Young people easily get sucked into Aum Shinrikyo spinoff Aleph

TOKYO —

“Last fall I was in a bookstore in Nakano (Tokyo), leafing through a book on yoga, when a woman comes up to me and says, ‘I run a yoga school…’”

The speaker is “a perfectly ordinary man” identified as Mr S by Weekly Playboy (Sept 3), which interviewed him for his insights into a puzzling question: Why is Aleph, the successor of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, so attractive to “ordinary” young people? The 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, which killed 12 and sickened thousands, is Aum’s most notorious atrocity – there were numerous others in a similar vein. You’d think an Aum spinoff would be anathema to anyone “ordinary,” and yet as of November 2011, police estimated their membership at 1,200-1,300, with 200 or so joining every year. Sixty-five percent of them are under 35. Mr S, an “ordinary” company employee whose age is not given but seems to be in his early 30s, describes his own recruitment.

He and the woman, Ms T,  struck up an acquaintance. Their conversations were wide-ranging. She had provocative ideas – on conspiracy, for instance. The Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. were an American conspiracy. The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster were likewise a conspiracy. To Mr S, this was dubious but interesting – who knew, after all? “The mass media is nothing but lies,” said Ms T. She took him to a sparsely furnished apartment where Mr S’s yoga training began – 3,000 yen per session, two sessions a week. The sessions included watching videos which reinforced the conspiracy theme. To do yoga properly, Ms T explained, you must purge your mind of lies and misinformation, which includes just about everything you think you know about the world.

Not a word, so far, about Aleph.

Ms T’s efforts were seconded by a Mr Y, who struck Mr S as strikingly knowledgeable. He knew politics, economics, science. Ms T introduced him as a former physics professor who had given up his academic career to devote himself exclusively to yoga. Mr S’s doubts dissolved. If Mr Y was in on this, there must be something to it.

After three months came the bombshell: “We’re Aleph.”

But it was no bombshell. Mr S was in junior high school when the sarin affair exploded on the national consciousness. He recalls being more interested than appalled, and anyway, all that was a long time ago. If anything, the connection to so dramatic an episode made his present experience all the more titillating. Moreover, he says, by then he’d spent some 40,000 yen on the training, and he was unwilling to admit that it was money down the drain.

And so he graduated into hard-core Aleph training, heavy on recorded sermons by Aum guru Shoko Asahara, currently on death row.

His awakening, when at last it came, was a strange one. It was in response to an Aleph teaching to the effect that a man who has sexual relations cannot attain enlightenment. Strange, thought Mr S – Asahara has children. “Yes,” he was told, “but the Master is no ordinary man.”

Having believed everything else, why did he doubt that? Somehow, he did.

The good news is, Mr S severed his relations with the cult. The bad news: new members keep coming. In search of what?

  • 7

    Scrote

    a man who has sexual relations cannot attain enlightenment

    except for those at the top, of course. A cunning ruse to keep all the female recruits for themselves. These cults are all the same: "you can achieve salvation by sacrificing yourself" they say, but you never see the leaders setting such an example.

  • 2

    Maria

    I wonder what the Japanese govt/police approach towards Aleph is. Are they watching them? Probably. Are they preventing recruitment? Obviously not. What are they doing to make sure there isn't another little army building up again somewhere?

  • 5

    Thomas Anderson

    They should become Buddhist monks instead, a much more interesting and fulfilling religion.

  • 2

    cornbread1

    Many today are spiritually bankrupt. The educational system encourages intellectual growth with little or no concern for emotional or spiritual development. They leave university top-heavy and heart-empty. No wonder they fall for cults such as this.

  • 2

    BertieWooster

    I agree completely, Cornbread.

    There is nothing spiritual, creative or inspiring in Japanese education.

    It's totally material.

    People are looking for answers about life.

    They have questions about themselves, what they are, about their feelings, about their lives.

    There is so much misinformation about these things.

    In schools, university, on the media.

    The problem is that whereas Aleph, Aum, and many other religions and philosophies contain truth, it's mixed in with misinformation too.

    Let's hope the new generations learn to sift through the garbage and find the truth.

    Although, unfortunately, they are not likely to get that ability from Japanese education.

  • 2

    JapanGal

    I agree with THomas.

    Or join shinto full steam ahead and organize some drinking parties etc.

  • 1

    anglootaku

    Speaking of Aum, there is two interesting videos of the Police fighting with them and the Yakuza (both with English subs):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn1KhNJ-SW0

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClZcQhAK5e8

  • 0

    tokyokawasaki

    @BertieWooster: People are looking for answers about life.

    Then they should study cosmology, biology and the evolution of species by natural selection. Next join a Humanist Society. Job done, without resorting potentially dangerous cults...

  • 3

    BertieWooster

    tokyokawasaki-san,

    Perhaps I didn't explain my point very well.

    Then they should study cosmology, biology and the evolution of species by natural selection. Next join a Humanist Society.

