Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, spiritual teacher, AIDS activist, author and artist, was born Joyce Green in Brooklyn, New York, in 1940. She grew up in poverty in a Jewish family and claims that "the streets and boardwalk of Coney Island provided her with a depth of learning." From humble beginnings she has become the center of a wide religious following, an advocate for LGBT persons, and, not surprisingly, the subject of some controversy.
In 1972, married with three children, she was awakened to spirituality by an experience of Christ who told her to "teach all ways, for all ways are mine." Her spiritual journey led her to Swami Natyananda and then to her guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Ma Jaya began developing a spiritual practice rooted in Hindu philosophy and integrating other faith traditions. She became a master of Kundalini Yoga and created the path of Kali Yoga, the yoga of the Mother that accesses the energy of the Divine Mother. Her teachings focus on service to humanity, particularly to the suffering and the outcasts, as the path to spiritual fulfillment.
In 1976, Ma Jaya founded the Kashi Foundation and an ashram in Sebastian, Florida. Kashi later developed centers in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Santa Fe, Chicago, Atlanta, and London. In 1990, Ma Jaya created the River Fund, the service arm of Kashi, that ministers to persons with HIV/AIDS and service to poor children in South Africa, Uganda and Mexico.
Ma Jaya has been an advocate for gay and lesbian persons in her ministry. A number of LGBT persons have been drawn to Ma Jaya's ministry and formed a network called the Kashi Rainbow. In 1996, Ma Jaya established an order of sannyas (or swamis) at Kashi to carry on her teachings. She has broken new ground in ordaining women and openly gay persons as sannyas.
Ma Jaya has served on the board of and as a speaker for many AIDS organizations. She is also a trustee of the Parliament of World Religions. She has received numerous honors including: the Interparliamentary Paradigm of Peace Award (2004), International Hall of Honor at the Martin Luther King International Chapel (2003), and the United Foundations for AIDS Award (2002). She was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. board of Preachers at Morehouse College in 2002.
Ma Jaya was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on January 13, 2012 and her health declined rapidly. She died on Friday evening, April 14, 2012. Moments later, an unseasonable thunderstorm arrived over the area. "She took her last breath and then the thunderstorm happened," Anjani Cirillo, Kashi Ashram's director of community relations, said. "I always figure that Mother Nature has a few things to say." Cirillo also said: "She was a guru to some, a mother and teacher to many."
(This biographical statement taken largely from information on the web sites: www.kashi.org and www.riverfund-ny.org.)
Biography Date: August, 2005
Hindu | AIDS | Ally | Florida
“I met MA for the first time at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1993, where I also met, for the first time, my former partner, Nick, who was there because of his interest in all things in Eastern religion. Nick knew a lot about MA, but hadn’t met her before. Our “first date” was when we were invited to a darshan that night in MA’s hotel suite at the Parker House Hotel. I’d didn’t have a clue what a darshan was, but who better to introduce me than MA! Nick and I were sitting at her feet, and in her unique way and in her best Brooklyn accent she looked at us and said “So are you two lovers/” I looked at Nick and said, “well we’ve been life partners for the last 8 hours!”
I was at the Parliament in my capacity as director of the AIDS National Interfaith Network, but I really knew very little about true “interfaith” worlds or issues. MA and Kashi because my graduate course. I soon made my first trip to Kashi and had the honor of getting a tour of the community by MA herself, driving me around in a golf cart! Several more trips to Kashi, especially to be there for Saturday darsharns were all memorable events in my life.
One trip in particular was just a bit incredible. Since MA was then on the Parliament of the World’s Religions Council, she was invited to a three day planning session for the next Parliament meeting. She invited both me and Arlo Guthrie to go with her…our talks and the stories told were priceless!
One trip to Kashi included a visitation trip to AIDS hospices, nursing homes and hospitals with MA and a caravan of Kashi devotees. I had the distinct honor of traveling with her in her bus where we had the chance to have an incredible private darshan. When she walked off the bus that day she gave me my spiritual name: Ganesha.
I am very humbled that she reached out to me to help her with one of her dreams, that of creating housing for low income elderly. I was pleased to write the feasibility study for what is now By The River.
MA touched my life in so many ways, as she has done with thousands of others across the world. I offer these few memories in her honor , with profound respect and intense gratefulness for all she added to my life. “Always at her feet””
– as remembered by Ken South on February 20, 2013
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