Jan 24, 2023

Yoga guru who started a doomsday cult and got his followers to drink his blood for $8,000 a bottle

Joe Harker
Unilad
January 22, 2023

A new documentary looking into a doomsday cult established by a yoga guru in Japan in the 1980s delves into the terrifying truth at the heart of group which turned Nazi weapons on people.

In 1984, a failed pharmacist named Chizuo Matsumoto who had been in trouble for trying to sell crackpot remedies such as tangerine peel in alcohol as medicine formed a cult.

By 1987, he had changed his name to Shoko Asahara and switched the name of his group to Aum Shinrikyo, meaning 'supreme truth', forming it into a cult which would gain thousands of members and go on to commit terrible atrocities.

Ostensibly a meditation and yoga group, Aum Shinrikyo grew its following and successfully managed to gain recognition as a religious corporation, with Asahara having written books and published cartoons with himself as the main character.

He claimed he was the 'messiah of the last century' and suggested you could learn how to read minds and levitate by following his teachings.

Once the cult became large enough they built compounds to keep people in, enforcing a lifestyle of only three hours of sleep a night with cult members subsisting on nothing but boiled vegetables.

The cult leader sold vials of his own blood for followers to drink and got his hands on chemical weapons. 

Cult members were also not allowed to change clothes, and were taught to embrace 'filth' as a tenet of their lifestyle.

As if that wasn't weird enough, Asahara began selling bottled vials of his own blood for $8,000 for his followers to drink, and did similar with his bathwater.

In 1990, he made a failed bid to become prime minister of Japan, and set up a Russian branch following the collapse of the Soviet Union, during which time Asahara also acquired a great number of armaments, including chemical weapons.

His was a doomsday cult and he declared to his followers that World War Three would destroy the planet in a nuclear Armageddon.

Among the chemical weapons acquired by his cult was sarin gas, a nerve toxin developed by the Nazis, and his cult put it to deadly use on 20 March 1995.

Asahara's followers launched an attack on the Tokyo subway which left 13 people dead and around 5,500 injured.

Shoko Asahara founded a doomsday cult which launched chemical weapons against people. Credit: Sundance Film Festival
Shoko Asahara founded a doomsday cult which launched chemical weapons against people. Credit: Sundance Film Festival
Asahara was arrested on 16 May 1995 after he was found in a small room in the headquarters of his cult, and was charged with 27 counts of murder.

In a trial lasting over seven years, prosecutors argued that the yoga guru launched the attack with the intention of toppling the Japanese government and installing himself as the new Emperor.

He was also accused of being responsible for a previous sarin gas attack, as well as the murders of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a lawyer bringing a case against the doomsday cult, and his family.

Asahara's defence claimed that these two incidents had been carried out by his followers without his knowledge and their part in it hidden from him.

They also argued he was mentally unfit to stand trial as he barely spoke in court, but a psychiatric examiner found that he spoke freely in his detention centre.

He was ultimately sentenced to death in 2004 and his numerous appeals against the verdict all failed.

He was executed by hanging at the age of 63 in 2018 along with six other members of his cult.

AUM: The Cult at the End of the World is a new documentary exploring the doomsday cult, and is currently playing at the Sundance Festival.


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