Religion in Modern Asia Newsletter

Radical Eschatology on the Rise?


While attention is being focused in Japan on the activities and unique eschatology of the new religion Aum Shinrikyo the neighboring country of Korea is likewise experience shock waves as a result of revelations regarding the cult group of Yungseng-gyo ("teaching of long life").

With doctrines focused on "agelessness and deathlessness," Yungseng-gyo was established in 1981 by Cho Hee-sung (63), and proclaims itself a "union of pan-religious truth from many religions, including Confucianism, Buddhism, and Christianity." The group claims a membership of 300,000, but outside observers say the actually membership is only around 3,000.

The founder claims to be a "messiah" or "the living Buddha Maitreya," born on earth with the divine mission to save the human race. He has also taught that the sin of avarice causes blood to degenerate, leading to people's deaths. Based on this teaching, he has called upon followers to donate their entire material assets to the group, and has established a sewing factory within the group where followers have been forced to labor, in these and other ways demonstrating a distinct spirit of self-aggrandizement.

But what has shocked Korean society above all is the revelation that the leader commanded in a sermon that "defectors should be pursued to the ends of the earth and executed," and that, based on that sermon, four-hundred of the group's followers were organized into seven "defector execution squads." Allegations are that these "squads" engaged in kidnappings, confinements, murder, and unlawful disposal of human remains. Since the excavation of a single set of human remains on March 7 of this year, investigations are currently continuing with regard to an additional seventeen missing persons.

Since the so-called hyugeo ("rapture") incident on October 28, 1992-the date on which one Korean group claimed the world would end-incidents with religious overtones have appeared one after another in Korea.

On the one hand, such incidents obviously demonstrate evidence of Korea's own unique cultural and historical background. From the standpoint of current news about Aum Shinrikyo however, the similarity, in terms of doctrine and group character, of the Japanese group to its counterpart new religions in Korea, seems almost uncanny. A similar eschatological strain was clearly evident in the Branch Davidian group, 86 members of which perished in a confrontation with the F.B.I. in Waco, Texas during April, 1993. As we approach the fin de siecle, it would appear that radical eschatology is becoming a global fashion once again.

-- Apr 1, 1995, MANABE Yuko

Last updated: 2001/11/28 14:33:42

Copyright © 2001 Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University. All Rights Reserved.