The article appeared, appropriately enough, in a magazine called "Twilight Zone." The author reported earnestly: "My anti-gravity experiments have kept me aloft for no more than three seconds so far. But the period is increasing steadily. Within a year, my body should be able to fly at will."

When he wrote that article in 1985, Shoko Asahara had given up on failed careers as an acupuncturist and a vendor of health tonics and was branching out into a new line of work -- the self-styled "Venerated Master" of a series of secretive religious cults.

With his bushy black beard, his robes of purple and shocking pink draped over a portly frame and his long diatribes attacking the United States, the Japanese military and a roster of other perceived enemies, the 40-year-old Asahara comes across as the Central Casting version of a cult guru. Asahara's experiments with self-levitation, his claims that the CIA attacked him with poison gas, his repeated predictions that the world is about to end, his legions of followers parading in elephant masks -- all that might be laughable, if his cult, Aum Supreme Truth, had not been linked to the type of nerve gas that was used in Monday's unprecedented attack on the Tokyo subway system.

The deadly nerve gas sarin was released on five trains during the morning rush hour, and so far 10 people are dead from coming into contact with it, and scores are still hospitalized.

No charges have been filed in the gas attack, and Aum Supreme Truth has firmly denied any involvement. But massive police raids this week have reportedly turned up huge supplies of chemicals at the cult's facilities.

On Thursday, police raided a large Aum complex in Kamikuishiki, west of Tokyo, for the third successive day and, according to television reports, the Osaka branch of the cult.

Media reports said police found that the cult had stocks of the major ingredients required for the production of sarin -- including phosphorous trichloride and sodium fluoride -- plus extensive facilities for making chemical compounds. A police review of the cult's membership lists showed that a key member owns a chemical company, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

Police reportedly also found at Kamikuishiki a quantity of atropine, an antidote for exposure to some poison gases. Asahara has made repeated claims that the U.S. and Japanese military had attacked his facilities with poison gas.

Amid intense public pressure to find those responsible for Monday's frightening attack, police are now said to be working methodically through the seized evidence to determine if they can bring murder charges against Asahara or other cult members. Leaders of the cult have not been arrested, but it appears they are in Japan and that police know where they are. At noon today, Asahara himself made a video-taped statement shown on the public broadcasting network NHK.

Looking calm and perhaps a little sad, the guru, wearing a purple robe, said again that allegations against the cult were drummed up by police "to darken the name of Aum Supreme Truth." He said the chemicals police had seized were used for making porcelain, fertilizer and medicine.

On Wednesday, the sect's radio station broadcast a speech condemning the police by a man who identified himself as Asahara. That broadcast came from the Russian city of Vladivostok, close to the Japanese archipelago, from which the cult broadcasts to circumvent Japanese radio frequency restrictions.

Russian authorities said at the time that the audio feed for the program had been transmitted from Japan; today, they said the cult's broadcasting station had been shut down.

It also was reported Thursday that police planned their huge search a week ago and had the necessary gas masks assembled by Sunday -- the day before the subway attack. The police raids did not begin until early Wednesday.

Aum is the third religious group formed by Asahara. It is targeted primarily at young people who feel alienated from Japan's materialistic society.

A thirst among the disaffected young for some spiritual nourishment spurred a marked growth in so-called new religions as Japan was growing vastly richer in the 1980s. Most of the sects are based on some variation of traditional Buddhism, but new faiths, including the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, also have members here. Many of these new faiths are in fact cults, built around slavish devotion to a single supreme leader.

Asahara, born Chizuo Matsumoto, is the fourth son of a maker of tatami mats in southern Japan, according to biographies and material provided by his cult. Handicapped by a serious vision impairment, he had a fight-filled school career. After high school, he took up acupuncture, evidently hoping it might help restore his vision.

He then moved into the pharmaceutical and health-tonic business but was jailed and fined in 1982 for selling counterfeit medication.

With two failed businesses behind him, Asahara and his wife founded their first cult, the Heavenly Blessing Association, in 1982. This folded, and the guru next started the Aum Divine Wizard Association. That was when he decided that Buddhist principles would permit him to defy gravity and fly, a skill he has been trying to teach his disciples ever since.

In 1987, he formed the current sect, Aum Supreme Truth. There are various interpretations of the word "Aum." Some say it is the Sanskrit word for an element of doctrine; others say the word, pronounced here "Oh-mu," is one of the mantras that Buddhist monks chant in seeking the blissful state known in Japanese as satori.

In his book "The Ultimate Power," Asahara claims that he is "the only person in Japan who has achieved the ultimate stage of satori."

Far from blissful, however, Asahara's writings and speeches reflect fear and hatred of many enemies. Among the few people he praises, other than ancient Buddhist saints, is Adolf Hitler. Asahara says Hitler was a "true prophet" who could clearly see the future because he had the "mystic power" of the occult.

In his latest book, "The Land of the Rising Sun Is Headed Toward a Bitter Fate," Asahara argues that the United States and Europe have joined sides "to force Japan into economic disaster."

"America is obviously in decline," he writes. "America has completely lost its determination. . . . I've heard that one of the richest Americans renounced citizenship and left the country in 1994." He does not identify that person. He predicts a U.S. nuclear attack on Japan between 1996 and 1998 but says his followers will be protected.

This kind of message has evidently found an audience. The cult claims between 10,000 and 30,000 followers, many of whom have renounced their families and transferred all their wealth to the sect. This has been profitable for the guru; police reportedly found hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold and cash at his mountain retreat this week. Police estimate there are about 8,000 Aum members, some of them young professionals, including doctors and lawyers.

At the sect's main Tokyo office earlier this week -- before the police raids -- polite followers, most appearing to be in their twenties, discussed their devotion to the guru and eagerly shared his writings with visitors. Requesting not to be named, they said that they trust their "Venerated Master" and believe his ideas will lead them to happiness. All the members seemed to agree with Asahara's assertion that the subway killings had been staged by police for the purpose of defaming Aum Supreme Truth. CAPTION: Shoko Asahara, "Venerated Master" of the secretive Japanese sect Aum Supreme Truth, is shown in meditative posture in an undated wire service file photograph.