Asahara – still crazy

For all you Aum watchers, make sure to take in this article on the English Mainichi. It’s actually been posted for a week or so, but I just ran across it. The former cult leader, who is responsible for a number of atrocities, was sentenced to death a little while back, but seems to be working very hard to delay the (cough, cough) execution of that sentence for as long as possible by faking insanity.

“He took off his trousers and diapers, exposed his genitalia and masturbated. He repeated the same action frequently. Whenever he acts like that, he drops his trousers, his diaper and diaper cover to his knees, finishes the act, then raises his trousers up to his waist again,” Friday quotes the Nishiyama Report as saying.

The weekly goes on to note that Asahara does not restrain his self-ministrations to times when he’s alone in his cell at the Tokyo Detention Center.

“In April 2005, just before the accused’s lawyer entered a visiting room, the accused exposed his penis and began masturbating, continuing until he had finished while the lawyer stood before him the entire time. He has repeated this act of masturbation in the visiting room, as well as in his solitary confinement cell since being placed under observation in May. He also performed the act in front of his daughters when they came to visit him in August of the same year,” the Nishiyama Report says.

On the other hand, Asahara is well documented as having been bat-shit crazy at the very least since 1983, so who am I to accuse him of just putting on a show?

Death sentence of Aum sarin subway terrorist upheld

Saru forwarded me the AP story, but I don’t have a link so I’ll just post it below.

Japan: Death for Man in Subway Gassing

The Associated Press


Tokyo’s High Court upheld the death penalty for a doomsday cult member convicted in the 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attack that killed 12 people, a court official said Wednesday.

Tomomitsu Niimi, a high-ranking member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, was sentenced in 2002 to hang for murdering 26 people in seven separate attacks.
Continue reading Death sentence of Aum sarin subway terrorist upheld

Best hits of Aum – Part I

Earlier this year I spent an entire month working fulltime translating documents about Aum Shinrikyo into English to be used as research materials for a report on international religious terrorism being created by a Washington DC based organization that shall remain nameless.

While I did a couple of articles and some excerpts from various books, I spent almost the entire time translating large sections of Aum and I, the confessional jailhouse memoir of Ikuo Hayashi, a former medical doctor who helped to spread sarin gas in the Tokyo subway on that infamous day.

Although I was paid to do this translation, it was not intended for publication and my client has no rights over the material, only requesting the translation in the first place for their own reference. Therefore, I’ve decided to excerpt some of my very favorite sections of evil cult related goodness to post every once in a while.

Here is the very first installment – my translation of page 133 of Aum and I.


There was nothing I could say in response to that, but I do remember feeling terribly remorseful about delaying the salvation plan. Because of that., I thought that maybe I could perhaps advance my training a bit, and even performed a bit of secret surgery, cutting my tongue’s frenulum with the aim of perfecting my Yoga’s “Nagomdoni.” I also thought I had failed to become a Siddha because I hadn’t pushed myself to the limit, so I started fasting. The result was that my body became progressively weaker, and I became unable to do breathing exercises. Whenever I tried I would develop an irregular pulse.

Over the course of three days of fasting I was able to maintain consciousness even without getting any sleep. I tasted one part of the “experience” described as the so-called “sequential states of consciousness.” As a “prithag-jana” [an unenlightened person still a slave to their worldly desires], I had trouble during the period after the fasting, when I started eating again. I was reading an article by someone who had achieved Siddha, which contained some sections specifically talking about people tormented by gluttony, or pained by fasting. Upon reading these sections, I was swept up by the images of food, and felt the same lust to eat say, eel or bread. I thought that I had been overcome.

At exactly that time, the Aum magazine Mayahana printed a story about the Buddhist training from the time of Shakyamuni. It said that during the time of Shakyamuni’s spiritual training, there was a practice of eating the feces of some animal, say a dog. Thinking that the reason I hadn’t yet become a Siddha was because I just hadn’t been pushing my limits, I thought that perhaps I should try doing the same thing as the original Buddha. I decided to begin eating my own feces.

