Aum Shinrikyo, translated as Aum Supreme Truth, is a Japanese religious movement founded in 1987 by Shoko Asahara. This religion, which reached a peak of about 40,000 members worldwide, was officially registered with the Japanese Government under the Religious Corporations Law ( shukyo hojin ho ) in August 1989. Aum Shinrikyo, which combines elements of Buddhism, Christianity, and a variety of Asian traditions, evolved into an apocalyptic movement. It is best known for its violent acts, including detaining, coercing, torturing, and killing people and, most notably, the development and use of weapons of mass destruction. Both CESNUR ( http://www.cesnur.org/testi/aum1.htm (http://www.cesnur.org/testi/aum1.htm)) and Apologetics Index ( http://www.gospelcom.net/apologeticsindex/a06.html (http://www.gospelcom.net/apologeticsindex/a06.html)) have pages listing the many articles dealing with this religious group and its activities.
Shoko Asahara, born in 1955 as Chizuo Matsumoto, was partially blind at birth. He attended a school for the blind from the age of five, and after graduating in 1977, he moved to Tokyo, where he failed to get into Tokyo University and turned to studying acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. He married in 1978, and, in the early 1980s, opened a folk medicine shop and established a school for yogis with his wife. During that time, he joined Agonshu, a "New New Religion" that stressed liberation from bad karma via mediation. In 1986, while alone in the Himalayan Mountains, he claims to have received enlightenment, and upon his return in 1987 changed his name from Chizo Matsumoto to the holy Asahara Shoko. This inspired him to organize his religion, which he named Aum Shinrikyo. The name of the religion includes the Hindu and Buddhist sacred syllable "Om," which, Asahara taught, refers to the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe. Shinrikyo is translated as "teaching of the supreme truth"; Aum Shinrikyo teaches the "supreme truth" about creation and destruction.
Aum Shinrikyo's fundamental religious claim is that it offers liberation from suffering and illness. "Full of Hindu motifs and practices, the primary deity in Aum is Shiva, the god of destruction. This deity embodies Aum's main focus: the creation and destruction of the universe. The Buddhist ideas incorporated include transmigration and rebirth, the world of suffering, and the goal of better rebirths and enlightenment through meditation. . . . He initially taught that members must work to transfer evil energy into positive energy and avoid mass destruction via nuclear war." "Asahara claimed he was the savior who would establish the perfect Shambhala kingdom on earth. The aim was to make Japan into Shambhala, and then to make the whole world into Shambhala. . . . In Asahara's 1987 book Initiation , he predicted that a nuclear war would occur between 1999 and 2003, but could be averted if Aum established centers overseas and gained 30,000 renunciants. . . . Even if Armageddon occurred, Aum devotees would be saved because they would have the ability to consciously abandon their physical bodies for existence in the astral world." With this theology, he began what was called the Lotus Village Plan, the building of small communes in order to be self-sufficient and rebuild civilization after Armageddon. "But Asahara's thought began to take a more pessimistic turn as he studied the New Testament Book of Revelation on which he produced two commentaries, Doomsday , 1989 and From Destruction to Emptiness: A Sequel to Doomsday , 1989. By 1990 the Lotus Villages needed to be equipped with shelter for protection from nuclear, chemical and bacterial weapons . . . In 1989 to 1990 his focus shifted to a catastrophic millennialism involving a pessimistic evaluation of society and unredeemable humanity, corresponding with Aum's increasing conflicts with the world outside its communes."
In 1990, Asahara and a number of other top-ranking members of the group announced their candidacies as Supreme Truth Party representatives for the House of Representatives. They believed they were serious contenders and were severely disillusioned when they lost. "The loss of the election combined with many negative news articles significantly affected the ideology of Aum Shinrikyo; they now viewed the world as persecuting them and no longer attempted to save the world, only Aum members. In addition, Aum members were being taught that enemies identified as the United States military, Freemasons, the Japanese government, and Jews were conspiring to destroy them. Asahara started preaching Armageddon by utilizing the predictions of Nostradamus, the New Testament book of Revelation, Hitler's statements about a thousand-year Reich and his own psychic powers." In 1992, he wrote The Ideal Society Shambhala , and, in 1993, he compiled a collection of his public talks entitled The Frightening Prophecies of Asahara Shoko .
