“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?