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SERVICE : The Heart of Life
an Interview with Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati

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Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati is an improbable Guru. Born into a poor Jewish family in Brooklyn, Ma Jaya was befriended at a very young age by the homeless living under the Coney Island boardwalk. Their friendship taught her "There are no throw-away people." That spirit of caring for others is the life force fueling Kashi Ashram, which she founded 27 years ago in Sebastian, Florida. The Ashram is not only a spiritual/educational center and intentional community; it is also the resting place for more than 1,000 souls who died in Ma Jaya's arms. Their ashes lie at the bottom of the Ganga, the sacred pond that serves as the throbbing heart of the Ashram. "They are not forgotten," says Ma, as she is lovingly called by her devotees all over the world. "In honor of them, we keep going. You have to keep going because you have to look in the mirror each day. 
 
Ma Jaya is a highly respected spiritual leader. She is a trustee in the Governing Council to the Parliament of the Worldıs Religions, and is the founder of World Tibet Day. Her work has been praised by the Dalai Lama and by Bishop Desmond Tutu. Kashi's website (
www.kashi.org) cites as its mission to "awaken a profound awareness about one's spiritual self and the issues that face the world today. We believe that an awakened soul is a catalyst that can change the world." These are not just words. Ma Jaya is changing the world. The Ashram's charitable activities (coordinated through its service organization, The River Fund) include The Feed Everyone Program, providing food, friendship and love to care center residents and people living with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. The Ashram also sponsors Mary's House, a foster care facility for children with chronic illnesses. Not content with taking care of the sick and poor in this country alone, Ma Jaya and her network of volunteers actively support an orphanage in Uganda. "I have 750 children in my orphanage in Uganda," Ma says proudly. "It is run by a magnificent priest, Father Centurio. This man literally takes abandoned children off the streets. There is so much horror there. There are starving people in America, but in Uganda, you have grandmas and you have grandchildren. The mothers and fathers are gone. A whole generation got wiped out because of AIDS or civil war. I had to do more than just watch it on TV and talk about it.
 
"There are many ways of serving," Ma continues. "You can serve in prayer, but how long can you keep your hands together? At some point, your hands have to touch someone because so many have a fevered head that needs the cool touch of one who serves." Ma believes that service is part of humanity's original nature. "The Great Force, the magnetic field that calls you to serve is not outside of you, but deep within your heart. It's a pattern that we take from lifetime to lifetime. When we donıt use it, it accumulates and it puts a lot of pressure on the human heart. It creates a feeling of emptiness. If you do not give to another human being, that which must be given away stagnates. The heart of life is that which one can give to another human being."

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"By giving to another human being, of yourself, certain vibrations inside you are released. You become the Great Mother because you are using that which must be used in honor of humanity. Service is not about religion. My God, itıs not even about spirituality. One and one is two. If the child is hungry, the mother feeds it. It's that simple. If the child is cold, the mother covers him or her. Male or female, when you serve, you become the mother."
 
Ma dismisses the idea that doing service or charitable work is consuming. "If you let service consume you, then you are the type of person who can let anything consume you. Genuine service does not consume; service gives. People come here from all over the world and ask why we don't burn out. The answer is simple. We drink as we pour; we pour as we drink. We keep moving the current of service (seva) through our own selves and bring it out into the world. Serving also brings great joy. But you don't think about that in the moment. In the moment, you don't think, 'Well, this is making me happy!' You think, 'I got a smile out of that kid. I got a twinkle in the eye of that child who is fighting AIDS or cancer.' And you say, 'Thank you God for letting me do this.' I wish there wasn't all this pain in the world, but each of us has the ability to make life a little bit better for someone else. You donıt have to do what I do. You know when you have a big heart, something must fill it up. Caring is so deep in your heart that it must come out. It can be anything. Giving compliments to people is a form of service. When I see a beautiful woman or a handsome man, I'll stop and tell them."
 
"Give away what you want the most for yourself," she advises. "When I go into hospitals or into a county home, the first thing I say to myself is, 'Okay, Ma, you're in that bed. What do you want in this moment?' Most people are afraid of the sick. Most people are afraid to touch a homeless person. You donıt have to, but thereıs never a reason not to smile. I learned that as a very young girl when my mom was dying in a charity ward in Coney Island Hospital. On her deathbed, my mom would tell me to go around the ward and make people laugh. I was 8 or 9 years old at the time, and I did what my mother told me. I ran around the ward and made everybody laugh. When I told her what I had done, she said, 'Who did you touch with your own hand?" I said, 'Nobody, Mom, nobody, but I made them all laugh.' She said, 'Now you go and you hug and you touch.' I said, 'But Mommy, they stink.' And my mom said, 'So do I.' That was my first lesson in total service and giving everything I have of myself. And I never tire. I cry a lot, but I never tire. 
 
