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March 2, 1955
Yatsushiro, Kumamoto, Japan
|Occupation||Founder, Aum Shinrikyo|
Shoko Asahara (麻原 彰晃 Asahara Shōkō?), born Chizuo Matsumoto (松本 智津夫 Matsumoto Chizuo?) on March 2, 1955, is a founder of the Japanese new religious group Aum Shinrikyo. He was convicted of masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway and several other crimes, for which he was sentenced to death in 2004. In June 2012, his execution was postponed due to further arrests of Aum Shinrikyo members.
Shoko Asahara was born into a large, poor family of tatami mat makers in Japan's Kumamoto Prefecture. Afflicted at birth with infantile glaucoma, he went blind at a young age in his left eye and is only partially sighted in his right. As a child, Asahara was enrolled in a school for the blind. Asahara graduated in 1977 and turned to the study of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, which are traditional careers for the blind in Japan, and married in 1978. In 1981, Asahara was convicted of practicing pharmacy without a license and selling unregulated drugs and was fined 200,000 yen.
Asahara's religious quest reportedly started at this time. Recently married, he was working to support his large and growing family. He dedicated his free time to the study of various religious concepts, starting with Chinese astrology and Taoism. Later, Asahara practiced esoteric yoga and Christianity.
In 1987, Shoko Asahara officially changed his name and applied for government registration of the group Aum Shinrikyo. The authorities were initially reluctant to accord it the status of a religious organization but eventually granted legal recognition after an appeal in 1989. After this, a monastic order was established and many of the lay followers decided to join.
The doctrine of Aum Shinrikyo is based on the Bible and other texts. In 1992 Asahara published a foundational book,[clarification needed] and declared himself "Christ", Japan's only fully enlightened master and identified with the "Lamb of God". His purported mission was to take upon himself the sins of the world, and he claimed he could transfer to his followers spiritual power and ultimately take away their sins and bad works. He also saw dark conspiracies everywhere promulgated by Jews, Freemasons, the Dutch, the British Royal Family, and rival Japanese religions. He outlined a doomsday prophecy, which included a Third World War, and described a final conflict culminating in a nuclear "Armageddon", borrowing the term from the Book of Revelation 16:16.
Shoko Asahara often preached the need of an Armageddon for "human relief". He at last declared "Put tantra Vajrayana into practice as the integrity of Mahamudra" and he led a series of religious terrorism. He did not understand the meaning of Vajrayana well and targeted the unspecified large number of people as the mark. As a result, many victims occurred. Shoko Asahara has written many religious books. The best known are Beyond Life and Death, Mahayana Sutra and Initiation. There also exists an anime that portrays Asahara and his cult in a protagonistic light.
Tokyo subway gas attack, accusations, and trial
On March 20, 1995, members of Aum attacked the Tokyo Subway System with the nerve gas sarin. Thirteen people died and thousands more suffered ill-effects. After finding sufficient evidence, authorities accused Aum Shinrikyo of complicity in the attack, as well as in a number of smaller-scale incidents. Dozens of disciples were arrested, Aum's facilities were raided, and the court issued an order for Shoko Asahara's arrest. Asahara was discovered in a very small, completely isolated room of a building belonging to Aum.
Shoko Asahara faced 27 murder counts in 13 separate indictments. The prosecution argued that Asahara "gave orders to attack the Tokyo Subway" in order to "overthrow the government and install himself in the position of Emperor of Japan". Several years later, the prosecution forwarded an additional theory that the attacks were ordered to "divert police attention" (from Aum). The prosecution also accused Asahara of masterminding the Matsumoto incident and the Sakamoto family murder. According to Asahara's defense team, a group of senior followers initiated the atrocities, keeping them a secret from Asahara. Following the events, disciples started to disseminate the teachings by way of direct coaching, something they would never do when Asahara was available for communication. A small group of those who failed to do so still formally exists.
During the trials, some of the disciples testified against Asahara, and he was found guilty on 13 of 17 charges, including the Sakamoto family murder, while four charges were dropped. On February 27, 2004, he was sentenced to death by hanging.
