Nov 2, 2015

Blooming 'Happy Science' cult channels Disney, Gandhi, Jesus and Thatcher

Beau Donelly
The Age
November 2, 2015

Happy Science
Self-styled Japanese master Ryuho Okawa,
 founder of Happy Science

This could be Melbourne's most eclectic new religion.

With spiritual help from Jesus, Gandhi, Moses, Zeus and others, Ryuho Okawa has got all the bases covered. And the self-styled Japanese master's sights are set squarely on expansion in Australia, which he believes will be a world superpower in 300 years time.

Okawa, founder of the controversial Happy Science religion, claims to receive guidance from more than 500 "high spirits" who have had a profound impact on world history.

Other members of the cohort of famous names Okawa says he's able to channel are Shakespeare, Socrates, Thomas Edison, Confucius, Walt Disney, Margaret Thatcher and, despite his not yet having entered the spiritual plane, US President Barack Obama.

The claims have been dismissed by cult watchers as "preposterous", but that hasn't stopped Happy Science from expanding - and attracting big donations from converts.

Spreading the high spirits' messages is central to Okawa's religious movement, and his mission to bring happiness and salvation to the world.

The sect made its debut in Sydney about 10 years ago and recently gave its Melbourne branch on St Kilda Road a makeover.

Happy Science Melbourne's 'new look' branch on St Kilda Road
Happy Science Melbourne's 'new look' branch on St Kilda Road
Co-director Hiro Sunada said Happy Science was attracting a growing number of disciples, with more than 4000 local members.

Happy Science Australia is registered as a charity and lists among its objectives relieving poverty, sickness, suffering and distress.

According to its own government business filings the sect has taken in $1.5 million in donations in two years, with an increasing amount coming from followers in Melbourne and Sydney.

But when asked whether any charitable donations had been made, its head office gave only vague details, listing a donation of books to a library and a collection for Nepal's earthquake victims.

"Unfortunately we haven't done a great job so far," he said of the organisation's commitment to charity.

The movement came to Australia, Mr Sunada said, because the country was destined to become a global superpower.

"We believe that Australia is going to be the next leader of the world in 300 years," he said. "That's why we came, to realise this vision given by God."

According to the Happy Science website, Master Okawa threw in his career as a New York market trader to become a guru when he attained great enlightenment in the 1980s.

He now has a dual role of running a global corporation and being spiritual "grand saviour" to his flock, claimed to be in the region of 12 million worldwide.

The website says he has written more than 1800 books and given in excess of 2300 public lectures. He's also dabbled in politics on a platform of boosting Japan's population and arming it for conflict with China and North Korea.

Okawa conducts "alien readings", predicts that much of the United States will sink at the beginning of the 24th Century, and has written that Martin Luther will be reincarnated as a Japanese school teacher and help usher in a new religious movement.

Spirits summoned by Master Okawa: Happy Science website
Spirits summoned by Master Okawa: Happy Science website

Melbourne-based Cult Consulting Australia said it was fielding an increasing number of calls from people worried about relatives being involved with religious groups from Asia, including some who were concerned about Happy Science.

"There's a proliferation of suspect, cult-like groups that exist in Japan, China and South Korea, which often defy imagination in terms of their beliefs," counsellor Raphael Aron said.

Mr Aron said it was likely Happy Science would continue to attract a local following, but said it was all "smoke and mirrors".

"His [Okawa's] claims are preposterous, in terms of him being the most enlightened being on Earth that represents the manifestation of all the higher power that ever existed … and then there's also this business about aliens coming. It just goes on and on and on," he said.

"The most fascinating part of all this is that people join in and that he actually gets a following."

Happy Science website
Happy Science website
Described in Japanese media as being cult-like, Happy Science bills itself as a religious organisation involved in "education, publishing and charitable activities".

Mr Sunada said Happy Science published educational material and ran seminars for worshippers, who were taught to explore their "right mind" through teachings based on the principles of love, wisdom, self reflection and progress.

"We are trying to solve problems of people by giving teachings [about] how to control their mind, keep their mind calm," he said.

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