movement’s “Supreme Leader.” Over the years, members have occupied any one of
seven ranks indicating varying stages of spiritual enlightenment. For practical
purposes, Aum was structured to mirror the framework of the Japanese government
with 24 distinct organizations set up to carry out specific functions.
Aum Shinrikyo was founded by Shoko Asahara, formerly Chizuo Matsumoto, who was
born partially blind into a poor family in 1955. Even early on, Asahara aspired to be a
leader, running for president in elementary, junior high and senior high school. However,
he was continually rejected by his classmates who feared him and his threats.
Tokyo University, he embarked on a business venture peddling quack remedies.
Eventually, the police caught up with him and he was found guilty of a criminal felony.
After his fraudulent activities were exposed in a local paper, his business went broke.
After some spiritual searching and disappointment, Asahara started his own religious
Shinrikyo meaning “teaching the universal or supreme truth.”
Previously, Asahara was a
In 1985, perhaps still ambitious for leadership, Asahara realized his own divine
experienced a divine visitation from the Hindu god Shiva. Asahara also began to claim
special powers, such as the ability to levitate. This claim was reported in an occult journal
and provided Asahara with a significant degree of free publicity.
Very quickly, Aum
leafleting and street corner proselytizing. Aum’s classes on yoga, herbal healing and
meditation also played a part.
Additionally, Aum owned a number of computer stores, book stores and noodle shops
through which it was able to gain recruits.
Beyond these means, a number of experts
Reportedly, these elements were used in conjunction with “brainwashing techniques
including sleep deprivation and isolation therapy” to obtain or retain followers.
Aum converts alleged that the organization was guilty of kidnappings and physical
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Aum’s assaults. “Those who formed these groups complained that they themselves became
the victims of assaults and harassment.”
corporation status.” This status came as a result of Aum’s vigorous lobbying campaign
and “scandalous” efforts to pressure the certifying agency and local politicians.
“hounded,” government officials “caved in and registered the cult.”
Aum’s recognition as an official religion was important for a variety of reasons. In
immunity from official oversight and prosecution.” By law, Aum’s new found religious
recognition would tend to inhibit any investigation with regard to its doctrine or practices,
including seemingly “for profit” activities. Even criminal activities would now be “difficult,
if not impossible” to investigate because of the “government’s reluctance to investigate
that they were immune from government interference that they decided to silence
Sakamoto,” a distinguished lawyer who “had represented many of these anti-Aum groups.”
After murdering Sakamoto, his wife and his one year old son, “the lack of any government
response…apparently emboldened the Cult to commit even more horrible and blatant
attacks upon their perceived enemies in Japan.”
Thus, Aum’s obtaining official religious
The second major turning point in Aum’s development occurred in 1990. Asahara
revisited his once youthful dream of becoming Prime Minister of Japan, and so he
campaigned, along with other followers, to be elected to the Japanese parliament.
However, despite Asahara’s predictions, “The election proved a disaster.…All twenty-five
Aum candidates went down to miserable defeats, including Asahara.”
election fortunes turned sour, Asahara’s views towards the future turned increasingly
more pessimistic. His “preaching dwelled more and more on the disasters awaiting
humanity.” He “had taken the defeats personally and swore revenge on those who dared to
stand in Aum’s way.”
“From then on the rhetoric of Armageddon and paranoia became
and he predicted that war would break out “between Japan and the United
his inner circle planned and amassed weapons of mass destruction, while actually
carrying out numerous violent and illegal acts, including murder. However, it was Aum’s
sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system which ultimately drew decisive attention to
its dangerous activities and true nature.
While the attack killed 12 and injured 5,000, it had the potential to kill tens of
thousands. In response, Japanese police made massive raids and arrests of Aum
members. By 1996, “of the one hundred seventy Aum members arrested by police, more
than one hundred have been brought to trial. All were found guilty and received either
prison terms or suspended sentences.”
Startling revelations have come to the surface in the aftermath of the Tokyo gassing.
successfully “forged relations with Japan’s ruthless crime syndicate” and the Soviet KGB,
had “infiltrated various levels of the Japanese government and industry including law
enforcement and military,” had regularly used murder and kidnapping to silence its
The Aum Shinrikyo, page 2
and ‘Q’ fever.
Shoko Asahara’s trial still continues.
In the larger context, Aum’s doctrine was influenced by many themes, some deeply
rooted in Japan’s religious history. These themes include,
(1) a taste for religious syncretism; (2) a concern with miracles…; (3) a stress on
recruitment, donations, and growth; (4) a fascination with esoteric Buddhism and its
attendant beliefs (such as in ‘holy men,’ living Buddhas capable of the direct physical
transfer of power); (5) a taste for Buddhist doctrines and meditation practices that see
reality as an illusion and approve of a calm and serene detachment; (6) an interest in
occultism and psychological techniques as means to effect physical and spiritual
transformation (an interest widespread in mass culture since the 1970s).
