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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30.0 Christian Enlightenment

by Elizabeth Stephens

Pastor Clarence and his wife Judy who pastored the local Nazarene Church in Santa Monica stopped by later that day in the evening to speak to me about knowing Jesus. I had never heard the Gospel before. Yes, I had seen the Robe and the Ten Commandments and I at the time I wished I had a faith that I could believe in like that.

I had no idea that Jesus was behind that faith. When I would share my Buddhist faith sometimes I ran into Christians that would tell me that Jesus loves me and I would tell them, and Buddha loves you too. I did not know any better. Although I studied the sutras and letters from the Buddhist founder, I had never been faced with the truth and when I heard it that night, I gave my life to the Lord. I cried and knew this was right. We, James and myself came to know Jesus Christ on the same day, which unbeknownst to us at the time, is a very unusual occurrence.

The pastor left and there we were new creatures in Christ. There would be a reordering of our lives.  We were going to have to rethink many situations, thoughts, family, even our daily routines. Together we had over 30 years of Buddhist practice, associations, acquaintances and friends. What made things much more challenging is that we lived across the street from the North American Headquarters. The next day we gathered together all our items of faith and returned them across the street.

(Sometime within a few years of being hired at the phone company, that same building was purchased by the Buddhist organization that I belonged to. I went to so many meetings at this location.)

James dropped them off at the front desk, to a mutual friend named Ann at the front desk. James told her he was returning these items and she said they have to go back to the temple, she thought they were from some of our members. James said no, he was not playing by their rules anymore and with that he dropped off his cargo (the Gohonzons, and the small scrolls), turned and left the building. He then took our handcart, loaded our large butsudon (our tall three door Buddhist altar) onto it, and walked it across Wilshire Boulevard to Morning Sun, a Buddhist altar store owned by Archie, whose family had been in the Buddhist altar business for over 300 years in Japan. (Much later, it was purchased by a Buddhist named Tina).

James, our son Eric at the time and I in 1981. Photo by Chris Casler.

James, our son Eric at the time and I in 1981. Photo by Chris Casler.

Tina Turner in Life Magazine Article (she purchased our old butsudon).

Tina Turner in Life Magazine Article (she purchased our old butsudon).

Not one person knocked on our door and when most of our members found out, there was shock in the camp. In the Buddhist scripture there is a term about stepping over the bodies of the fallen ones that have left the faith. Thank you Lord Jesus for you will not leave us nor forsake us, ever.

What does a new creature in Christ feel like? I had to learn to stop rout chanting, for a parking place or while I was waiting. It was so strange to run into former friends as they were afraid of us and would be so nervous and uncomfortable. It was as if the truth might rub off on them so they had to get away as soon as possible.

Once I ran into an old friend, Valerie and she was happy to see me. She drove up with her kids in the car. She said her husband is not a member and does not like her to talk to members. I told her great as I was not a member anymore; she was mortified and quickly left.

As for the Jewish contingent of my family, they accepted us with open arms when we were Buddhists and now we got the cold shoulder when we became Christians. I had heard rumors that there were actual funerals held for Jews that became Christians, but up until this time I had not believed it. Now I was rethinking the situation. Since that time the communication has fallen off and no matter what we did or did not do, everything was looked down upon.