Aum Shinrikyo - Aleph

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What is Aum Shinrikyo?

Aum Shnrikyo is a religious sect founded by the 'Venerated Master,' Shoko Asahara (born Chizuo Matsumoto on March 2, 1955).

In 1984, the forerunner of Aum Shinrikyo, 'Aum Divine Wizard Association,' was established in Shibuya, Tokyo. Mr. Asahara is said to have attained final salvation in the Himalayas in 1986. In 1987, the samgha-system was introduced. In this, followers undergo religious training while living as a group. It was at this time that the headquarters of the group was transferred to Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

In 1989, the sect was recognized by the City of Tokyo as a religious corporation, and in 1990, Mr. Asahara and a number of other top ranking officials of the sect announced their candidacies as Supreme Truth Party representatives for the House of Representatives. (None of them won.)

The group reveres Shiva as their chief god, and is involved in ancient yoga, primitive Buddhism and Mahayanist Buddhist teachings. The group's ultimate aim is to 'save all living things from transmigration.' The group is often referred to as a new Buddhist sect, but it also claims to be an original religion based on Hinduism and created by Mr. Asahara.

Mr. Asahara has prophesied that because of increasing evil the world is heading for a catastrophe at the end of the century. He says that in 1999 a nuclear war will erupt that will cause the end of the world. In order to prevent this, 30-thousand people must attain salvation, since only by spiritual awakening will holy energy be created to avert the coming crisis.

Based on the four main areas of doctrine, meditation, religious austerity, and initiation, there are three training systems called the yoga tantric course, siddhi course, and the bodha course. Through salvation and enlightenment ultimate happiness can be obtained. Followers aiming for salvation renounce the world and donate their personal wealth to the sect.

'Aum Shinrikyo' Sarin Attack on Subway and the Role of 'Aum Shinrikyo', by Shoichi Okawa

Aum Chronology

February 1984: Shoko Asahara, who claims to have been spiritually awakened in the Himalayas, founds a small religious sect in Tokyo.

July 1987: Asahara renames the cult Aum Supreme Truth with headquarters at Fujinomiya in central Japan and in Tokyo.

November 1989: An anti-Aum lawyer, his wife and infant son disappear from their apartment in Yokohama west of Tokyo.

February 1990: Asahara and followers unsuccessfully run for office in parliamentary elections.

June 1994: The lethal Nazi-invented Sarin gas is released in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto at night, killing seven people.

March 1995: Cult members release Sarin gas in Tokyo subways during the morning rush hour, killing 12 people and injuring thousands of others in an attack that stuns the world.

April 1995: The cult's ''science and technology minister'' Hideo Murai dies after being stabbed several times in the stomach by a 29-year-old man before television cameras in front of the Tokyo headquarters.

May 1995: Police arrest Asahara in a secret room at the cult's sprawling commune in Kamikuishiki village at the foot of Mount Fuji.

April 1996: Asahara goes on trial on 17 criminal charges.

January 1997: The government's Public Security Commission decides not to outlaw the sect, saying there is insufficient reason to believe it is still a threat with only about 1,000 full and part-time members.

October 1998: A Japanese court sentences a founding member of Aum, Kazuaki Okazaki, to death by hanging for the murder of four people including the anti-sect lawyer.

September 1999: Tokyo District Court sentences senior cult member Masato Yokoyama to hang for spreading Sarin gas in Tokyo's subways in 1995, the first death penalty handed out for the outrage.

December 1999: Parliament passes legislation allowing police to conduct raids and demand information and financial data from the sect without the need for a warrant.

January 2000: The sect changes its name to ''Aleph'' as part of a facelift. It promises to reform the group by appointing former translator Tatsuko Muraoka as new cult representative.

January 2000: The Public Security Commission approves a crackdown on the cult amid fears it could strike again.

June 29, 2000: A Japanese court sentences Aum Supreme Truth cult's Yasuo Hayashi to death for unleashing Sarin gas in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack.

Key events for Japan's Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult, Yahoo/AFP, June 29, 2000

Jan. 2000: Name- and other changes

Faced with mounting government and police scrutiny, Aum Shinrikyo has recently distanced itself from its former leader, Chizuo Matsumoto (aka Shoko Asahara), admitting he may be directly responsible for the gas attacks and other crimes committed by the cult's members, changed its name to Aleph, and

announced other changes, including the demand that followers reapply for membership and sign declarations that they will obey the law.

Many observers view these moves with skepticism, noting that these changes come just before the government will decide wether Aum Shinriky should come under supervision in accordance with a law to regulate organizations that have committed mass murder.