When yoga instructors turn to terrorism


I’m reading about the history of the Aum Shinrikyo cult and am terrified. Terrified not only at the apparent ease with which thousands of intelligent human beings were brainwashed by the lunatic teachings of the cult leader, but also at the incompetence of the Japanese authorities which allowed the cult to prosper for so long.

Aum Shinrikyo was responsible for the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo underground. This attack killed a dozen people. If the terrorists’ devices had worked properly the fatalities would have been in the thousands.

Aum Shinrikyo was founded by Shoko Asahara in the 1980s. He had always harboured dreams of one day becoming prime minister, but his ambitious life plan was thwarted when his application to Tokyo University was rejected. Asahara instead became a yoga teacher and practitioner of quack medicine. After a trip to India in 1987 Asahara was inspired to start describing himself in messianic terms and demanded increasing devotion from his yoga classes. The cult was born: Aum Shinrikyo means ‘supreme truth’, for this is what Asahara claimed to represent.

Unfortunately his yoga students took him seriously. Within a few years he had amassed thousands of followers and had accumulated an estimated $1 billion in assets for the cult.

Unfortunately the government took him seriously. In 1989 Aum Shinrikyo gained official status as a religious organisation. It was allowed to establish its own hospitals which helped to raise funds for the cult.

Unfortunately the security services did not take him seriously – in the sense that the cult’s doctrinal justifications of extreme violence seem to have been ignored.

Why did it take so long for the police to become suspicious of what Aum Shinrikyo was up to? Surely they should have noticed:

  • Aum Shinrikyo was sending cadres of its followers to receive combat training from Russian special forces.
  • It had bought a Russian Mi-17 helicopter complete with chemical spray dispersal devices.
  • It was spending millions of dollars in building its own arms manufacturing facilities.
  • An anti-cult lawyer and his family went missing in 1989 after speaking out against Aum Shinrikyo (their corpses were found in 1995).
  • Seven people were killed in 1994 in a nerve gas attack on judges presiding over a suit against Aum Shinrikyo.
  • Aum Shinrikyo had bought a 500,000 acre site in Western Australia and started mining for uranium.
  • It had also acquired enough Sarin to kill around 4 million people.

After the Tokyo attack Aum Shinrikyo was shut down and many of its leaders imprisoned. It has, however, been allowed to reinvent itself as ‘Aleph’. The Aleph website apologies for Aum Shinrikyo yet maintains that “founder Shoko Asahara was a kind of genius in meditation” even though “we cannot approve of the incidents his organisation caused”. 

I can only hope that when police in Britain maintain links with cults it is simply because they want to keep a close eye on them.

Captain Jako


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One Response to “When yoga instructors turn to terrorism”

  1. Yoga in Tokyo | Business and Interviews | Tokyo Weekender Says:

    […] years to come to Japan but, in this case, it was delayed due to the Aum Shinrikyo cult and their incidents which gave yoga a bad […]

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