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Staff writer

Watching a remorseful Dr. Ikuo Hayashi weep and wail in the courtroom, many in the gallery could not help but wonder how this former elite heart surgeon became involved in a chain of crimes unprecedented in postwar Japan, leading to his being sentenced to life in prison Tuesday.

Having worked at a Detroit hospital and then as head of a national hospital in Ibaraki Prefecture, Hayashi began to search for what he thought modern medical science lacked. He found his answer in Buddhism. Hayashi joined the Agonshu religious cult before meeting Shoko Asahara and joining Aum Shinrikyo in 1989.

The following year, he became a resident follower at the cult’s compound in Yamanashi Prefecture, bringing with him his wife, also a medical doctor, and two children. At the time, the primarily pure-hearted Hayashi never doubted that Asahara was a Buddhist emancipator with supernatural power.

Hayashi remained faithful to Asahara. However, Asahara didn’t like him very much, Hayashi said. “(Asahara) was always distant to me,” Hayashi told a court hearing. “Maybe he was feeling a sense of inferiority for what I once had — a good family, education and profession. My presence was something that reminded him of his past frustrations.”

Asahara was born into a poor family in Kumamoto Prefecture. Visually impaired, he went to a boarding school for the blind. Set up by Asahara in 1987, Aum Shinrikyo maintains a dogma that justifies homicide if Asahara deems it necessary to save the victim’s soul.

After joining the cult, Hayashi gradually started to see its dark side — narcotics, guns, kidnapping and the murder of dissidents. But he could not oppose Asahara’s orders because of his blind belief in the cult’s leader and the fear that he, too, might be killed if he defied him, he told the court.

He has described in court the three levels of experience feared by followers if they opposed Asahara’s orders. “The first level is that you are ignored (by Asahara) and you are denied religious training,” Hayashi said. “At the second level, you are told that you will go to hell if you betray him. Finally, you get involved in a homicide and realize that the next victim could be you.”

Hayashi invented “narco,” an interrogation method using the anesthetic thiopental sodium, and “new narco,” a method of erasing unpleasant memories of the cult from a follower’s brain by using electrical shocks and narcotics.

During his transformation from a doctor into a defendant accused of multiple murders, Hayashi said he gave up one thing — the ability to think for himself.

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