28.0 The Accident Report Read “Act of God”

James with his fellow  members Russ, Jim, and Bruce in 1976.

James with his fellow members Russ, Jim, and Bruce in 1976.

by Elizabeth Stephens

Jim, one of James’ former District leaders called and asked him to be at a meeting where his presence would act as a show of support. This friend had worked for the Buddhist organization as a paid employee and knew what had transpired behind closed doors. Several youth division leaders walked into the North American Headquarters to confront the leadership. After the morning prayers (chanting) ended, the former employee stood up and started to ask questions about the organization’s finances.

These questions were not received well and several leaders started swearing, others interrupting and saying let him finish, words were exchanged and shouting ensued. The group Jim had led decided they were not getting anywhere and departed without any sense of satisfaction.

A short time later James received a call from the head of the organization department who happened to be one of his friends. He then suggested to James to tell the group to lay low and remain out of sight. When James asked why he was told that two other staff were overheard “Let’s get our 357 Magnum and blow these guys away.” They asked themselves, how could this happen in a nice peaceful Buddhist organization?

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Many years later James confronted one of the leaders and asked if he had made that threat and he confirmed that he had planned to do so, later his wife held a gun to his head and said he’d better get ahold of his anger or he’d find himself dead. He decided to take her advice.

At this time our little bouncing boy was six months old and an opportunity came up for James to go to Japan. There was also time for James to extend his plans to go to the head temple and speak directly with the priests. He was studying landscape architecture at UCLA extension and was able to tour with a study group from UCLA extension which would travel to various gardens and sites.

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James had planned after the tour to then travel on alone to the foot of Mt. Fuji to visit the main temple of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. This was a time that our Buddhist faith was being tested.

The group was on tour for about 12 days when they came to the castle at Himeji. If you have ever read the book or seen the movie Shogun, it was filmed on this site. The group arrived by train and James had finished playing with some local children a game, rock, paper, scissors. As he was about to get off the train a young man sitting some rows behind him handed him an origami paper bird and said in perfect English, “Beware of the winds of Himeji.” They exchanged business cards and in the next moment the bullet train sped away. James proceeded to take the castle tour then back to the train station. In the back of James’ mind he reflected on this warning.

During the tour there was a violent wind and the Jacaranda trees where blowing everywhere, but the time was relatively uneventful. As the group was preparing to re-board the rain, James was bending down to put something into his bag and someone yelled at him in Japanese. As he turned to look, a two hundred pound sign fell on his back and knocked him to the ground. The wind had come into the train station from the opening in the roof where the old steam engines let out the smoke. The sign had been tied down usually, but this time it was not, and even that weight was not a match for the winds. The officials did not want to cause a scene so they called for a taxi to take James to a hospital. The tour group went on and only one member from the tour stayed behind with James. Thank you Tori for your invaluable help.

It is a frightening thing being alone in a foreign county not speaking the language and being injured. James went into shock and was not thinking clearly. He was taken to two hospitals and then went on a train to rejoin the tour in the major city of Kyoto. As he was being accompanied by an official of the government owned transportation entity, they tried on several occasions to test him to see if he was faking and there was talk of a bribe. The American Consulate told James not to take any money; even if it was called a gift it would be taken as everything was now settled. So when the large envelope stuffed with money was pushed across the table, James pushed it back.

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Kyoto Hotel.

James called me and his first words were he was okay but…… He then proceeded to tell me of his ordeal. I also told him of the assassination attempt on President Reagan that had just happened as well. It was very uncomfortable being at home taking care of our new baby and having your husband injured in a foreign country. I felt very helpless and chanted a great deal.

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James had budgeted his money to make it stretch. At the close of the tour he would be staying at very small hotels and hostels to save money. After his injury he was taken to one of the most expensive hotels in Tokyo, the Keio Plaza and told not to worry about the bill.

As he was checking out they wanted him to pay the bill himself. This was one of many incidents that happened to James. He did not go on his pilgrimage to the head temple but came home in a wheel chair. To this day we are thankful that he can walk and yet he still experiences numbness and tingling.

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James, our son Eric, and I. Photo by Chris Casler.

We were glad to be back together, but this was just the beginning of an intensive search that would last for the next 3 years. This involved going to different workshops-Erhardt Seminar Training, Creative Personal Interaction, New Trust Network, Essential Experience with David Crump who worked with , Sexual Self Expression, Communication teams for Stewart Emery, visiting ashrams, hanging out at the Muktananda ashram in Santa Monica, designing a center for Rajneesh, Yoga at 3HO Happy Healthy Holy Yogi Bhajan’s Center, Insight Meditation, Rebirthing, crystals, astrology, charts, palm reading, spirit guides, a séance, New Age workshops, deep tissue work, acupuncture, and even Amway.

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29.0 Goal to be First Buddhist Amway Diamonds

by Elizabeth Stephens

James was a driven man trying to find the truth. Through his accident in Japan, we had met a friend of a tour member who had become the attorney who was handling our case against Japan National Railway. Tim asked if he and his wife could stop by one evening. Someone wanted to visit us? What a surprise! Fantastic. We loved company.

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Tim our sponsor, Dave and Jackie our downline, and James and I excited to be building our own business.

We were searching to expand our community and  for people who wanted to have deeper working relationships. Although the visit was fairly brief, we knew after a few minutes that it was strictly business and although cordial, we felt a bit uncomfortable and disappointed that it was not social. It was only to show the plan and we felt used, but we decided to join in the business as we felt it was an excellent opportunity. If you know anything about the process, sponsors look for people who are well networked and socially involved, in business terms you are a “bird dog” that may lead them to others who might also be interested in building a business. We were naturals because we were already highly trained as Buddhists and had no fear of talking to others. So, we had simply moved from being “evangelists” for Buddhism to “evangelists” for Amway.