    The people I am talking about are looking for spirituality, concepts, ideas, esthetics. They are looking for answers about themselves. What am I? Who am I? What's it all about? What happens when I die? Does God exist?

    The disciplines you mention are materialistic. They do not answer the spiritual questions these people have.

    I'm not discounting these subjects and I'm not discounting religions and philosophies either.

    I believe there is truth everywhere.

    But at the same time, there is garbage.

    We have to use our judgement, reason and intellectual abilities to sift through it to find what we are looking for.

    Blind faith is bad, whether it is blind faith to Aleph, yoga, Christianity, or any other religion. Blind faith to "authority" (it must be true because XYZ said so), to NHK news, to the theory of natural selection, to psychology.

    I think it's necessary to keep an open mind.

  • 7

    Steven Hassan

    I have been helping people avoid cult groups like Aum for 36 years, since leaving the Moonies. It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that even though the guru has been exposed and convicted as a felon (Sun Myung Moon too is a convicted felon- of a much less serious set of crimes) but people's memoires are short and influence is powerful.

    The only answer is massive public education and awareness about this phenomenon. I call upon all former members of destructive cults to speak out- tell neighbors, friends, coworkers, the media, politicians! Write books. Set up web pages. Go onto wikipedia and give facts to counter the teams of cult members using wikipedia to recruit.

    Steve Hassan freedomofmind.co<>m

  • 3

    tokyokawasaki

    BertieWooster.

    Maybe I didn't explain myself well either. I totally understand that many people feel lost and confused about life. Which is mainly caused by poor education especially in the sciences.

    When seeking answers, there are only three possible outcomes.

    1 - Facts & truths, based on hard evidence. Despite how cold this may appear to hippies and spiritualists.

    2 - Fiction & myths, typically based on nothing more than 'stories' or "if it makes me feel good, I'll accept it".

    3 - Unknown / Unexplainable. With these scenarios, it is better to admit no knowledge and leave it open to discovery than to invent theories and fantasies just to fill the gap.

    Cults and religions tend to give answers and information based on No2 and they invent answers for No3...

    Also, evolution by natural selection is not a theory. For quite sometime it has been a known FACT based on scientific and physical evidence.

    One of my favorite quotes is: "Science is the candle in the darkness." Carl Sagan...

  • 3

    Stranger_in_a_Strange_Land

    Tokyokawasaki, has the right idea.

  • 0

    BertieWooster

    Thanks for your input Tokyokawasaki-san,

    Actually, I have a similar viewpoint.

    When sifting through "answers," I tend to look at things from the point of view of "knowable" or "unknowable," the knowable referring to things that I can DIRECTLY perceive or experience and the unknowable to those things I cannot directly perceive or experience.

    Belief is INDIRECT perception. It shouldn't be discounted as it can show you where to look. Then, when you look and you see it directly for yourself, without the influence of someone else, you can know it.

    I can't speak about all religions and philosophies as I haven't studied that many of them, but from what I have read I can say that they do contain truths and facts. But, unfortunately these are often buried in among what can only be described as useless garbage.

    Certainly, much religious work includes fiction and myths, with entertainment value, perhaps, but no more. And, yes, a lot of invention. People looking at life and inventing where they can't explain. But I also find this in so called "scientific" literature.

    What I want to say is that it is necessary more now than at any other time, with the barrage of information we are presented with, to recognize what is opinion and what are fixed ideas, whether they are our own or other people's and just look and decide for ourselves.

  • 0

    HesKun

    Cults are a serious racket in Japan. There's a whole chapter on it in Shinya Kusaka’s 'Ura Hello Work', Like cults everywhere, they prey on lonely, disenfranchised individuals, and there's a whole lot of those people in Japanese big cities.

  • 0

    yasukuni

    Most of the people in cults and the various religions are nice idealistic people, who are much more loving/spiritual/decent than the leaders. Ironic isn't it?

  • 2

    thywillbedone

    I have mixed feelings when it comes to cults. On one hand, people accuse "cults" of mind control through indoctrination; on the other, a similar accusation can be reasonably levied against many institutions and association not generally thought of as cults, such as conventional religions and political entities.

    When I was involved with a fundamentalist Christian organization, I discovered they regarded other religious groups such as Mormons, Jehovah's Witness, and even Catholics as cults. After leaving that organization, I cynically concluded that the term "cult" simply meant "the other person's religion."

    The term "cult" requires a clearer definition. As it is used now, it is not a useful, and it's only function is to elicit emotion.

    Cults, like religions and other associations, provide valuable services to their adherents - the most important of these is the emotional satisfaction of being part of a group. They provide a synthetic family. This is a powerful draw for many people, even normal, well adjusted ones. Their actual beliefs and doctrines are incidental to this feeling of connection.

