The Incredible Story of Aum

David E. Kaplan and Andrew Marshall

Arrow, London, 1997

It is hard to know where to start with a horror story like this. Fellow musicians will be struck by the chapter on the Chyr Orchestra, so I will commence with this adventure, which will put most musicians' hard luck tales in the shade.

The Japanese Aum cult recruited an orchestra from Russia, by offering impoverished players $1000 per month. The cult's leader, Shoko Asahara, had turned to music:

"he developed what he termed 'the Divine Ear' - the ability to 'hear the voices of gods and humans.' With this holy skill, he began composing 'astral music', the New age tunes played at Aum meetings, often with the guru's own, off-key voice setting the melody."

The orchestra was initially well-treated, apart from having to play New Age music, but a dismal tour of Aum centres in Japan led to a rather unexpected turn of events.

The musicians were offered, in an insistent kind of way, a special initiation, whereby they each had to go into a cubicle and listen to incessant mantras, as sung by the cloth-eared guru, through loudspeakers which vibrated under the cubicle beds, and which could not be turned off.

The floors were wet and filthy, the musicians cold, having been relieved of their shoes. After 3 hours, some of the hungry, exhausted players tried to sleep on their vibrating beds, only to be awoken by cries of alarm from their colleagues, who had noticed a foul-smelling liquid dripping from the high ceiling in the hall. Koudri, the conductor, went outside for air, and spotted a ventilator flue:

"A dirty green smoke spurted out of it. Then it turned blue. Whenever I stood close by, my thoughts, my whole body, turned incredibly heavy. If I moved away, I felt better in five or ten minutes." (p.254)

The guru showed up at 1.00 a.m., but was unable to placate the orchestra, and threatened to fire them all if they didn't go back inside the hall. Isolated in the middle of the Japanese countryside, 3 hours' drive from Tokyo (although the coaches had now vanished), surrounded by armed guards, the Russians protested:

"We're cold and we're hungry. We could die here."

To which Asahara replied:

"Well, die then. I'll pray for you."

By about 4.00, the orchestra had managed to get the coaches to come back and get everyone aboard, despite some members' desperation to stay: so confused by the experience, some red-eyed people claimed to want to stay there forever, or were terrified of the coaches.

In fairness to Aum, this initiation was given for free, instead of costing the usual $10,000 each.

The cult was founded on the greed and megalomania of the guru, and the gullibility of his many victims:

"Asahara would simply place his hand on a student's head and 'inject the yoga master's divine energy into disciples.' Afterwards, students testified to extraordinary results, including miracle recoveries from road accidents, out-of-body experiences, and 90% win-rates at mahjong. Asahara charged students $350 each for this ritual." (p.17)


"Asahara... repackaged his dirty bathwater as 'Miracle Pond' and sold it for nearly $800 per quart." (p.21)

By the end, Aum Supreme Truth had accumulated about $1 billion, had its own laboratories and factories researching chemical, bacteriological and nuclear warfare, and, in 1995, unleashed the nerve gas, sarin, into the Tokyo underground system, killing 12 people and injuring over 5500. On 29 June 2000, Yasuo Hayashi, the leading hitman involved, was sentenced to hang.


Kerbo and McKinstry - Modern Japan


Paul Taylor 2001