushed the emotion way down inside," Molly says now. "And then my husband came home, and I lost it. I cried. A weight was lifted off of me... It was the happiest day of my life."

Later, she wept in bed beside her husband, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford. "I had memories of a man groping me," she recalled. "I said to my husband, 'I think something happened to me as a kid.' It was a picture show."

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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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