Aum Shinrikyo

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Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth)

Asahara Shoko assisted the realization of his doomsday prophecies by having his followers release sarin nerve gas in Tokyo subway stations.

In 1987 Asahara Shoko (born Chizuo Matsumoto) established Aum Shinrikyo, a cult with several hundred members. Shoko/Matsu moto claimed to have received enlightenment while he was alone in the Himalaya Mountains in India in 1986. He was given the holy new name of Asahara Shoko, a new religion to be called Aum (Sanskrit for the powers of destruction and creation) Shinrikyo (teaching of the supreme truth), and a mission to teach the truth about the creation and destruction of the universe. In addition, the good deeds of Aum would prevent the time of the Apocalypse. In 1989, after some resistance, the group was approved as a religious entity in Japan.

Asahara Shoko was deeply influenced by the book of Revelation in the Christian Bible, the prophecies of Nostradamus, Tibetan Buddhist teachings of transmigration, and various Hindu motifs and deities. Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, serves as the primary deity in Aum. Initially, Asahara taught his followers that they must strive to convert evil energy into positive energy. In order to avoid the mass destruction of nuclear war, thirty thousand disciples must achieve true liberation of spirit through his teachings.

Few outsiders understood that Asahara had a master plan to take over Japan and then the world. Aum created Shinrito (Supreme Truth Party), a new political party, and entered twenty-five candidates in the 1990 Japanese parliamentary election. Perhaps things might have been different if all twenty-five Shinrito candidates had not been defeated at the polls. Asahara now began to receive apocalyptic visions that emphasized the imminence of the end of the world. One of the most fearful messages from the spirit world stated that the United States would initiate Armageddon by starting World War III with Japan.

With such a cataclysm awaiting the world, Asahara told his followers that they must accelerate their schedule to seize control of Japan. One of the teachings in the Aum belief system held that believers might remove bad karma by enduring various kinds of suffering. Indeed, it seemed logical that nonbelievers might also be assisted in removing their bad karma if Aum should help them in their suffering—even in their death.

In 1994 Aum precipitated a number of mysterious chemical accidents in Japan. Clouds of sarin nerve gas killed seven people and injured hundreds of others in the Kita-Fukashi district of central Japan. On March 20, 1995, in the midst of morning rush hour in Tokyo, ten highly placed Aum disciples boarded five subway trains at different stations and, at a predetermined time, simultaneously released sarin, killing twelve persons and injuring up to six thousand. Placing the cult under close scrutiny, Tokyo police reported that between October 1988 and March 1995 Asahara may have ordered the murders of thirty-three Aum followers who disobeyed his commands or who wished to leave the cult. Japanese police arrested Asahara and 104 followers in May 1995.

The Japanese government revoked its recognition of the Aum as a religious organization in October 1995, but in 1997 a government panel decided not to invoke the nation’s Anti-Subversive Law against the group, which would have outlawed the cult. A 1999 law gave the government authorization to continue police surveillance of the group due to concerns that the Aum might launch future terrorist attacks. In July 2001, Russian authorities arrested a group of Russian Aum followers who had planned to set off bombs near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as part of an operation to free Asahara from jail and then smuggle him to Russia.

In January 2000, under the leadership of Fumihiro Joyu, Aum changed its name to Aleph (“to start anew”) and claimed to have rejected the violent and apocalyptic teachings of its founder. However, early in 2005, Japanese police raided four sites connected with the cult. Inside one, they found a Geiger counter and a partially constructed concrete bunker with two stories underground. Many nervous Japanese could not help wondering whether the site was meant to take over the complex of buildings near Mount Fuji, where Aum Shinrikyo once made sarin gas and tortured and incinerated errant members.