Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Power of Prayer...or at Least the Prayer People

"Excuse me," said the man. "Can you spare me a few minutes?"

The year was 1992, and I had just walked out of Tsuchiura Station when he'd approached me. Considering some of the experiences I've had in Tsuchiura, especially in the mob-infested area near the station, I'd normally consider bolting at such a request, but for some reason I didn't. Maybe it was just the vibes the guy was giving off.

"I'm not selling anything," he went on. "I'm not asking you for anything. If you don't mind, I just have one request." When I asked him what it was, he replied, "Please let me pray for you."

Ex-pats here in Japan tend to call them the "prayer people". They're generally members of the various sects of Nichiren Buddhism. They believe that they're helping the future of the country if not the world by purifying the public one at a time through prayer. They tend to go to crowded places such as train stations in order to find people to pray for. I'd already been approached a couple of times before but had declined the offer, using my being in a hurry as an excuse. This time, however, I wasn't in a hurry, and I guess I was just in that kind of mood.

"Alright," I said.

And so the guy prayed for me. He put his hands on my head, intoned his prayer, and then asked me to chant a short mantra. The whole thing lasted maybe two minutes, and it was utterly painless. However, something very freaky happened that has nagged me to this day:

As I said, the man put his hands on my head while he was praying. Both of his hands. I felt both of those hands on my head the whole time. However, during the course of the prayer, and especially while I was chanting the mantra, I swear to you on a stack of whatever holy books you may choose that I felt a second pair of hands on my shoulders.

Anyway, the prayer ended, the four hands were withdrawn from my person, and the man took his leave with a polite urging for me to pursue prayer and meditation for my own well being.

*** Cut to today ***

The woman who called my home phone last Sunday said that she was a former student of Ye Olde Academy. She gave her name and asked if I remembered her. When I said I wasn't sure (with some suspicion since she called me by a different name from the one my students have always used), she said she had something important to discuss and asked if I could come and meet her somewhere up in Mito immediately. I said that I couldn't (especially since Mito is a bit far), and her tone became more urgent as she asked if we could get together some time during the week. I suggested a possible time and place, and the plan was set. She called again two days later to reconfirm sounding even more urgent but still not really telling me what it was all about.

Our scheduled meeting was for this evening. I headed for the appointed place over in the city of Hokota feeling strangely calm though I really had no idea what I was getting into. I guess I figured that, as had been the case with similar meetings in the past, she either wanted me to translate something, give her information about traveling in the US, look at some pictures she'd taken in Oregon, let her practice her English a bit, or do some kind of job (which I would decline). When I arrived and found myself face to face with the person, however, I suddenly felt on my guard. I also started feeling very tongue-tied and strangely unable to meet her gaze.

Her face seemed only vaguely familiar at best, and she admitted that she'd never been in any of my classes (meaning either she'd graduated prior to 1999 or had entered the school from another junior high school. Everyone else from Ye Olde Academy has been in my class at least once). She spoke of several teachers that I know, however, and her personal favorite was one former English teacher who used to be one of my closest friends in the faculty. We went on to talk about both the past and the present at the Academy, finally getting to the Day of the Great Earthquake last March. It was then that the conversation took an abrupt that finally revealed the whole point of the meeting.

She told me that the Great Earthquake and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear accident were only the beginning, and that Japan was heading into an era of disaster that had been foretold centuries ago. Illustrating her points with a newspaper she took from her bag, she went on to explain that Japan had entered the period of doom because it had become too spiritually corrupt. The only way to avoid the catastrophe would be to purify the people and get them back on the true path. All of this had been prophesied by the famous Buddhist monk Nichiren long ago.

Basically, I was being shown the Buddhist equivalent of the Watchtower by the Buddhist equivalent of a Jehovah's Witness. As I've always done with such people, I listened patiently to what she had to say, letting her do what she felt was good and right at no cost to myself other than that of having something new to think about. Meanwhile, I kept my feelings guarded.

Then a second person arrived. The woman I'd been talking to said that she'd been a classmate (and she did look oddly familiar), but I was never told her name. (For those of you who understand what I mean, my first impression when I saw the newcomer was, 'Wow...she could pass for a Hergoth! She even has the pendant of a Kai-Tempu'era lay priestess!') The newcomer jumped right into the conversation and wasted no time getting into the religious theme, raising some very compelling points. She also had a curious habit of punctuating everything she said with a sort of hum.

It was then that my whole state of mind began to go out of control. A strange feeling of both warmth and dread washed through me, as if half of me longed to listen while the other half wanted to flee but couldn't. It was only with great force of will that I could make eye contact as we talked. And when I was finally asked the inevitable question about letting them show me how to be saved, I tried to decline, even politely tell them off as I'd done many times before, but first my mouth wouldn't open, and when it finally did, my voice wouldn't engage. Now starting to worry, I focused my full attention on the dish in front of me, isolated my thoughts, and with effort managed, "Thanks for giving me something important to think about, but I've been walking my own path seeking the truth on my own for many years and wish to continue doing so. I don't want any ties to any group." They seemed to understand, but the newcomer was ready for that. "All you need is for us to show you this once," she said. "Then the rest is entirely up to you. You have only to practice it yourself as you like. There will be no tie. You'll be doing a service not only to yourself, but to everybody, even your precious family. And it will change your life."

Man, did I feel tempted...even above and beyond my own better judgment! I may very well have agreed then and there if she hadn't added that final, decisive statement:

"There will be a cost, of course, but it's not much. Just 520 yen (about $6) for the first session."

That sank the ship. Again having to focus my mind in order to get my voice to obey, though with less effort this time, I replied, "You've given me something important to think about. But for now at least, that will be all."