However, there was a part of this business strategy that we were never very comfortable with. It was the part where you share the business plan; we thought it would be better to share our Buddhist faith. After all what was the most important to us was our faith not the money issue.  I remember sitting outside a Mercedes dealership, we were supposed to be dream building and yet we were talking about our faith.

During the meantime, our first daughter Sheila was born and we became a family of four. She was such a delight. I remember the extended family was so happy to have the first girl in thirty years. There was a joke that we had a baseball team of boys and now we have the first girl.

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Here we are dedicating our daughter to the Buddhist faith. Although we were surrounded by those who believed in God, we were still devoted to our Buddhist faith and consistently visualized being on stage as the First Buddhist Amway Diamonds.

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James, Eric, Sheila and I at Myohoji Temple in Etiwanda with the local Nichiren Shoshu Priest following a consecretion ceremony.

Early in 1984, our upline Diamond challenged his distribution network leaders to get serious about their businesses and show the Amway plan 90 times in 90 days. We believed that we were destined to be successful distributors and and would not have to worry about money again. That was a definite plus although we had never been driven by money and yet the thought of having enough without scrapping by month after month was appealing.

That summer, James and I had consistently shown the plan morning, noon, and night, including follow-ups where we picked up decision packs and hoped to sign others up as distributors. Los Angeles was in the midst of the Summer Olympics and some Olympic events were being held in Santa Monica.

James began to have terrifying dreams about blood running in sinks, spirits coming out of closets and was asking more and more questions at the Joint Headquarters for which he received no answers. Meetings were scheduled with visiting leaders from Japan which I also attended, but the high level leader dismissed me as a woman and acted in a very condescending manner to our honest questions, although we had been involved in building the movement in the US for nearly fourteen years, he had only been a member in Japan for about ten years. Cancelled meetings, threats, and then a general disinterest from those in the organization. We began to doubt the sincerity of the leaders. Were we merely pawns to them? What happened to humanistic Buddhism, world peace and human revolution?

At one time, James even sent a letter to all the Young Men’s Division who had signed a pledge that we’d help each other if any one of us ever though about going taiten (leaving the faith). Only one finally answered the letter, Dave M. It was as if the doors were closing left and right, but there was a big door about to open for us both.

After James’s accident in Japan, he’d left the design build firm he was working for in Pacific Palisades and got a job doing architectural blueprints in Santa Monica. Although he liked the owner, it was a humbling step down for him working in an ammonia laden room delivering blueprints to his peers. One day, a young female architect named Laurie came in to his shop and asked him, “Do you know of any Christian churches in the area?”

James responded, “No. I’m a Buddhist, but some of my Christian friends may know of one.”

About a week passed and Laurie returned to pick up another set of blueprints. She said to him, “I’ve got a something I want to give you. I’ll drop it off tomorrow.” As she was leaving she kindly said, “I’ve been praying for you.”

James was sincerely moved by her concern. The next morning when he opened up the shop, there was a package with a card on the back step. The card read, “Seek and Ye Shall Find, Knock and It Shall Be Opened to You.”  The two books were, Beyond Buddhism by J. Isamu Yamamoto and More Than A Carpenter by Josh MacDowell. He devoured them. He was challenged by the prophecies that had come true in Jesus’ lifetime. It was difficult to deny that He had been an historical figure.

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Another evening, he met Craig about 10 pm after one of his house meetings and asked him more about this Jesus. Craig invited him over to his house and shared with him for awhile and loaned a Bible to him and said, “Why don’t you go home tonight, get down on your knees at the foot of your bed and ask God to reveal Himself to you.”

Fair enough,” he responded. So that night when James came home he pulled out a Bible and started reading it. The passage that caught his attention was Second Peter 3:10 which says, “The Day of the LORD will come like a thief in which the heavens and earth will pass away in a roar and all the elements will be consumed in intense heat. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” He became increasingly troubled and asked himself, “What if I’m wrong? Although we as Buddhists believe in reincarnation, what if there is only one life and there is no exit from hell? What if the Christian hell is real? I’ll be lost forever.”

It was about day 76 when James made a decision to visit Clarence, a Nazarene pastor in his  Santa Monica Church office. His father Carlton had introduced him to him earlier and James had shared the Amway sales and marketing plan with him.

But that day was different. James was extremely exhausted and spent, but he was doing what he had to hoping that our fortune and karma would change. It was our worldview at that time.  However, during that meeting with the pastor James, who had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the lack of answers from fellow Buddhist leaders, asked Clarence a number of questions about this man, Jesus. After an hour with the Pastor, Clarence asked him if he would like to ask Jesus to be his Savior and to ask the Holy Spirit into his heart. James wrestled in his spirit.

He said, “I don’t want to invite a spirit into my heart, but then again, the Holy Spirit is God. God created me. Who better to give control of my life to, but God?” So, he’d come to the realization that Jesus was God and accepted the Lord, Jesus Christ as his Master and God. When he came home that afternoon he walked in the door and he said to me, “I’m no longer a Buddhist. I gave my heart to Jesus.”

I pondered what the ramifications of that statement were to be. We had a floor to ceiling altar, a three door model, with exotic carved wood scenes of cherry trees and dragons(Butsudan), which is a house for the scroll we prayed to. We’d paid over $7500 for it as we were going to pass it down through generations. We were serious about our commitment. We had led many people into Buddhism. James had converted over 54 people himself. We were senior leaders. In addition we both had special smaller scrolls (amamori gohonzons) that we carried on our persons that were only given to members with exceptional devotion and years of service. We’d even taken vows when we received them never to quit the practice of Buddhism.

James then said, “Pastor Crites and his wife would like to come over this evening. Do you mind?”

“Not at all.”  I liked company and did not mind.