Aum Shinrikyo was an apocalyptic Japanese cult founded in 1984 as a yoga club by Shoko Asahara, who proclaimed himself as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and Shiva. The sect's teachings include aspects from those of Christianity and Buddhism. The group is known as a dangerous cult and a terrorist group; it and its members have committed or have been accused of being involved in numerous illegal acts, including kidnappings, assassinations, murder, using chemical weapons for mass murder, and attempting to use biological weapons for mass murder.
Cult members who desired to leave often couldn't. One cult member was abducted and killed in 1995 after trying to leave the sect. Buddhist religious leaders have denounced the cult; they say that it is not a legitimate variant of Buddhism.
In March 1995, Asahara's sect attacked Tokyo subways with nerve gas in what officials say was a terrorist attack carried out because of a planned raid on the cult's facilities, killing 13 people and injuring at least 6000. The cult's leader was arrested; Asahara was put on trial in 1996, with testimony from involved cult members that pointed to him planning the terrorist attack as evidence, and sentenced to death in 2004, but has yet to be executed. Many cult members involved in the terrorist attack were also later sentenced to death.
In 2002, the cult changed its name to Aleph, which later split into two groups, Aleph and Hikarinowa. Current day cult members no longer support the former group's acts of terrorism and have made their beliefs more moderate, but the Japanese government continues to keep the two groups, which still view Asahara as a prophet, under surveillance.
Teachings and practices
Aum Shinrikyo's teachings were drawn from a variety of texts, including Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, and Christian scriptures, with the Book of Revelations from the Holy Bible used to justify the cult's teachings of an impending doom.
The cult incorporated concepts from Eastern religions like Karma and reincarnation; the Hindu deity Shiva, the god of destruction, was the primary entity the cult worshipped. Cult members thought that bad Karma could be removed from individuals when they suffer, which led to members abusing each other.
Asahara taught that individuals ought to purify themselves by isolating themselves from the outside world; under the teaching of shukkesha, cult members were told to cut communications with their families. Members who joined gave rights to their property over to the cult.
The cult held Asahara to be the Christ and attributes divine properties to the cult leader. Asahara taught that the world would end soon in an event that only cult members cold survive. In and before 1989, Asahara and his political party, the Shinrito, said that they aspired to stop the apocalypse through political means. However, after their political party failed to gain enough seats in the 1989 election, the group later decided that the apocalypse couldn't be stopped, and therefore started to only try to protect their own members. To protect themselves from the "impending apocalypse", adherents began constructing nuclear shelters and communal structures, isolating themselves from the outside world. This isolation allowed the cult leaders more control over their members. As the influence of the cult leaders rose and the cult's political party fell, the cult started to attempt to achieve their goals through terrorism. In 1994, cult members released poisonous sarin gas near the dormitories where judges hearing a dispute between Aum Shinrikyo and local landowners were living, causing seven deaths. Later, cult members attacked Tokyo subway stations with the same poisonous gas in the infamous 1995 incident; according to the Japanese government, the cult committed the act of terrorism because authorities were planning to raid Aum facilities to search for a kidnapped notary public.