In the years after founding the religion, Shoko Asahara claimed that he was a Buddha who possessed psychic powers, including the power to levitate and to soul-travel out of the body, and that he had an infallible power of prophecy. "In his book Initiation , 1987, Asahara claimed that shaktipat given by himself to the devotee was necessary to awaken the kundalini . In 1994, Aum scientists began producing drugs, LSD, sodium thiopental, mescaline, methamphetamine, and PCP, for use in religious initiations. Even those chemically induced mystical experiences were attributed by Aum believers to the Shakti, the spiritual power, energy of the guru." Members of Aum believed that their own enlightenment would come if they submitted to Asahara as the guru; in fact, they were encouraged to repeat 20 times a day, "I pledge faithfulness to Aum, the Guru and the God Shiva. Please lead me (name) quickly to enlightenment." Shoko Asahara not only identified himself as the Buddha of the current age and the reincarnation of the god Shiva, but, in 1992, he published a book entitled Declaring Myself the Christ , where he also claimed to be the lamb of God who absorbed the bad karma of his disciples even though it made him ill. "Asahara taught that people who rejected him as the guru were destined for rebirth in the lower realms of the animals, hungry ghosts, and the hells due to their bad karma. Acceptance of Asahara as the incarnation of Shiva, as the guru was necessary to attain good karma and salvation" "Asahara's role as the messiah was to enable persons to attain a superhuman condition. Aum Shinrikyo was an organization of superhumans, who would survive Armageddon and then establish Shambhala on earth, which would be a 1000 year kingdom."
Shinrinkyo rituals included the "initiation of blood," a secret Tantric rite where the blood of the Guru is taken into one's body; consequently, vials of Asahara's blood were sold so that devotees could absorb his special DNA by drinking his blood. Special caps called PSI, short for "perfect salvation initiation," were rented and worn by members to bring their thoughts into harmony with the Guru. Asahara insisted that his devotees practice an extreme form of asceticism or else they would not achieve salvation in the Shambhala millennial kingdom. His practice of asceticism included fasting or living on a meager diet, being lowered into scalding or near-freezing water, being hung upside down, or being given drugs such as LSD to stimulate altered consciousness. "Every member was encouraged to meditate and practice a variety of yogic disciplines, and the most committed disciples became shukkesha, renunciants. Becoming a renunciant meant cutting off all contact with one's family, turning over all property and assets to Aum, pledging devotion to Asahara, living communally and practicing rigorous asceticism. By these means, shukkesha believed they would develop superhuman powers of clairvoyance, levitation, and the ability to travel through the spiritual realms. The shukkesha aimed to become superhuman beings, the only ones who would not be destroyed in Armageddon"
Aum Shinrikyo reportedly was worth over a billion dollars from real estate, stocks, blood and headgear sales, and donations from members. Asahara also had a number of small businesses. Aum attracted highly educated young men and women who felt that Japanese society had become too commercialized. The men who became the Aum leaders were highly educated scientists who researched and developed a variety of weapons of mass destruction. There were also a significant number of female leaders involved in diverse fields such as medicine, nursing, and bookkeeping who oversaw the administration of the communes and the factory work. Asahara had sex with a number of Aum women with the intention of impregnating them and explained this by claiming that the guru knew how to catch the good souls floating in the air and bring them into physical incarnation. There is little information about the children except that they were generally neglected.
Members were convinced that society outside the Aum compound was under the influence of evil mind control and that Aum counteracted society's brainwashing with good mind control that taught supreme truth. Aum members would listen for hours to audiotaped affirmations that they should not doubt Aum because doubt is an illusion caused by earthly desire. Members were severed from contact with their families and the outside world, and systematically indoctrinated into worshipping Asahara with the use of standard mind control techniques, such as drugs, sleep and food deprivation, fear, physical beatings, isolation, and constant reinforcement of new beliefs. Once inducted into Aum Shinrikyo under orders of Shoko Asahara, members were prepared to destroy the world in order to recreate it.
