Me, unsuccessfully trying to accept the cult's teachings into my heart.
Last Saturday, I woke up at noon with the worst headache I've ever had. As if that wasn't a shitty enough way to start the day, I also had the prospect of an appointment that afternoon with the Parisian branch of Happy Science, a syncretic Japanese sect that appears to be made up of the most contradictory, gross, bizarre ideas the world has ever mustered up. Happy Science was founded in 1986, after businessman Ryuho Okawa realised that being a sect guru could prove a lot more profitable than being an anonymous employee of a huge Japanese company. As of today, Happy Science have set up their own political party to make their sect really pop, and claim to have more than ten million followers around the world.
I arrived late and signed a fake name on an attendance form that a tiny Japanese woman had given me. Standing in front of me were a group of six people watching one of Okawa's lectures, The Faith Quest in Spatial Ages – The Hidden Truth About Aliens and the Universe, on an old computer screen with an alarmingly engrossed look in their eyes.
In the video, Okawa was talking us through the various breeds of aliens that we might expect to meet. Besides our introduction to your standard set of extraterrestrials – a load of reptilians and a plethora of very similar aliens that all looked suspiciously like the guys you see smoking bongs on those glow-in-the-dark posters – we also learnt that, because there are Wookiees in Star Wars and Na'vi in Avatar, George Lucas and James Cameron have both definitely come into contact with creatures from outer space.
A few Happy Science-produced feature films about the glory of Master Okawa.
The guru predicts that some of these aliens might visit us one day, but it was always for really sucky reasons, like if an apocalyptic war broke out, or something. He's also convinced that there's a space alliance – a space NATO, kind of, if you really want to rationalise this – that forbids any kind of interstellar attacks or war between planets. Apparently some representatives could already be here, living among us, so remember that next time you start talking trash about aliens.
As the tape went on, I learned that Okawa was able to communicate with the spirit world and inhabitants of other planets. Oh, and that he's also the reincarnation of Buddha, Jesus and well-known religious leader, Yoda. OH, he also knows the true name of that big guy that Christians call God, Muslims call Allah and Jews call Yahve, and it's El Cantare, which means "the singer" in Spanish. I like the idea that a comically small guitar-playing man in a sombrero might be the creator of all that we know.
We were allowed a break after the lecture, so I had a quick chat with Yoko, one of the Happy Science employees. Yoko's dream was once to become a painter, which is why she moved to France to study, but she failed her course, went back to Japan, then returned to Paris to start the French branch of Happy Science. Her new mission in life is to convert as many French people as possible to the teachings of El Cantare, apparently by handing them explanatory diagrams and not explaining the sect very well.
The Happy Science explanation of the nine dimensions of Heaven.
If you can't quite make it out, heaven is a tiered manga cloud, split over nine dimensions and filled with talking trees, cows and a witch. The ninth dimension of Happy Science heaven is like a who's who of history's VIPs; Jesus, Moses, Confucius, Buddha, Plato – they're all poppin' bottles up in the high roller suite. Weirdly, Muhammad is stuck somewhere around the eighth dimension. I felt kinda bad for the guy.
After the break, we were subjected to another tape: Rebirth of Your Hopes, a completely overt attack on China and North Korea, where Okawa characterised the two countries as "responsible for the decay of Asia”. There was a bit where he started screaming about the Chinese being "dumb, lazy and full of shit", and another bit where he claimed that the Japanese government were going to raise taxes because of the "Chinesing of their minds".
Master Okawa has written more than 500 books, although most of them are just transcripts of his numerous videotaped lectures.
All those totally coherent views made me realise why Happy Science ventured into politics, although it did shock me to learn that they've never won a single election. The good news is that there are already 25 members of the party in France and, if the looks on the faces of the dreadlocked guys surrounding me were anything to go by, that number could be doubled in anywhere from a year to maybe nine or even eight years.
As I was leaving, Yoko handed me an envelope in case I felt like making an offering to El Cantare. Master Okawa had provided me with a more entertaining afternoon than I probably would have had, so I left a two-Euro coin and asked El Cantare to let me hang out in, at least, the sixth dimension when I died.
As far as I was aware, cults are always creepy and deluded, but usually effective in fooling people out of their money and sanity. Happy Science didn't get anywhere close to that. They had an impressive collection of books and DVDs, sure, but their utter inability to fabricate any miniscule speck of convincing enough bullshit completely turned me off. Poor job, guys. Instead of trying to communicate with aliens, hate on China and fight the Japanese tax rise, I just bought a bottle of water and took a 24-hour nap.