AUM Shinrikyo


AUM Shinrikyo
(Japanese; "AUM Supreme Truth")

Japanese new religious movement founded by Asahara Shoko (b. 1955 as Matsumoto Chizuo) in 1987.

It contained elements of Hinduism and Buddhism and was founded on the millenarian expectation of a series of disasters that would bring an end to this world and inaugurate a new cosmic cycle. In 1995 its members released nerve gas into the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 people and injuring some 5,500. The group has been linked with other nerve-gas incidents and violent crimes. It claimed some 50,000 members, mostly in Russia, at the time of the gas attack. Membership collapsed in the wake of the attack, but it had grown to more than 1,500 members by the early 21st century. The group changed its name to Aleph in 2000. More than 10 AUM members were sentenced to death for their involvement in the gassing incident, including Asahara, who in 2004 was found guilty of masterminding the attack.

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Japanese“AUM Supreme Truth”
 Japanese Buddhist (Buddhism) sect founded in 1987 by Matsumoto Chizuo, known to his followers as Master Asahara Shoko. AUM came to public attention in 1995 when 12 people died (terrorism) and thousands were injured following the release of nerve gas into a Tokyo subway by several of the group's top leaders. This action brought infamy and disarray to the group.

      AUM emerged out of Asahara's dissatisfaction with traditional Japanese Buddhism. Having found Tibetan (Tibetan Buddhism) and Theravada Buddhist teachings more impressive than the dominant forms of Japanese Buddhism, Asahara attempted to create a Buddhism that emphasized non-Japanese themes. He created a spiritual path whose goal was the attainment of enlightenment in this life. It incorporated a variety of techniques, from Yoga and meditation to psychic-development exercises, to assist the followers' growth toward enlightenment. Progress was marked by three levels of initiation, and after attaining the third level members could be admitted into the group's monastic community. Followers, who included many well-educated people, were taught to give total devotion to their guru. Asahara also became interested in prophecy, studied the Christian Book of Revelation (Revelation to John), and in the early 1990s predicted an array of disasters for Japan, including World War III. Because Asahara expected AUM to replace the Japanese government in the chaos following the war, its organization mirrored that of the government.

      At the time of the gassing incident, March 20, 1995, AUM claimed some 50,000 members, the majority of whom lived in Russia. Following the arrest of Asahara and several hundred members of the leadership and rank and file and the conviction of scores of those arrested for both the subway gassing and numerous other violent acts, the group was decimated and the Japanese government seized its property. Although a contingent of the group remained in Japan, foreign affiliates dissolved in the wake of the gassing. In December 1999 AUM's new leaders apologized for the crimes committed by members of the group and pledged to compensate victims of the 1995 gassing. The next month they admitted Asahara's role in a series of crimes, including the gassing, distanced themselves from his spiritual leadership, set up a program to pay compensation to the victims' families, and changed the organization's name to Aleph. In the early 2000s the group had more than 1,500 members.

      The trials of AUM members implicated in the gassing incident continued into the early 21st century, with more than 10 people receiving death sentences. In 2004, after an eight-year trial, Asahara was convicted of masterminding the attack and was also sentenced to death.

John Gordon Melton Ed.

Additional Reading
A useful introduction to the sect can be found in Ian Reader, A Poisonous Cocktail?: Aum Shinrikyō's Path to Violence (1996).

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Universalium. 2010.

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