TOKYO -- In an effort to explain itself to the world, the religious organization suspected of releasing a deadly nerve agent into the Tokyo subways last month held a news conference here yesterday and acknowledged that some of its actions could appear "peculiar."
For instance, the Aum Shinri Kyo sect did indeed provide a special "energy" drink for followers made from the blood of the sect's spiritual leader. In other cases, it supplied the bathwater of senior disciples, said Fumihiro Joyu, an articulate former rocket scientist who has emerged as the religion's spokesman.
Parents have found it "psychologically" unusual and upsetting, he recognized, when their children join the sect and give up all contact with the material world, including contact with relatives.
And there are, he allowed, lots of potentially dangerous chemicals used at the sect's facilities.
But Mr. Joyu adamantly denied that Aum Shinri Kyo was involved in any crimes, contending that accusations ranging from kidnapping to poisoning were a result of religious suppression that any reader of the Bible would understand.
"Looking back in history, a group led by a savior named Jesus Christ underwent such violent persecution by the state," Mr. Joyu said.
Aum Shinri Kyo, or "Supreme Truth," has come under intense scrutiny since the poison attack on the Tokyo subways two weeks ago that left 11 dead and 5,500 injured, and the shooting Thursday of Takaji Kunimatsu, the nation's top police officer, who personally supervised the subway poisoning investigation.
Thousands of police have raided Aum Shinri Kyo facilities over the past 10 days, arresting several members and uncovering tons of poisonous chemicals and machinery that, according to news reports, could produce not only nerve gas but also biological weapons.
But Mr. Joyu declared yesterday that the goal of Aum Shinri Kyo is peaceful -- to provide followers with a permanent serenity that can come only through abandoning materialistic culture, including food and dating, in favor of meditation and other ascetic practices.
"Through its [Aum Shinri Kyo's] practices, I find absolute ecstasy . . . more than sexual ecstasy," he said.
Mr. Joyu acknowledged that the sect had built facilities for producing insecticides that are closely related to chemical weapons, but denied that the sect had the knowledge or the equipment to produce poison gas. The huge cache of potentially deadly chemicals uncovered by police, Mr. Joyu said, was part of a broad effort to achieve self-sufficiency in the production of everything from radios to plastics to cakes and cookies -- all in an effort to preserve the group's form of Buddhism beyond an imminent Armageddon.
In response to questions, Mr. Joyu confirmed some of the more bizarre tales that have been circulating about his organization. The sect's spiritual leader, Shoko Asahara, had warned members some time ago about the possibility of widespread poisoning by sarin, an agent broadly suspected to be at least one of the substances used during the subway attack.
The blood of Mr. Asahara was provided to disciples to drink so there could be "energy transfer from the guru to disciples."
"It is a very holy rite," Mr. Joyu said. "We are not selling blood. . . . This is the master's way of saying thank you to people who contributed money for salvation activity."
In Russia, the bathwater of sect leaders was put to similar use.
Missionary work in Russia and other countries was another method used by the sect to ensure survival after an apocalypse, Mr. Joyu said.
Insinuations that the sect was involved in the recent crimes, Mr. Joyu said, could be a plot by another Buddhist organization jealous of Aum Shinri Kyo's recent popularity with young Japanese.
The organization, Soka Gakkai, has millions of members in Japan and abroad. It provides crucial financial and voting support for the second-largest political party in Japan, and plays a large role in Japanese society.
"I know one senior member of our sect who might be a spy" from Soka Gakkai, Mr. Joyu said.
Soka Gakkai issued its own statement yesterday, noting that Aum Shinri Kyo originally blamed the U.S. military and then attributed the incidents to the Japanese national authorities.
"Their attempt now to implicate the Soka Gakkai is inconsistent and ludicrous," it said.