"The Native American Indians do not have a word for me. They only have a word for we. The earth is in great need of mothering. All one has to do to become the mother is to recognize that we is more important than me. Women are coming to the forefront of the battle for humanity's needs, but this is the moment for all of us to remember that one does not have to have breasts filled with milk or a womb that was once full to be a mother; one only has to have a motherıs heart. When one embraces the spirit of the mother, then there is no difference between a man's heart and a woman's heart.
 
The earth needs nourishment. A feminine touch must be felt, or this great, great Mother Earth is doomed. All of us must share the responsibility of alleviating the abundance of suffering on this planet. Anybody can say let me get involved: I'll give a week, I'll give a day, I'll give an hour, or perhaps I'll just talk to somebody as a hotline volunteer. It's not about money, although money is desperately needed. As I said before, it's about what you are willing to give of yourself."
 
Although many spiritual teachers stress meditation and prayer as the key to awakening, Ma believes that the soul finds liberation through service. "My God, you talk about liberation! You're in prison if you donıt take care of another human being. How much time do we need to sit in prayer to take care of ourselves? I teach a sacred yoga that is going out all over the world called Kali Natha Yoga. It combines movement with prayer and worship. It allows for a feeling of health, vitality, and deep inner peace. But it comes right down to this: when there are people who are hurt and you are someone who is capable of stopping that hurt, you have to take responsibility. It's not that God doesn't answer prayers. She, the Mother looks down upon us all and says, 'Take care of my children.'"
 
To find out more about Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati and all of Kashi Ashram's charitable activities, visit
(
www.kashi.org) or call (772) 589-1403. Kashi offers workshops and retreats throughout the year. Classes in Kali Natha Yoga are held in Miami on the second Sunday of each month.

--Sorah Dubitsky is Miracle Journeys founder

This article previously published in MIRACLE JOURNEYS, January, 2004.



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His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama visited Florida International University on September 22, 2004, to give a lecture titled Compassion – The Source of Happiness. The FIU lecture was on the last day of his four-day visit to South Florida.

The Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, visited South Florida for the first time in April 1999, when he came to FIU to receive an honorary doctorate in divinity. He is the exiled leader of the Tibetan people and is recognized by them as the reincarnation of the Principle of Enlightened Compassion. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

“It’s a superb honor to have the Dalai Lama among us for the second time in only five years,” said FIU President Modesto A. Maidique. “He’s coming at a particularly sensitive time in our history as a nation, and I look forward to his message.”

President Maidique credits Religious Studies Chair Nathan Katz with having secured this second visit to South Florida. Katz, who has known the Dalai Lama since 1973, was instrumental in having him return for a longer visit that includes several public events and a lecture at the University of Miami. According to Katz, “The Dalai Lama is one of the most remarkable people in the world, and we are honored and thrilled that he has accepted our invitation for a return visit to FIU. This is a spectacular opportunity for our students to hear a voice of wisdom, compassion and peace. We are also delighted to be a sponsor of his public talk and teachings, which offer the public the opportunity to hear and learn from this great soul.”

Dr. Bruce Dunlap, FIU’s Dean of Arts and Sciences believes, “The Dalai Lama’s message of peace, compassion and tolerance is something we all need to hear, and something we need to teach our students. Therefore, we are encouraging instructors in our college to incorporate some of the Dalai Lama’s books or speeches into their course syllabi to maximize his impact. He is, arguably, the most respected religious leader in the world.”

Dunlap has designated FIU’s 2004-2005 academic year as The Year of Spirituality. He believes that the Dalai Lama’s message of spirituality is a “salutary counterbalance to a university’s emphasis on intellectual pursuits. To highlight the Dalai Lama’s message,” Dunlap explains, “I’ve asked Dr. Katz to arrange a series of lectures that will feature speakers from the major religious traditions, all of whom will bring their distinctive spiritual perspectives to FIU.” Among the speakers expected are Drs. Jerry Jampolsky and Diane Cirincione, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Prof. Hal French, Master Chufei Tasi, and Ma Jaya Bhagavati.

FIU’s spiritual leanings can also be seen in the plans to create a Center for the Study of Spirituality. Dr. Nathan Katz is the motivational force behind the center. Its purpose, according to Katz, is to:

1. Reach out to other disciplines, professions and colleges to integrate spiritual perspectives in the proposed College of Medicine, School of Nursing, College of Health and Urban Studies, College of Education, School of Music, Creative Writing Program, Gerontology Program, Department of Psychology, and other academic and professional units within the university.

