Day of Judgment: Cultists loyal despite Matsumoto’s arrest

This is the 11th installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult.
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6]
[Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10][Part 11] [Part 12]

After pounding on the door and shouting for those inside to open up, a team of police investigators poured into an Aum Supreme Truth cult facility in Tokyo on March 22, 1995.

After the police entered, a 39-year-old male member of the cult came out of the door into the glare of the lights of television cameramen.

The police quoted him as saying that none of the cult’s leaders had warned him of the raid.

He said he thought at the time that the government was going to destroy Aum by any means necessary.

Now living in an Aum-related facility in the Kanto region, the man joined the cult several months before Aum’s sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Though he continued working at a company job after joining Aum, the man later withdrew from the world at the exhortation of his wife, who had become an Aum believer earlier. The March 1995 raid by the Metropolitan Police Department came only a few days later.

Subsequently, one senior leader of Aum after another began strongly criticizing Aum’s top leader Chizuo Matsumoto, alias Shoko Asahara, 48, as they were on trial for their alleged roles in a series of Aum-related incidents. The harsh criticism made in court by the senior leaders against Matsumoto led the man to seriously question his decision to join Aum.

Not sure what to do, he thought it might be better to quit the cult. In the end, however, he chose to stay in Aum.

Asked about the reason for that decision, he told a Yomiuri Shimbun reporter in January: “I didn’t have any doubts about the Aum teachings themselves. In addition, leaving this religious organization would have meant that I’d have to have something to do with company superiors I hate.”

He still remains unable to break his spiritual dependency on Aum, saying: “I’d really like to see Asahara tell the truth about the allegations of the series of incidents in question. Given the situation, I can never feel at ease.”

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Group offered an alternative

A man in his 30s was among the 100 participants in a nine-day intensive training course Aum held from late 2003 over the New Year’s period at a cult facility in Yashio, Saitama Prefecture. He said he had come from a place far from the facility and had joined Aum about a year ago.

Having been frustrated by the difficulty of forging good relationships with others in corporate life, he had changed jobs more than 20 times before finding an Aum-published book in a bookstore one day.

He began to attend Aum training sessions more and more frequently to practice yoga, which made him feel nimble.

The idea began to crystallize in his mind that there was no alternative for him but to join Aum, “as I am disgusted with everything else in this world,” he said.

Even if Matsumoto, the top Aum leader, were convicted, the man would not leave the cult, he said in a feeble voice, adding: “Crime is a thing of this world. The system of Aum teachings is quite another.”

According to opinion surveys conducted by Kimiaki Nishida, 43, an associate professor at Shizuoka Prefectural University, Aum followers, unlike those of other cults, have a strong propensity to be positive about the truth of the cult’s teachings and the virtues of Aum as a religious organization even after they quit Aum.

“Aum believers used to form a personal relationship with Matsumoto with the earnest aim of achieving what Aum preaches as true freedom,” said the associate professor, “So most of them, even after bolting from Aum, find it extremely hard to adapt themselves anew to the realities of society, since their negative view of society is hard to change.”

A typical example of this was a former female Aum follower in her 20s, whom Taido Kusumaya, a Nichiren Buddhist priest at Daimyoji temple in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, met to counsel about ways of severing her spiritual ties to Aum.

She joined Aum in 1993 and was arrested by police on suspicion of illegally entering a building and later brought back to her parents’ home.

In the counseling session with Kusuyama in May 1995, she sat in a lotus position all the time, continuously reciting a mystical invocation while keeping track of the recitations with a counter she held firmly in her hand.

Even after the arrest of Matsumoto, the woman remained convinced of what she described as the infallibility of Aum teachings, stating enthusiastically, “For the cause of rescuing Japan from Armageddon, I’m determined to continue religious training in order to fulfill the goal of obtaining perfect freedom as taught by Aum.”

After two months of counseling with Kusuyama, she at last quit the cult, but the counseling went on even after that.

Three years later, having become able to judge things on her own, she recently came across one of the Aum leaders on the active list. The leader tried to persuade her to rejoin the cult, saying, “You’ll get a chance to enter paradise only if you stay with us.”

The meeting and the leader’s way of trying to persuade her made her feel the leader was living in a childishly naive world and led her to abandon her affection for the cult completely, she said.

Kusuyama said: “People who believed in Aum are mostly in the grip of a kind of dualism: The real world is evil, while Aum by contrast is the embodiment of good.”

“It’s very hard for them to return to the realities of life unless they are provided with adequate psychological support from their families and others,” the priest said.

He has met about 200 Aum followers so far for counseling, but only about 40 of them have severed their ties to the cult.

According to the Public Security Investigation Agency, the number of Aum followers currently stands at about 1,600, a figure that has remained unchanged for the past four years.

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