The violence associated with Aum Shinrikyo ranged from the extreme ascetic practices of its members to murdering individuals and attempting to annihilate thousands of people. The following is a chronology of some of Aum Shinrikyo's acts of violence. In 1988, a member died while being subjected to cold water immersion. In 1989, several parents hired the Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, who represented the Aum Shinrikyo Victims Society, families of members in the group. He was interviewed in 1989 by the Tokyo Broadcasting System and revealed details of the group's illegal activities. The interview was never broadcast, because Tsutsumi, his wife, and their 14-month-old child were kidnapped and murdered in their Yokohama apartment by Aum members, who later confessed to the killings. In June 1993, Aum scientists tested their first weapon of mass destruction by using a fan on a rooftop of a Tokyo building to spray anthrax across the city. Birds, pets, and plants died, people got sick, and cars and clothing were stained. In June 1994, sarin gas was released by Aum devotees from a truck in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto, killing seven people and injuring 600.
In January 1994, two former members attempted to rescue one of their mothers who was still in the commune. They were captured and brought before Asahara and his wife; one was forced to murder the other and then report to family members outside the commune that everyone was fine. In September 1994, a lethal gas used in WWI was released into the apartment of a journalist who had written two anti-Aum books and critical articles; she was hospitalized but survived. In December, a Tokyo parking attendant who had provided shelter for five defectors was injected with VX nerve agent; he was hospitalized but survived. In December 1994, a man who was believed to be an undercover police agent was killed on the street when an Aum member injected him with VX nerve agent. In January 1995, the head of the Aum Shinrikyo Victims Society was sprayed with VX as he walked across a parking lot; he was in a coma for several weeks but recovered. In February 1995, a businessman who was hiding his sister after she defected was abducted from a Tokyo street and injected with sodium thiopental; he died during interrogation, and an industrial size microwave oven was used to incinerate his body. His sister had donated about $600,000 to Aum. Aum also ran a hospital in Tokyo where they treated dissenting and disruptive members by incarcerating and drugging them; this hospital had an unusually high death rate. Japanese police concluded that Aum members killed approximately 32 people between October 1988 and March 1995; at least eight died from ascetic practices and others were killed for wanting to defect.
On March 20, 1995, five members of Aum Shinrikyo boarded five subway cars at different stations in Tokyo. At 8:00 AM, they deposited plastic bags containing sarin gas on the floor, punctured the bags, and immediately disembarked. The fumes of the deadly nerve gas injured over 5,000 people and twelve people died. Two days later, a videotaped message from Shoko Asahara was broadcast in Japan that motivated members to further violent actions. On March 30, the head of the National Police was shot outside his residence as he left for work and seriously injured; two hours later, an anonymous call to the media warned that more police officers would be assassinated if the investigation was not stopped. Asahara predicted that on April 15, 1995, a huge catastrophe would occur in Tokyo; this prediction caused the closing of two shopping complexes, quieted the normally bustling Shinjuku station, and caused 20,000 police to be deployed. On May 5, an attempt to release hydrogen cyanide at Tokyo's busiest station failed when the device burst into flames. An intensive police hunt led to the arrest of over 200 Aum members, but Asahara remained at large until May 16, when he was found hiding at Aum headquarters. He was charged with murder in connection with the Tokyo subway gas attack, the Matsumoto gas release, the murders of the Sakamoto family and Kariya, and the production of illegal drugs. On the same day as his arrest, May 16, 1995, a letter bomb was sent by Aum devotees to the Tokyo governor's office that exploded in the hands of a secretary. This was attributed to the governor's announcement of his intention to revoke Aum Shinrikyo's status as a registered religion.
Shoko Asahara went to trial on 17 criminal charges in April 1996. In October 1998, an Aum member was sentenced to death for the murder of four people, and in September 1999 and June 2000, two other members were sentenced to death for releasing sarin gas in the subway. Many members were given long prison sentences. Asahara maintains his innocence, although many followers have confessed their involvement in these crimes and have claimed they acted under Asahara's direct orders. On June 22, 2001, Asahara's trial reached its 200 th hearing with no verdict in sight. In January 2000, the cult, still in existence, changed its name to Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, indicating a new beginning. Although the group has publicly renounced its founding leader Asahara, police have found instructions for making nerve gas in a member's car. Aum's every move is now being monitored by authorities under a new law, passed in December 1999, that allows police to conduct raids and demand information without a warrant. In the aftermath of September 11, the US government updated its list of foreign terrorist organizations on October 5, 2001 to include Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph. ( http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/rpt/fto/2001/index.cfm?docid=5258 (http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/rpt/fto/2001/index.cfm?docid=5258))