2. Establish an undergraduate Certificate in Spirituality Studies for pre-med, pre-law, psychology, nursing, and students in relevant disciplines.

3. Establish a graduate Certificate in Spirituality Studies for students in various professional schools and programs.

4. Extend our outreach to other schools and institutions locally, nationally and internationally.

5. Support more faculty and student research and support more students, as well as establish professorships, in the broad field of traditional and applied spirituality.

Dr. Dunlap describes the Center for the Study of Spirituality as a unique venture that would bring “a perspective of spirituality to bear across the curriculum. The mission of the Center will be, first, to provide instruction in the world’s spiritual traditions, and, second, to apply the principles of spirituality to the professions and cognate disciplines. We hope to focus on both teaching and research.”

 

This article previously published in MIRACLE JOURNEYS, July 2004.





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The media has come under a lot of flack this past year for not scrutinizing the evidence that supported the Weapons of Mass Destruction allegations leading to the invasion of Iraq. The media has also come under attack by liberals complaining that it has a conservative slant and by conservatives who complained that it has a liberal slant.

Tom Fiedler, as the Executive Editor of The Miami Herald, is responsible for the daily news content of the entire paper. In his career at The Herald, he has held a variety of assignments including editor of the editorial pages, political editor and columnist, White House correspondent, and war correspondent during the Persian Gulf War. In 1988 he was awarded the Bronze Medallion by the Society of Professional Journalists "its highest honor" for his coverage of candidate Gary Hart's presidential campaign. He also shared a 1991 Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the political influence of an extremist group.

In the following interview, Fiedler discusses accountability for the misinformation reported in most newspapers throughout the country prior to the Iraq war. He also addresses The Herald's role in reflecting our area's diversity and the importance of its being a pivotal forum for the region's changing needs.

Question: There were a lot of complaints among my more liberal friends that The Herald was displaying a pro-right wing bias in its coverage of the elections. Do you think The Herald was biased in any way?

Fiedler: The Herald was absolutely not biased. We strive to be unbiased in political news coverage. You have to understand that there's a distinction between what is written in news columns vs. what's written by signature columnists on the editorial or opinion pages. I'm only talking about what is in the news columns. We are structured in such a way, to every extent that's humanly possible, to filter bias in news coverage along the way. I believe that, in the main, we've been quite successful.

Question: Is The Herald under pressure to bend to advertisers, especially large advertisers to slant news in a certain direction or to give an advertiser news space?

Fiedler: Those pressures are perennial. However, the newsroom never bends to that pressure, and I would underline that word! It is an article of faith with us. It is fundamental both to our success as a newspaper and to our success as a business operation that we not be influenced by advertisers. We would sooner offend an advertiser by telling an advertiser to take his or her money elsewhere, than to bend to their wishes. And that has happened, in many cases, with multi-million dollar contracts on the table. The reason it would be bad business for us to bend to the whims of an advertiser is that one of the main selling points our sales people have when they go to a potential advertiser is that the advertiser is not going to get special treatment in the news department -- but neither will anybody else, including their competitors. So to the extent that every advertiser knows they are all being treated the same, and that no one will have influence in the newspaper, we are successful. It is so ingrained in the newspaper's culture that advertising not influence the news columns, that someone would lose his or her job if they attempted to do that.

Question: On September 6, The Herald ran a great editorial by Edward Wasserman that accused the media of being cowards before the invasion of Iraq for a lack of scrutiny of the Bush administration's claims. Do you agree with Wasserman?

Fiedler: In retrospect, what Ed says is fair. I don't have an excuse, but there's an explanation. Don't confuse what's in the news columns from what's in the editorial pages. In the news columns, the reporters and columnists have to deal with what we know at the time, and we can only report what we know. It is not the place of news reporters to raise questions about whether something is the right thing to do or not. Those voices remain on the editorial page. If you look back and ask what did reporters know and what was the consensus of knowledge at the time -- because that's what we had to deal with -- I think the consensus was that we didn't know if there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We were in the same position as the rest of the country and the rest of the world. We were receiving information from Colin Powell and others saying that their intelligence showed there were clear examples of the presence of WMDs, primarily chemical and biological weapons that were being manufactured and stored and so forth. There was an absence of an ability to vet that claim. All we had at that point, on the news side, were comments from Saddam Hussein or his ambassadors saying that there were no WMDs. We also had the United Nations inspection teams running around, but they hadn't found anything other than those missiles, which was reported. So the media, at that particular time, was in the same position as everyone else. We carried the information that was presented and didn't get in the position to investigate that information for months.

