Welcome back! Are you ready for another trip down the rabbit hole? Of course you do, or you wouldn’t be here! Today, we prove that even a disability can’t stop an ambitious soul. Ambitious and creepy, as his beliefs are very close to Charles Manson’s level of insanity. Check out this week’s Dark Disciples: Infamous Cult Leaders Part 3 – Shoko Asahara.
Stateside, the name Shoko Asahara might not mean much, but to Japan, it’s another story. Before assuming this more well known moniker, Shoko was born Chizuo Matsumoto on March 2, 1955, to a large family of Tatami Mat makers. He was diagnosed at an early age with glaucoma, causing him to completely lose sight in his left eye while going partially blind in his right. He received education in a school for the blind, where he was known to be a bully and beat up the other students. After graduating in 1977, Chizou took up studying acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. He ended up marrying at one point and fathered 12 kids. Busy dude!
After being convicted of dealing drugs in 1981, Chizou took an interest in religion. Combining his amassed knowledge of Buddhism, Christianity, and Chinese Taoism, he would change his name to Shoko Asahara and form the religious order of Aum Shinrikyo. Initially a monastic order, Aum Shinrikyo had to jump a few hurdles before receiving registration as a legit religion. However, it wasn’t long before Asahara gained fame and let it go to his head.
Teaching a combination of the Bible and Vajrayana scriptures, Asahara was invited to speak in several public forums and television programs. He also found time to write a handful of books which described his philosophy as well as declaring himself Christ Reborn. As with all delusional madmen, he began preaching of nuclear war to alleviate “human relief.” Completely normal behavior… if you’re on drugs, anyway!
In 1988, Aum Shinrikyo was investigated by Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a lawyer known for his anti-cult stance. He had previously taken down the Unification Church, another global religious movement. Sakamoto had met with Asahara and was able to convince him to submit a blood sample as proof of his divinity. The results came back negative and embarrassed him. On top of that, Sakamoto also did a TV interview with Tokyo Broadcasting System about his work against Aum Shinrikyo, which led to a horrifying chain of events.
Sakamoto and his family would go missing on November 3, 1989, but their bodies not being found over 15 years later in 2015.
On June 27, 1994, Sarin gas was released into an apartment building in the Nagano Prefecture, killing 8 people and injuring over 500. The attack was supposed to kill three judges who were involved in cases against the cult. Finally, Sarin gas was released into the Tokyo subways on March 20, 1995, during rush hour. Aum Shinkrikyo were set on taking out several known members of the government in order to weaken and take over Japan, making Shoko Asahara the new emperor. I wish I was making this up but it’s all true, they were that delusional!
During the course of a lengthy investigation and court proceedings, Aum Shinrikyo facilities were raided. During various interrogations, members either claimed responsibility for various crimes or outed other members. During these interrogations, the whereabouts of the Sakamoto family were unearthed as well as further evidence linking the cult to various other crimes. On February 27, 2004 Asahara was sentenced to be executed.
In 2007, the cult split itself into two separate groups. The first, Aleph, is very similar to its forebearer. Although feigning a peaceful front, this sect has been linked with at least one terror attack as well as plans for future attacks. The group is still monitored to this day. Meanwhile, their sister organization, Hikari no Wa (Circle of Rainbow Light), chose to follow the original teachings. While still having a negative light, Hikari no Wa has proven to be a far more peaceful group, choosing to focus on personal enlightenment. Both groups were under surveillance until 2007 when Hikari No Wa managed to get out of it.
Finally, Shoko Asahara and at least 7 of his followers were executed by hanging on July 6, 2018. While death is something that shouldn’t be celebrated, it sure is a relief when someone truly deserving receives Karmic justice.