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Aum Shinrikyo

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Aum Shinrikyo


The Aum Shinrikyo was a vicious cult originated from Japan. The name of the cult is

a combination of two words Aum (Om) a sacred Hindu syllable, and Shinrikyo a Japanese

word meaning "supreme truth". Apparently it is a syncretistic cult, founded sometime around

1987 by taking beliefs from Buddhism and Christianity. Since its early times it has never

been approved as a Buddhist faith group by nearly all the Buddhist leaders of Japan.

The founder-leader of the cult, Shoko Asahara was born in 1955. He attended an

institute for the blinds as he was partially blind from birth. He started his career as an

acupuncturist. His sudden interest in yoga spurred him to travel to the Himalayas where he

also studied Buddhism and Hinduism. Later, in 1987, he organized the Aum Shinrikyo.

Aum Shinrikyo followers think Asahara as Christ’s reincarnation. He mixed up the

book of Revelation, some Buddhist scriptures and the predictions of Nostradamus and made a

holy book for his followers. He later predicted apocalypse in the last years of previous

millennium. At the time the total membership of the cult increased to a peak of about 20,000

globally. Most attracted by a desire to develop some supernatural powers; some were drawn

by the cult's rejection of the prevailing corruption and materialism in the modern Japan.

The cult appeared in headlines in 1995 when its member carried out an attack on the

Tokyo subway system with a chemical nerve agent, sarin. The attack consumed the lives of

twelve and caused almost six thousand people to seek medical attention. As a consequence of

this attack the cult was listed as a terrorist organization. The group bifurcated in 2007 due to

internal disharmony. Even after thirteen years, both divisions are still under surveillance by

the Japanese authorities. It is estimated that currently there are 1,500 members of the cult

living in Japan and about three hundred in Russia.
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Asahara got arrested in May 1995 as a concequence of his part in the subway attack.

After eight year long trial he got death penalty in 2004. Fumihiro Joyu, the head of operations

in Moscow succeeded Asahara. He tried to move Aum away from violence and toward its

spiritual roots. As a part of this image overhaul he changed the name of Aum to Aleph. He

resigned as the cult leader in 2003 and established an offshoot, by the name of Hikari no Wa,

in 2007. His successor as the leader of Aleph hasn’t come forward in the limelite yet.

The 1995 Sarin Gas Attack

Probably, the most notorious attack on one of the world's busiest commuter systems

took place when Aum followers placed Sarin (a highly toxic and volatile nerve agent

developed by Nazi scientists in the 1930s) in a liquid form in lunch box-like containers and

then put the boxes in five cars going through three different places to the Kasumigaseki

station the location of several government ministries. They also punctured the packages to

leak the gas Witnesses said that subway entrances resembled battlefields as injured

commuters lay gasping on the ground with blood gushing from their noses or mouths. Twelve

others along with Shoko Asahara got a death penalty for this attack. The attack demonstrated

the world the possibility of a small cult or a group of terrorists with scarce resources to

engage in chemical warfare. According to chemical weapons experts sarin gas is about five

hundred times more toxic than cyanide gas and the worst part is that it can be produced by a

trained chemist with publicly available chemicals.

More Attacks

Five years before subway attack, the group tried to carry out at least nine biological as

well. The intended targets were the Legislature along with the Imperial Palace and the U.S.

base at Yokosuka. The original plan was spray botulin (obtained from Clostridium

botulinum) on pedestrians through modified delivery vans. Cult's team of scientists cultured

in laboratory agents of biological toxins such as botulin, cholera, anthrax and Q fever. The
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failure in these attacks led to switching over to chemical weapons. Japanese Centre for

Disease Control said that the cult also sent a team to Zaire for studying and collecting

samples of Ebola virus in 1993. These attacks are classified as failed attacks as they did not

cause any known deaths. Apparently the germs they were were using very either vaccine

strains or had lacked sufficient virulence.

But the 1995 attacks were not the first of their kind by the group. Later investigation

revealed that the first Sarin attack took place in June 1994 in Matsumoto and the intended

targets were three judges, who were reportedly about the give a decision against the cult in

one of the cases. They used a Sarin-vaporizing device, with a heater and a fan, to disperse

about 20 Kgs of the gas through a modified refrigerated delivery truck. The device first filled

the van with fumes and mist and then had blown the vapors out into the air for 20 minutes.

The attack did not harm the judges, but seven residents got killed and 144-304 were injuried.

Russian officials also arrested some Aum fanatics in 2001 for their involvement in a

plan to bomb the Imperial Palace of Japan as an attempt to liberate Asahara.
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Smithson, Amy E.; Levy, Leslie-Anne (October 2000) Rethinking the Lessons of Tokyo.

Ataxia: The Chemical and Biological Terrorism Threat and the US Response. The

Henry Stimson Center. Washington, DC.

Kaplan, David E.; Marshall, Andrew. The Cult at the End of the World : The Terrifying Story

of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of

Russia. Crown Publishers. 1996.

Broad, William J. SOWING DEATH: A special report.; How Japan Germ Terror Alerted

World. The New York Times. May 26, 1998. Retrieved December 16, 2008 from



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