Now on the editorial pages, if you go back, you will find there were a number of newspapers, including ours that were less than eager about the decision to go to war. A lot of newspapers said that the U.N. team needed to be given more time and more resources and that the case hadn't quite been made. But when the war began and American troops were put on the ground, I think that the feeling throughout most of the mainstream media and in the editorial columns was that once our troops were in harm's way, we had to put aside the question of whether it was the right thing to do or not and wait until the outcome to look back on it.

And that is really what has happened. The New York Times was rather interesting in their almost apologia saying that they made too much of what turned out to be the faulty intelligence of the WMDs, and underplayed the stories that were skeptical of that. I would say that in defense of our own newspaper, that Knight-Ridder's [The Herald's parent company] national security reporters were always skeptical of those claims, and we carried lots of stories claiming there were those who felt that this program wasn't what the Bush administration said it was going to be. So there wasn't a unanimous rush to war on the part of the news media.

News gatherers swim in the same ocean that the people we serve swim in. We make it our job to try to find out information and to pass it along. But we're, in many cases, not any more equipped to get behind the official claims than the average person is. If we pass on faulty claims, it's unfortunate, but we're victims like everyone else.

Question: You've been with The Herald for more than three decades. How has the South Florida area changed in that time?

Fiedler: A former congressman, Dante Fascell, who represented Miami in Washington between 1954 and his retirement in 1996, once made the statement that the only thing constant in Florida is change. And there is absolute truth to that. South Florida is a region that is constantly reinventing itself. A century ago, this was a place that depended primarily on agriculture and fishing. As it evolved throughout the early 20th century, it moved from local commerce to tourism to becoming a WWII training area. In the late 1940s and '50s, it became an entertainment center when Arthur Godfrey and Frank Sinatra and so many other stars came here. All of that fell into decline in the '60s and '70s when Miami Beach became essentially a slum. Now it has been reborn into a very international, very cosmopolitan area. At the same time, the demographic makeup of this community, beginning in 1960s with the Cuban exile experience, has gone through nothing short of a demographic revolution. We are now the largest Hispanic community in the U.S. That trend is clearly going to continue as we capitalize on being a gateway to Latin American and the Caribbean.

Question: All of South Florida's different ethnic groups must have different needs. How do you attempt to meet their needs?

Fiedler: They clearly do have different needs, even within the same group. For example, Broward County has the largest Black population in the State or Florida, and the State of Florida has the largest Black population of any state in the country (that's in total numbers, not percentages). Within our Black community there is quite a lot of diversity. You have the traditional African-American community who, in many cases, has some of the deepest roots in South Florida. Many of them came down and worked on the original railroad when Flagler extended it into Miami. They then stayed and worked on the railroad as Pullman car attendants, and so forth. More recently, you have the Haitian population and Spanish-speaking Blacks from the Caribbean and Panama and other places. So the Black community is anything other than monolithic.

The principle challenge we face, as a newspaper, is to try to reflect all this diversity. All we can do is attempt to communicate with these different groups so that anyone who picks up our paper would feel some sense of being connected to a larger community. To whatever extent possible, we want people to see their experiences reflected in the newspaper, so that they feel we are aware of them and interested in their lives.

Question: Is it possible to build bridges among the different groups?

Fiedler: It's essential that we do. We are one of the few institutions in South Florida that is capable of doing that. We are one of the few institutions that provides the ability for everyone to be touched. In a lot of ways, I think the newspaper provides that proverbial public square where people can express their concerns and perhaps learn of the concerns of others. That is at the heart of what we do as a newspaper to facilitate communication among the different cultures.

Question: What do you feel are South Floridians' major concerns right now?

Fiedler: First and foremost, they are concerned, in the main, about the same issues that all Americans, if not all sentient people, are concerned about -- which is the welfare of their children and their families, and security for themselves. As far as those issues about which people in South Florida are uniquely concerned, I would say that this is a community open to people who are like themselves and open to people who are different from themselves. If we are going to make our diversity into a virtue, we have to make sure that people who are different are comfortable here. I think that is something the people who are truly concerned about the long term health and success of this community would put in the center. When you have a welcoming, open, diverse culture, you become a place where people will want to come to live and do business. There's a book by an author named Richard Florida that talks about the importance of culture and lifestyle to attracting creative people. To the extent that we can support the assets that creative people enjoy taking part in, we will succeed. A good part of that is celebrating diversity, not just tolerating it.

To contact Tom Fiedler, e-mail tfiedler@herald.com.

This article previously published in MIRACLE JOURNEYS, November, 2004.


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