    If "cults" are involved in dangerous, illegal activity, then they are simply criminal organizations, such as the yakuza or mafia. So, if we can accuse a group of being a criminal organization, then let's call it that instead of "cult", but we must be prepared to back up the accusations.

  • 2

    BertieWooster

    thywillbedone-san,

    Perhaps the definition of "cult" might be "despised religion."

    People seem to use it as the equivalent of slamming the door shut and bolting it.

    Once a person has decided it's a cult, they no longer have to think about it.

    In my experience, the extremes can be equally obnoxious; the over zealous believer and the ardent atheist, the heavy smoker and the anti-smoker, those fiercely trying to spread their religion (cult) and the anti-cultists, so keen to "help."

    There is truth in everything, it may be mixed up with fantasy, but you have to make up your own mind.

  • 2

    Carolingium

    In case you forget: Cults are religions in diapers. All major religions were once cults hidden from view of society, praying in the shadows and demanding bizarre rites from their membership. Cults might prey on lonely individuals but religions feed on the children of many generations.

  • 0

    thywillbedone

    Bertie... enjoyed reading your all of your comments.

  • 0

    Ranger_Miffy2

    Really annoying headline. Classifying all "young people" as going one way. Lame.

  • 0

    BertieWooster

    thywillbedone-san,

    Bertie... enjoyed reading your all of your comments.

    Well, thank you. Your words encourage me.

  • 0

    Neal Marchuk

    Dear thywillbedone,

    As you say, the word 'cult' is emotionally loaded, and often vague. For example, when the authorities call Aleph/Aum a cult, they mean it in the sociological sense:

    "...includes such factors as authoritarian leadership patterns, loyalty and commitment mechanisms, lifestyle characteristics, [and] conformity patterns (including the use of various sanctions in connection with those members who deviate)." Basically, a group that's hyper-controlling and anti-social, whether it's religious or not. And it may not necessarily be criminal.

    On the other hand, when your former church referred to the Mormons et al as 'cults', they likely meant it in the theological sense:

    "A cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrine system (taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization), which denies one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian Faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible."

    I got these definitions from <www.apologeticsindex.org/c09.html>, and they make a lot of sense to me. Hope this contributes a bit to the conversation.

  • 0

    Lowly

    These are dark times. The economy is bad, everywhere, in Asia tensions beneath the surface between many countries, war all over the Near East/America, the climate is going slowly crazy, earthquakes, nuclear meltdowns, and also I can't find shorts that fit my tall thin but big-thighed N Euro body anywhere in Japan, and a close associate refuses to brush his teeth and we all suffer from his halitosis.

    Under such circumstances it is a buyer's market for religions looking for converts. The guy in this story is a chump for thinking 40,000 yen was too much money to quit right away for. But he was a lucky case, he could eventually cut his losses. ppl with more serious problems and insecurities will never leave such a group.

    Keep your eyes out for the end of the world, but don't forget to brush your teeth just in case it doesn't come for another few decades, you'll want to keep eating during that time. And we'll want to keep breathing clean air.

    Peace and God Bless.

  • 1

    Lowly

    And I really want to reply to tokyokawasaki, and others,

    There are companies that make safe cars and ones that don't, there are second hand car shops where you can get a really good deal, ones where you may get a fair deal or lose a little money, and ones that will just lie to you and sell you rust on wheels.

    I think religion is the same. I think there really are practitioners who have a deep high level understanding of consciousness/spirituality, ones who may have some understanding but won't give you a straight answer, and ones who lie and commit fraud and use you.

    Because there are liars doesn't mean all are. Also, science is not equipped to answer these questions.

    The cops are watching these ppl means- they don't have sarin and can't kill ppl. (If the cops are on the ball). But they can't shut them down for 9-11 conspiracies and bad tape recordings. Anyway they would just reorganize under a new name.

  • 1

    Seirei Tobimatsu

    As long as there are followers needing to serve, there will be leaders cunning to exploit

  • 0

    Neal Marchuk

    Dear Lowly,

    Thanks for your thoughtful words. I wanted to say something similar, but wasn't quite sure how to phrase it. There are questions that analytical science can never answer; that doesn't mean that the questions are nonsense, or that the answers can't be found.

    It's important to watch out for deceptive and dangerous groups, but also to discern them from group that are neither.

    Thanks again.

  • 0

    thywillbedone

    Thanks, Neal Marchuk, for your reply to my comment, and the references.

  • 0

    TetranMASTER

    His Thetan level is just through the roof.

  • 0

    Laurenço Iscariot Shells

    I can't believe they're giving yoga such a bad name.
    It jused to be about watching limber women go into "downward facing dog". Now there are government propaganda films as well. Why don't they all go move to the Senkaku islands.

  • 1

    iamthesunset

    Worryingly, or not, depending on which way you look at it, the Aleph website is actually quite informative, and seems very friendly. Some of the information isn't a world away from Buddhism, Hinduism and certain New Age philosophies.

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