When first facing my own feces I seriously hesitated. It was originally a part of me though, and there are even living things that eat feces. Since it’s the same E. Coli that just came out of me, it couldn’t upset my stomach, right? Inflammation of the pharanyx is a possibility though… I tried to reason through the various possibilities before finally eating it.

Perhaps because at that time I had been eating nothing but roots and vegetables for three months solid, there was actually no smell.

What do the Dalai Lama and Shoko Asahara have in common?

The new February 2006 issue of Wired has an article on how the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Buddhist sect has gotten involved with Western neuroscientologists to do research into this field.

A decade later, [Doctor Richardson] got a chance to examine Tibetan Buddhists in his own lab. In June 2002, Davidson’s associate Antoine Lutz positioned 128 electrodes on the head of Mattieu Ricard. A French-born monk from the Shechen Monastery in Katmandu, Ricard had racked up more than of 10,000 hours of meditation.

Lutz asked Ricard to meditate on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion.” He immediately noticed powerful gamma activity – brain waves oscillating at roughly 40 cycles per second – indicating intensely focused thought. Gamma waves are usually weak and difficult to see. Those emanating from Ricard were easily visible, even in the raw EEG output. Moreover, oscillations from various parts of the cortex were synchronized – a phenomenon that sometimes occurs in patients under anesthesia.

The researchers had never seen anything like it. Worried that something might be wrong with their equipment or methods, they brought in more monks, as well as a control group of college students inexperienced in meditation. The monks produced gamma waves that were 30 times as strong as the students’. In addition, larger areas of the meditators’ brains were active, particularly in the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for positive emotions.

Compare with this brief excert I translated the book Aum and I, written by convicted former cult member and medical doctor Ikuo Hayashi.

A book called Bodhisattva Sutra was published in September. The book tells that an initiation using what was later known as PSI had been developed. This was done by reading Asahara’s brain waves during meditation using electrodes, channel them, resonate another’s brain to match Asahara’s brain waves and cause then to have the same experience of meditation.

In the phone call, Asahara said to me, “Krishna Nanda, there is an interesting experiment that I wish to show you. Bring Nurse Komiya and Doctor K, and come quickly to the Seiryu Vihara.

When I arrived, I was surprised to see that there was an honest to God brain wave meter, and a room that has been electrically shielded how one has to for measuring brain waves that they called the shield room had been built. Murai, Nakagawa, and Dr. S has done research and written a program that could read brain waves into a computer and then re-send them.

If they could infuse the data of Asahara’s meditation, it would mean the birth of a new enlightened one, possessing the same “enlightenment” as Asahara.

Which possibility sounds best?

A) Both the Dalai Lama and Shoko Asahara are crazy to be interested in this field.

B) Studying the brain waves of a meditative state makes sense, but Asahara’s plan to transfer that state was insane.

C) Asahara had the right idea.

Or am I missing one?

Blind religious leaders

Asahara isn’t the only religious leader known for his poor vision. An installment of the explainer column this week at Slate discusses a practical reasons why there are so many blind Islamic clerics.

A traditional Muslim education in some ways favors the blind, since it proceeds largely through the repetition and memorization of sacred texts. Children chant Quranic verses until they know them by heart; those who learn the whole book often receive advanced religious training. Blind kids—who often make up for their disability with a finely tuned sense of hearing—tend to do quite well at this.

Children who can’t see may also get pushed toward the clergy by their parents. Clerics often preach through the artful recitation of the Quran—something a blind person can learn to do as well as anyone else. The same child would be at a severe disadvantage in a conventional classroom, and he’d have a harder time holding down a regular job.

The type of study needed for Buddhism is very different and with the heavy emphasis on Sutra study might not be as comfortable for a blind student, but Asahara’s partial-sightedness caused him to be placed in an environment that allowed his most anti-social tendencies to foster. Look at this excert from an article about Asahara and Aum that I linked to a few days ago.

Smitten at birth with infantile glaucoma, he was blind in his left eye and only partially sighted in his right.

Because of his disability and timid manner, he was bullied and teased constantly at school until his parents enrolled him in a government-funded school for the blind.

He quickly learned that being the only partially sighted child in a class full of blind students had distinct advantages. It wasn’t long before he became the school bully, dominating and manipulating his classmates into doing his bidding.

Have you heard the expression “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”? Have you ever before thought that it could be literally true?

Asahara is of course far from the only blind prophet in history. It’s a common archetype in mythology and fantasy, the most famous example of which is probably the Greek seer Tiresias.

Another Aum member sentenced

The Japan Times has the story:

The Tokyo District Court sentenced a past key Aum Shinrikyo figure to 30 months in prison Friday and fined him 2 million yen for unlicensed sales of skin ointment in 2003 and 2004.

Takashi Inoue, 37, who headed the cult’s Tokyo training center, had pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and violation of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.

“It was not fraud. I did not know that it was a pharmaceutical product that requires a license,” Inoue said during the trial.

According to the prosecution, Inoue’s gains from selling some of the medicine by falsely advertising it as not including steroids amounted to 4.15 million yen.

Noda was found guilty in the same court in December of illegally selling the ointment and sentenced to a suspended 18-month prison term. He did not appeal.

While this doesn’t seem on the surface to have any direct connection with the operations of Aum itself (which was disbanded as an organization in 1997 by court order, and whose teachings were carried on by the successor organization Aleph), the snake oil sale hucksterism of the operation is very much in line with Asahara’s pre-Aum activity. Were they inspired by the scams of their former spiritual guru, or did he suggest the idea to them directly while communing in the astral plane from his prison cell?

Another good site for Aum background

If you can’t read the original Japanese court transcripts that have been published in book form in Japan, then this web site may be one of the best resources for learning about the legal aspects of the investigation and prosecution of the cult is this site created by Tokyo based software engineer Timothy Romero. Unfortunately he stopped updating it in 1997, many years before Asahara’s trial was concluded, but as he wrote at the time he decided to halt work on the site, “there is little doubt as to the eventual verdict.” Mr. Romero currently keeps an unrelated blog, which seems to be updated every week or two.

Some recommended background reading on Aum

If you’re interested in reading some more about Aum Shinrikyo, the easiest place to turn would be this fairly long article on Court TV’s Crime Library web site.

Additionally, I can’t strongly enough recommend Haruki Murakami’s book, Underground The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche. It’s actually a compilation of what was published as two separate volumes in Japan. The first volume, also named Underground, consists of a brief history of Aum, a description of the attacks, and a series of edited interviews in which survivors of the attack (and If I recall correctly, in one case a relative of a ‘survivor’ left in a coma, and a relative of a fatality). By interviewing some of the transit workers alongside a variety of ordinary commuters, interspersed with his own narrative, Murakami paints a vivid and complete picture of how the attack unfolded throughout the day, as well as giving the best overall impression of the Tokyo subway’s geography that I have ever seen in print.

The second (and much slimmer) volume, originally titled “To the place that was promised,” consists of interviews with former members of the cult, whose reactions range from regretful, to disbelieving, to resentful. Of course, at that time he was unable to gain access to any of the cult members who had actually been involved with or known in advance about the attacks, who were all either in prison or hiding (which is still the case).

At least one convicted Aum member has told his story since though. Ikuo Hayashi, a former cardiologist who was arrested and subsequently confessed shortly after the sarin attack, has written a 575 page memoir entitled “Aum and I.” It has not been published in English, but I have a copy sitting right here and it’s a damn good read.
As an aside, I read Murakami’s Aum book about a year before I first went to Japan, when I had just started learning Japanese and was only starting to become interested in learning about the country. It was the first thing by Haruki Murakami that I had ever read, and only after reading Underground did I even know that he was a popular novelist.

Asahara not fit for trial: psychiatrist

Lawyers for Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult, released portions of a psychiatrist’s report Monday stating that Asahara is unable to stand trial because of his confused state of mind.The report of Masaaki Noda, a professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, will be submitted to the Tokyo High Court, the lawyers said.

Asahara, 50, who has been sentenced to death and whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is in the midst of an appeal.

Based on the report, the lawyers will ask the high court to suspend the appellate trial. Asahara has been found guilty on 13 counts, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

“If competency to stand trial is defined as understanding the meaning of the trial and the ability to defend oneself, then (Asahara) should be deemed lacking in such competency,” Noda said in the report.

He also stated in the report that Asahara’s symptoms may improve in about six months if he is given immediate psychological treatment and that reopening the trial after his recovery would be more practical than arguing over whether he is pretending to be ill or is actually confused.

Three of the four psychiatrists, including Noda, who have interviewed Asahara have expressed doubts about his competency to stand trial. Another is drafting a report stating that Asahara is suffering from a mental disorder caused by his long stay in prison.

The Japan Times: Jan. 17, 2006

I’m currently in the midst of a job translating some Aum related documents into English so I know something about this Mr. Asahara. You’d think that someone who was supposedly such a master meditation guru would be able to cope with a prison stay. I mean, one of the training techniques he used on his followers was making them meditate for periods of time in an isolation cell! Didn’t he ever practice that one himself? Or maybe the fact that the prison isn’t feeding him the “Aum diet” of vegetables and natto is wreaking havoc with his charkas and inhibiting the flow of Kundalini energies. How could he possibly be expected to remain sane with his Kundalini energies locked down like that?

Or maybe it’s just the aftereffects of a little too much second-hand smoke from the sarin factory.

Beijing Post Publishes Posthumous Interview With Isaac Asimov

Danwei reports that Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is finally being published in Chinese, and in honor of this the Beijing News has put out a special science fiction issue. In addition to articles on Chinese language SF, they have also managed to get an interview with the man himself, (English translationthe first he has given since passing away in 1992.

Isaac Asimov passed away on 6 April 1992, so to be able to conduct this interview we must thank a scientist named Vikkor Mallansohn – according to Asimov’s novel [The End of Eternity] he invents something in the 24th century that makes a “time kettle” possible.

Among the highlights of the interview is this exchange on the much discussed Al Qaeda connection. It’s worth noting here that (according, again, to Danwei), both ‘Al Qaeda’ and ‘Foundation’ are translated the same in Chinese (基地)

TBN: What a terrible reader. Reportedly there are people who have examined Bin Laden’s choice to name his terrorist organization “Foundation” (Al Qaeda) and have concluded that it is perhaps because of your influence, that he was a science fiction fan in his youth. What is interesting about this is that you wrote the Foundation under upon the instigation of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and many scholars today believe that the United States is a New Roman Empire.

Asimov: I don’t know whether Bin Laden really understands English. “Foundation” (Al Qaeda) does resemble a group exiled from civilization, but they are at a lower level rather than a higher one. The US is unquestionably the most powerful country today, but I have a hard time determining whether it is in a process of decline akin to that in Foundation. This is perhaps the mystique of history; we can learn lessons and gain inspiration from similar historical situations. But I must point out that the “Empire” in my novels is not a country, but rather a description of a stage in the progression of the people of Earth. You can see that personal names are of all different types, not merely American.

The Ansible website has a good (if somewhat tongue in cheek)article on this theorized connection.

The small but alarming coincidence is that this is Asimov’s “Foundation” series (Seldon’s outfit is called the Foundation), allegedly popular among Arabic-speaking SF readers under its translated name Al Qaeda. Usually rendered into English as The Base, this also means The Foundation.

So, was Osama bin Laden inspired by Asimov’s fiction to establish his Al-Qaeda in an impoverished country, there to await and assist the fall of the West, issuing portentous videotapes the while?

Interestingly, while the Al-Qaeda/Foundation link is still a matter of controversy, it is generally accepted that the Foundation trilogy was in fact an inspiration for Shoko Asahara, the founder of the Aum cult responsible for the Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks several years ago.
More on this later when I have time to do some checking.