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TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT: FALUN GONG
Falun Gong has been called a ‘phenomena’, and by the Chinese Government ‘an evil dangerous cult’. It has certainly drawn a great deal of attention to itself. This is not surprising when members of Falun Gong were able to cut into China’s broadcasts of the World Cup (Soccer) finals, the fifth anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover, and news of floods, between June 23 and June 30, 2002. Earlier, in April 1999, 10 000 Falun Gong practitioners appeared in front of government buildings in Beijing. When the Chinese Government declared the group a cult and illegal, and began a crackdown, human rights groups began to support the Falun Gong practitioners, claiming the government destroyed millions of Falun Gong books and videos. Hundreds have been arrested and sentenced and sent to labour camps. The tensions are continuing, and passion is aroused on both sides. Is it just ‘traditional meditation and slow-motion exercises with ideas drawn from Buddhism and Taoism?’ Or does the Chinese government have a good reason to be very concerned about the widespread growth of this movement, and should we in the West, be concerned as well, since its own publications claim that it is now practiced in over 40 countries world-wide.
The publicity is appealing – ‘it has brought better health and inner peace to millions around the world’. It is called a cultivation practice – a way to improve both the mind and the body. One ‘cultivates’ one’s heart and mind through the study of the universal principles based on Truth, Compassion and Forbearance. ‘Practising’ means, doing the five gentle exercises, including a sitting meditation. The brochure tells us that ‘the practice is simple, powerful and profound’. That it ‘does not have any political agenda or religious rituals’, and classes are always provided free of charge by volunteers. Its claim is – ‘an enjoyable journey to good health and happiness’. The brochure then asks for letters of protest to be written to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Falun Gong was founded in China in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, who now lives in New York City. It has been described as ‘a branch of the Chinese Qi Gong approach to life and spiritualism’ with theories of Li Hongzhi’s, as well as ideas from Buddhism and Taoism. Li Hongzhi was thrown out of the national Qi Gong association. (Cult Observer 1999 No 12) The Falun Gong organisations publication A Short Biography of the Li Hongzhi tells us that Mr Li was born on May 13th 1951, and claims that he was always different from other children of his age. At the age of four he received personal instructions from Law Master Quan Jue, at the age of eight he could see three words in the corner of his eye – other people could not see the words, but he could see them at any time. The words had been set there by his master. The words are the top secret of the universe namely Zhen, truthfulness; Shan, compassion; and Ren, forbearance. At the age of eight he also attained the superb Great Law with great supernatural powers. For example, if he just said to himself ‘nobody will see me’ he would not be found, even if his face were lit by a torch. The publication claims that he had a second master who taught him Taoist gongfu, and then in 1972, a third master of the Great Way School also taught him inner cultivation. In sleep, he could often feel the master putting something into his brain and Celestial Eye. He practiced qigong at night, and during the day the Master was able to reprimand him through the mouth of others. After 1974, a female master of the Buddha’s School imparted Buddha’s Schools’ cultivation ways and exercises to him. By the age of 23, his Energy potency had reached a very high level and to quote ