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.)