Monday, April 11, 2016

From 'Degenerate' Fears to Cult Violence: How an Ancient Buddhist Belief Impacted Japan Across Eight Centuries

By Eric Fish
An Aum Shinrikyo follower meditates before portraits of leader Shoko Asahara and his two sons posted on an altar at a seminary of a Tokyo building on August 11, 1999. (Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)
On March 20, 1995, five men boarded separate trains in Tokyo’s subway and punctured bags of liquid sarin, killing 13 passengers and injuring thousands in the deadliest terror attack in Japanese history. The men were members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which followed the teachings of enigmatic leader Shoko Asahara. Part of the group’s theology, though, was rooted in ancient Buddhist beliefs that had shaped mainstream Japanese society during the Kamakura period, which lasted from 1185 to 1333. Surviving Buddhist art from the Kamakura period — some of which is on display in Asia Society Museum’s current exhibition Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan — speaks to the social upheaval of the time. [link]