What were the Aum Shinrikyo Buddhist's justifications for violence?
While this group shares many of the characteristics of others that we have analyzed in our course on Religion and Terrorism and in our postings here, the uniqueness of their leader and their emphasis on both expecting and trying to cause the apocalyptic end of time makes them stand out.
Marc Juergensmeyer says:
Because he lived on a higher plane, however, he could see things that ordinary people could not see, and his actions were consistent with causal plane reality, not our own. For this reason anything Master Asahara might do that seemed to ordinary mortals as odd - even involvement in conspiracies to kill other people - could be explained as having its impetus and hence its justification in a higher plane of reality. The killers and their victims were simply actors in a divine scenario. When Asahara was put in jail, Nakarnura told me, the members of the movement regarded this incident like a scene in a play: Asahara was playing the role of prisoner, following a script of which they were unaware, for a purpose that only he knew.
The most dramatic scenario described by Asahara was Armageddon, and that concept also justified the taking of life. Once one is caught up in cosmic war, Asahara explained, the ordinary rules of conduct do not apply. "The world economy will have come to a dead stop," he said, somewhere around August 1, 1999. "The ground will tremble violently, and immense walls of water will wash away everything on earth."
In addition to natural disasters, Asahara prophesied, there will be the horror of nuclear weapons. Nerve gas would also be used in that horrific war - sarin gas, specifically.
In a perceptive analysis of the Aum Shinrikyo movement, Ian Reader has linked Aum's concept of cosmic war to a feeling of humiliation. According to Reader, the development of Asahara's concept of Armageddon went hand in hand with a history of rejection experienced both by Asahara and by members of his movement. This sense of rejection led to conflict with the society around them, and these encounters in turn led to greater rejection. This downward spiral of humiliation and confrontation led ultimately to a paranoid attitude of "Aum against the world."
Who was Shoko Asahara and what role did his thinking play in Aum terrorism?
At the core of Asahara's prophecies was a great cloud casting its shadow over the future: the specter of a world catastrophe unparalleled in human history. Although World War II had been disastrous to Japanese society, this destructive conflagration - including the nuclear holocausts at
Hiroshima and - was nothing compared with the coming World War III. The term that Asahara chose for this cataclysmic event, Armageddon, is an interesting one. It comes from the New Testament book of Revelation in the Christian Bible and refers to the place where the final conflict between good and evil will occur. In the biblical account of this conflict, an earthquake splits a great city into parts, and in the calamity that follows all nations perish. Nagasaki
Asahara took the prophecies of Revelation and mixed them with visions from the Old Testament and sayings of the sixteenth-century French astrologer Nostradamus (Michel de Nostredame). It was from Nostradamus that Asahara acquired the notion that Freemasons have been secretly plotting to control the world. To these fears Asahara added the same sort of obsession that Christian Identity thinkers possess regarding Jews as a source of international conspiracy. The CIA was also thought to be involved. Asahara also incorporated Hindu and Buddhist notions of the fragility of life into his prognosis for the world, and claimed that his dire prophecies would be fulfilled in part because humans needed to be taught a lesson about mortality. "Armageddon," Asahara said, must occur because "the inhabitants of the present human realm do not recognize that they are fated to die."
When Armageddon came, Asahara said, the evil forces would attack with the most vicious weapons: Radioactivity and other bad circumstances - poison gas, epidemics, food shortages will occur, the Master predicted. The only people who would survive were those "with great karma" and those who had the defensive protection of the Aum Shinrikyo organization. "They will survive," Asahara said, "and create a new and transcendent human world."
What were the initiation rites for entering into Aum Shinrikyo as described by Nakamura?
Though not entirely spelled out, Juergensmeyer lets Nakamura speak to this point:
The appearance of the master during the initiation ceremony, therefore, was more than the
of the event; it was the event, as far as Nakamura was concerned. His master entered the room accompanied by a retinue of twenty assistants and was seated on a cushion. Nakamura said that Asahara appeared to be practically blind, though he thought he might have been able to see slightly through one eye. His attitude was serious, even angry, and Nakamura felt he was judging each of them personally. He took a sip from a glass and ritually passed it around the circle of initiates. Nakamura drank from it as instructed. Then Asahara gave a little homily. He told them that he was devoted to both Shiva and the Buddha, and that he expected total devotion from his initiates. high point
After Master Asahara spoke, the initiates were led away from him to another room, where they were seated on a vibrating mat. They felt the vibration move up their spines as they chanted a mantra and recited the five principles Asahara had taught them. Whatever had been in his drink began to take effect; Nakamura later speculated that it might have been laced with LSD. He began to hallucinate, and Nakamura and the other candidates had mystical experiences. The initiates were asked to report what they saw and felt; they were cautioned that if they saw a dreadful god, all they had to do was to think of Master Asahara and it would vanish. Then actors came into the room, disguised as what Nakamura described as terrible and peaceful gods. They told the initiates that they were in hell and challenged them to think about what they might have done to warrant such a predicament. Nakamura confessed to being frightened by the experience, but a woman who was a seasoned member of the movement was at his side, assuring him that if he continued to trust in Asahara he would survive. After tearful confessions and proclamations of forgiveness were given and the effects of drink had diminished, the initiation was completed. They watched videos of the master's teachings, undertook meditation practices, and were administered intravenous fluids to end their fast.
What happens after when the apocalypse does not come?
When the violent end of time does not happen as predicted, then does the group disband in disillusionment? Most research into apocalyptic religious movements has shown that after the events occur that were supposed to trigger or represent the apocalypse and reality continues as before, the group goes into denial and becomes even tighter and more dedicated to their cause.