The trial was called the "trial of the century" by the Japanese media. Yoshihiro Yasuda, the most experienced attorney on Shoko Asahara's defence team, was arrested and charged with obstruction of the compulsory execution concerning a corporation in which he was an adviser. He therefore was unable to participate in his legal defence, though he was acquitted before the end of the trial. Human Rights Watch criticized Yasuda's isolation. Asahara was defended by court-appointed lawyers and asked not to be defended. During the trials, Asahara resigned from his position of Aum Shinrikyo representative to try to prevent the forced dissolution of the group by the state.
The legal team appealed the ruling on the grounds that Asahara was mentally unfit, and psychiatric examinations were undertaken. During the examination, conducted by a psychiatrist, Asahara never spoke. However, he communicated with the staff at his detention facility, which convinced the examiner that Asahara was maintaining his silence out of free will. Because his lawyers never submitted the statement of reason for appeal, the Tokyo High Court decided not to grant them leave to appeal on March 27, 2006. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of Japan on September 15, 2006. Two re-trial appeals were declined by the appellate court.
- Shoko Asahara (1988). Supreme Initiation: An Empirical Spiritual Science for the Supreme Truth. AUM USA Inc. ISBN 0-945638-00-0.—highlights the main stages of Yogic and Buddhist practice, comparing Yoga-sutra system by Patanjali and the Eightfold Noble Path from Buddhist tradition.
- Shoko Asahara (1993). Life and Death. Shizuoka: Aum. ISBN 4-87142-072-8.—focuses on the process of Kundalini-Yoga, one of the stages in Aum's practice.
- Berson, Tom. "Are We Ready for Chemical Warfare?" News World Communications 22 September. 1997
- Bonino, Stefano. Il Caso Aum Shinrikyo: Società, Religione e Terrorismo nel Giappone Contemporaneo, 2010, Edizioni Solfanelli, ISBN 978-88-89756-88-1. Preface by Erica Baffelli.
- Brackett, D W. Holy Terror: Armageddon in Tokyo. 1st ed. New York: Weatherhill, 1996.
- Head, Anthony. "Aum's Incredible Journey Towards Armageddon." Japan Quartery Oct.-Nov. 1996: 92-95.
- Kiyoyasu, Kitabatake. "Aum Shinrikyo: Society begets an aberration." Japan Quarterly Oct. 1995: 376-383.
- Lifton, Robert J. Destroying the World to Save It. 1st ed. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1999.
- Murakami, Haruki. Underground : The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. New York: Vintage Books, 2001.
- Beckford, James A. (1998). "A Poisonous Cocktail? Aum Shinrikyo's Path to Violence". Nova Religio 1 (2): 305–6. doi:10.1525/nr.19126.96.36.1995.
- Execution of Aum founder likely postponed, The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network, asiaone News, June 5, 2012.
- Atkins, Stephen E. (2004). Encyclopedia of Modern Worldwide Extremists and Extremist Groups. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-313-32485-7.
- "JAPANESE ACUPUNCTURE: Blind Acupuncturists, Insertion Tubes, Abdominal Diagnosis, and the Benten Goddess", Subhuti Dharmananda, Institute for Traditional Medicine. Retrieved on 2009-07-23
- Drozdek, Boris; John P. Wilson (2007). Voices of Trauma: Treating Psychological Trauma Across Cultures. Springer Science. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-387-69794-9.
- Métraux, Daniel Alfred (1999). Aum Shinrikyo and Japanese youth. University Press of America. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-7618-1417-7.
- Lewis, James R.; Jesper Aagaard Petersen (2005). Controversial New Religions. Oxford University Press. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-19-515683-6.
- Snow, Robert L. (2003). Deadly Cults: The Crimes of True Believers. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-275-98052-8.
- Partridge, Christopher Hugh (2006). The Re-Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture, and Occulture. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 300. ISBN 978-0-567-04133-3.
- Griffith, Lee (2004). The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-8028-2860-6.
- Goldwag, Arthur (2009). Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies: The Straight Scoop on Freemasons, the Illuminati, Skull and Bones, Black Helicopters, the New World Order, and Many, Many More. Random House. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-307-39067-7.
- Lifton, Robert Jay, Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism. New York: Macmillan (2000).
- Japanese wikipedia section on Asahara's children
- Aleph: the organization's official website, with an English section
- A Japan Times article about two documentary films on Aleph.
-  BBC link & photos