Early on, Asahara was also influenced by his association with the religious system of
Karma through magical ritual practices; with the transformation of mind and body and the
development of psychic powers through science; with meditation focusing on the
awakening of kundalini through the union of yoga and esoteric Buddhism; and with the
development of a teaching and training system based on early Buddhism.”
(“transcending life and death”— gedatsu) and enlightenment (“absolute freedom, absolute
Emancipation or gedatsu was vaguely defined, though Aum was
training for its members and eventually delineated various stages towards reaching this
ultimate stage of emancipation. Worldly denial was one means towards obtaining
emancipation. However, over the course of time, the concept of emancipation for members
was closely tied to a strong dependence of Aum members upon Shoko Asahara and being
committed to Aum Shinrikyo.
Aum members could move along in their spiritual development through various ways
and magical rites. For example, a ceramic mystical trinket known as the perusha was
worn as a badge and said to contain the energy of the Master.
In the shaktipat rite,
mystical touch on the forehead by one who had already attained gedatsu.
Some rites were very expensive and the total variety eventually numbered
drinking his used bath water, and drinking brewed hair locks or beard clippings.
Asahara claimed for himself a messianic mantle. In 1985, Asahara allegedly had a
understood himself to be “‘the god of light who leads the armies of the gods’ and is to
create an ideal society made up of those who have attained psychic powers, a society
called the kingdom of Shambhala.”
In keeping with Asahara’s grandiose claims, he
suspended in water. After a spiritual pilgrimage to the Himalayas, Asahara wrote that he
was now “‘free to leave my physical body, any time, anywhere…’”
would become enlightened through him. Advertisement for Asahara’s first book, Secrets of
Developing Your Powers, claimed, “‘Spiritual training that doesn’t lead to supernatural
powers is hogwash! … The Venerable Master will show you the secrets of his amazing
mystic powers. See the future, read people’s minds, make your wishes come true, X-ray
vision, levitation, trips to the fourth dimension, hear the voice of God and more.…’”
The Aum Shinrikyo, page 3
of establishing a utopian society. However, such a society would not be possible until a
final war or Armageddon was to take place. In Aum’s early development, Aum perceived
itself to be in a position to help save people outside the membership of Aum survive this
final war. Later in Aum’s development, it was perceived that “society in general was under
the rule of the devil, and that Aum was thus under attack by agents of evil.”
perceived as the “hidden enemy.”
Ultimately, salvation would be “only coming at the end
authored. These included The Truth of Humanity’s Destruction, The Secret Prophecy of
Nostradamus, Declaring Myself the Christ, and Declaring Myself the Christ, Part II.
leading up to the Apocalypse, including the demise of the Japanese economy in 1990
which would “lead to a virtual police state” and that “the year 1996 will witness ‘the
sinking of Japan’…”
Biblical teaching. Hebrews 9:27 explains that “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but
after this the judgment.”
Shoko Asahara assumed the status of a prophet when he made predictions concerning
the future— e.g., saying that Japan would turn into a “virtual police state” in 1990, that
Japan would entirely sink into the ocean in 1996, and that war would break out between
the United States and Japan in 1997. Biblically, Shoko Asahara is judged to be a false
prophet since he has made prophecies which have failed (See Deuteronomy 18:20–22).
Shoko Asahara claimed for himself the mantle of “Christ.” However, the Bible teaches
that there is only one Christ, Jesus Christ, and all others claiming to be Christ are in fact
anti-Christs (see Acts 4:12, Acts 1:12, Matthew 24:4–5, 23–27, 1 John 2:18).
David E. Kaplan and Andrew Marshall, The Cult at the End of the
Crown Publishers, 1996), 8.
D. W. Brackett, Holy Terror: Armageddon in Tokyo, (New York:
U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Investigations (Minority Staff),
D.C. October 31, 1995), 9.
Shimazono Susumu, “In the Wake of Aum: The Formation and
Senate Report, 22.
Kaplan and Marshall, The Cult at the End of the World, 24.
Senate Report, 9.
Kaplan and Marshall, Cult at the End of the World, 47.
Senate Report, 12.
Brackett, Holy Terror: Armageddon in Tokyo, 183.
Kaplan and Marshall, The Cult at the End of the World, 3.
In the Wake of Aum, 410–11.
Kaplan and Marshall, The Cult at the End of the World, 14.
Senate Report, 19.
Brackett, Holy Terror: Armageddon in Tokyo, 95.
The Aum Shinrikyo, page 4