Aum Shinri Kyo [compiled by Grant Balfour]
Aum Shinri Kyo, or "Supreme Truth of Aum (the Hindu
sacred syllable)", is an extremist religious sect
founded by Shoko Asahara, a bearded, charismatic man
who took elements of Hinduism, Buddhism and
fundamentalist Christianity and merged them into a
kind of End Times yoga regime.
Born partially blind under the name Chizuo
Matsumoto, he started his career as an acupuncturist
and herbalist, but ran afoul of the government for
selling a controversial herbal mixture known as the
"Almighty Medicine." Two years later, he and his
wife began teaching yoga classes under the title
"Aum Association of Mountain Wizards."
Then, Matsumoto traveled to the Himalayas where, he
told his pupils, he had become the only Japanese
person to have achieved enlightenment. He was able
to read minds, heal illness, send his awareness
across great distances and telepathically share
personal power with his followers. He changed his
name to Shoko Asahara, and the group's name to Aum
Shinri Kyo. Clad in vibrant pink robes, Asahara
began preaching about the coming apocalypse... and
how to survive using meditative breathing techniques
and personal austerity.
Among the teachings: Shiva, Hindu god of destruction
and enlightenment, was gaining ascendancy. Asahara
himself was the Second Coming of Christ as written
in the Book of Revelation. He had traveled in time
to the year 2006 and personally seen the aftermath
of World War III. From 1996 to 2000, Japan would be
targeted by a set of atomic bombings and natural
disasters - as predicted by French seer Nostradamus.
Only one in 10 would be left alive. The world was
filled with corrupt governments and soulless
materialists. These were the enemies of
enlightenment - powerful enemies who would destroy
the true believers unless the faithful took strong
action. The group established factories for
stockpiling various chemicals as preparation for the
Aum Shinri Kyo reached a peak membership of 20,000
worldwide, some of whom are still active on the web.
Many were drawn to the group because they hoped they
would develop supernatural mental powers; others
simply joined to reject the corruption and
consumerism of modern Japan.
In 1989, the sect was recognized as an official
religion. Followers were strictly organized
according to rank and lived under extreme
conditions. Many of the arbitrary rules of behavior
were explained as being part of an ancient spiritual
tradition. Lower ranking members reportedly ate
little food and drank only Asahara's bathwater.
Vials of the leader's semen were allegedly sold for
consumption for $10,000 each.
By November of that year, group members had
kidnapped and murdered an anti-cult lawyer, Tsutsumi
Sakamoto, along with his wife and baby son.
According to a New York Times investigation, the
group then attempted biological attacks on nine
different installations, including the Legislature,
the Imperial Palace, the U.S. base at Yokosuka.
Members sprayed potentially lethal microbes from
rooftops and convoys of trucks. The attacks resulted
in no known deaths, probably because their germ
stocks were not as virulent as they believed.
In June of 1994, members changed tactics, releasing
home-made nerve gas into a crowd. The attack injured
200 and killed seven - a horrible scene by most
standards, but hardly the Armageddon counterstrike
they were aiming for. By the next spring, sect
members refined their technique.
In March, members brought specially sealed bags of
sarin onto the Tokyo subway. When the deadly
contents were released, 11 died and 5,000 were
In April, the Yokohama commuter railway was gassed,
On July 4, police intercepted a cyanide gas attack
they believe could have killed 5,000. The next day,
containers of a noxious liquid were found in railway
stations near the heart of Tokyo's busiest shopping
district. At least three people were overwhelmed by
The police cracked down on the cult, arresting
thousands. Over 100 members still await trial. In
1997, the Japanese government tried to abolish the
group altogether, but failed to prove it was still a
public threat, numbering only 1,000 to 5,000 members
For the murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his
family, founding member Kazuaki Okazaki was
sentenced to death. Another member given a life
sentence (for cooperating with authorities), and
five others were found guilty of conspiracy. Okazaki
was also found guilty of killing another cult
Shoko Asahara was sentenced to life imprisonment.
His third daughter, Rika Matsumoto, considered holy
for being born after his Himalayan enlightenment,
now runs Aum Shinri Kyo. They currently have 26
facilities in Japan.