In recent litigation involving Kashi Ashram and myself, Capt. Mary Hogan, head of criminal investigations for the Sheriff's Department, said emphatically she believes Kashi "is a cult." In her deposition, Hogan testified about ordering a SWAT team to rescue a child from Kashi in 1989, and when asked what kind of cult Kashi is, she talked about it having"destructive qualities." Russ Petersen, an attorney who's defended Ma Jaya, Kashi's leader, and her disciples six times in court, asked Hogan to back off her assessment, but she was steadfast.
Hogan's statement was encouraging; I'd been engaged in a running battle with Kashi for over a year - asking courts and media to use my divorce case as the lens to expose what I believe are abuses at Kashi. Like Capt. Hogan, I have no doubts Kashi is a cult and that Ma is a cult leader. The community fits classic cult definitions: a group led by a charismatic leader controlling most major decisions and behavior in the community.
In the 20 years I lived there, Ma insisted on being the final word on almost every decision: whether residents could visit their families, whether married couples could have a child; sometimes even whether residents could cut their hair. The only real question was whether Kashi is a benign, relatively harmless cult or a destructive one (where the manipulation often harms those under the cult leader's control). I agree with Hogan; regarding Kashi, the destructive qualities are clear.
Recently, I finally got the legal result I wanted: a divorce not only from my estranged wife, Ma's highest ranking female monk, from whom I'd been separated for nine years, but also from the cult and especially from Ma. The cult leader always insisted on being the center of every marriage at Kashi, describing herself as the apex of the marriage triangle; thankfully, that false link to me is cut, along with all the manipulation and coercive persuasion it allowed.
Now it's time to offer some perspective. During the dispute, I believe Ma and her assistants tried hard to intimidate me and my witnesses. At the same time, about 30 ex-Kashi residents live in this area, but in my opinion, essentially all are too scared to speak out publicly against Ma.
A few ex-cult members, living in other states, did come forward - despite warnings of retaliation. I believe the dispute put me in danger. A rock was thrown at my head - I believe by a Kashi representative - narrowly missing me while breaking my window, and I was closely tailgated for half an hour by Ma's bodyguard/enforcer. I reported both incidents to the Sheriff's Office; one deputy advised me to get a gun for protection.
I spent about $300,000 on legal and other fees, clearly a lot of money, but I don't regret the cost. I wanted to expose some of the darkness at the center of Kashi, abuses I learned about largely after leaving the cult. These include what, according to sworn statements, were brutal beatings of my son, who was raised by Ma Jaya, beatings which left him physically and emotionally scarred. I decided the cost didn't matter, that I needed to try awakening my son and others living there who are still victims of abuse.
Why did I settle just before the annulment trial was starting? Partly because Ma caved in on all my demands, giving me much more than I was likely to win in court.
My attorney, Noel Bobko, said it would cost me another $100,000 to go on in court, arguing I couldn't afford that with my medical diagnosis of having post polio syndrome. Bobko said I'd already gotten what I wanted - testimony about abuses at Kashi recorded in sworn depositions and sworn statements so the media and the state attorney could look at them, leading to possible further action.
Ma, I believe, was clearly scared about having to testify at trial, and also worried my witnesses would reveal ugly abuses at Kashi. That's why, in my opinion, she settled on terms substantially better than what I offered my ex-wife over a year ago, terms incredibly favorable to me.
While living at Kashi, I was trusting, naïve and duped. Although I was Kashi's media spokesperson, I wasn't in Ma's inner circle, and didn't know about abuses now reported in sworn statements: including child abuse; beatings of adults; secret rites of black magic by Ma and close disciples, directed against Ma's supposed enemies.
During the litigation, Kashi followed normal practices of distorting facts by saying it was just about a "secretary wanting a divorce" and that "Kashi wasn't involved." In reality, Kashi was deeply involved, denying charges of being a destructive cult; from our side, the divorce was the way to expose abuses at Kashi.
My ex-wife, whose cult name is Swami Krishnabai, was never a secretary. She's personal assistant to the cult leader, and also a willing participant in actions for which I hold the cult leader responsible. As for Kashi's denial of being involved in the litigation, Swami Krishnabai admitted in her deposition that Kashi paid advances to her lawyer, and that ten cult members loaned money to cover her legal expenses. This was the first time, I believe, Kashi ever helped pay legal expenses for a member.
Also, two cult members who are lawyers - John "Chandradas" Evans and Barbara "Gangajaya" Sedacka worked extensively on the case, donating their time at Ma Jaya's orders to protect her and the cult.
Hopefully the recent litigation will raise public awareness about the cult hiding in our county, while offering possibilities to police and the courts to take action if they think it's warranted.