Their disappointment was as tangible as if I'd felt it myself, but they gave me some literature to read and immediately excused themselves. Just before we parted, they used the Japanese greeting, "Mata," which literally means, "Again (i.e. "Till we meet again")." I had a feeling the story wouldn't be ending so easily. And tonight, at least, it didn't.

I was still in the grip of bizarre feelings as I made my way through Hokota toward home. The words they'd said, especially those of the newcomer, kept ringing through my mind, and I kept having a nagging feeling that maybe I'd done the wrong thing. I had an overwhelming temptation to turn around, go back, and tell them that I wanted to go through with it after all. But then, as if I'd crossed some invisible borderline or reached the range limit of someone's power, the feelings suddenly and abruptly vanished. It was literally as if someone had snapped his fingers and brought my mental state back under my own control. Then I felt confused, maybe even a little frightened, as I drove the last ten minutes home. I also couldn't help thinking about the hands I'd felt on my shoulders when that Nichiren "prayer person" had prayed over me almost twenty years before.

How can I explain this? Anyone who has read this blog for any real length of time will know that I've had some strange experiences in the past, ones that could possibly be called paranormal (though rational explanations are also possible, if a bit shaky). Is there really some hidden power behind the "prayer people"? Or am I to blame? Is it evidence of what those Wiccans and occult enthusiasts kept trying to tell me in my college days: that I'm attuned to, and therefore particularly sensitive to, that sort of thing? If so, then I really need to be careful. After all, they did say, "Again."



    some tip offs which relate to your experience:

    Intense Unrelenting Pressure
    They call repeatedly. Meet you on campus or outside your work. Trick you into coming for only an hour and then lead you into a long study, meeting or talk. They have to keep the pressure on, otherwise you might snap out of the mind control environment they are trying to immerse you in.

    Hyped meetings, get you to meetings rather than share with you.

    Experiential rather than logical.

    Asking for money for the next level.

    Cults can have any belief system. It doesn't matter what they believe, it is what they DO that makes them a cult.

    Some business models operate in the same way - I'm thinking of one very famous "multi-level marketing" scheme in particular with which I was involved for a time - there are many others.

    Critical thinking is your best defense.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 1:29 PM  

  • Are you talking about Amway?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 5:07 PM  

  • Such kind of “Prayer People” or Deceivers has happened often in Mainland China or in here in recently years. Thus, be careful!

    I heard a similar real story from my elder sister lives in PRC. An old man [60+ ages] was walking on the street one day and approached by a group of woman. They talked to him for a while, he unconsciously. lead them to his house took out a bank-book to the bank for withdraw money to that group of woman. [sigh!!!!].

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 5:11 PM  

  • They were pushing you to be in the moment where thought is easily influenced.

    Doubtful that they really understand this as they are using it as a technique to obtain things.

    Realize this and if or when you meet them again you will handle it fine.

    By Blogger ZombieBob, at 1:49 AM  

  • Yes, though there are many other businesses who use similar techniques to control their associates.

    What I saw was effective mind control even though I was aware of what was going on. As long as one holds on to the hope that some reward - material, emotional, or spiritual - was possible to attain, one will stay in.

    Mind control comes in many subtle forms and levels.

    I haven't run into any Soko Gakai types around here, but we do get various Christian cultists coming to our door.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 12:43 PM  

  • Panda-B
    I'm currently dealing with Amway, or I should say my wife is. One of our neighbors who is also a friend of the family became a salesperson a couple of years ago. Since then my wife has been buying certain products and also attending their sponsored cooking lessons. I and my FIL (who recently bought stock in Amway so as to check them out) gave my wife the low-down on how Amway tends to work (though I'm not sure in Japan's case; it tends to vary a bit in each country depending on the local laws), and my wife fully understands that. Thus far we've limited our association to the regular purchase of certain products we like plus a water purifier (which ranked highest in a comparative Consumer Report test, though it's questionable if it really merits its steep initial price). Still, the neighbor does keep trying to pressure us to buy more stuff, and I figure it's only a matter of time before she tries to pressure my wife to start selling stuff herself so she can get the (technically illegal) recruiting bonus and commission.

    I've never had Christian proselytizers come to my door here, though when I lived in Itako people from the nearby Baptist church often left leaflets in my box. I've been approached by Jehovah's Witnesses in places like the Peace Park in Hiroshima and on the bus to Tokyo (talk about a captive audience...). And of course, I've been approached by Buddhist "prayer people" at various train stations. This is the first time I've actually been called at home and invited by name to what turned out to be a conversion session, and I really have to wonder who gave them my home phone number, since they haven't been publicly available since 2001.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 5:58 PM  

  • Moody - Many Amway products are excellent. As long as you are a customer and don't become a distributor, you'll be fine.

    Kimie has a college chum who has been into the business side of it for a long time and she sends cards from time to time and at New Years to "stay in touch", but always with a mention of Amway and the suggestion that they get together to talk about it.

    It is really the various Amway distribution "families" who are organized as a cult in the US, not the corporation itself. (Not that the corporation does anything to discourage it.) Things may well be run differently in Japan - though the nature of the business lends itself to such tactics. The people who make money in that business are the ones higher up who sell books and motivational tapes to their 'downlines'. Almost no one makes significant money from selling the products themselves.

    We get Jehovah's Witnesses at the door, as there is a church just a few kilometers from us.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:37 AM  

  • Interesting about that prayer episode. I believe prayers are powerful when done right and by the right people. You must have been blessed.

    As for the other episode, you handled it very well, I must say.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 4:56 PM  

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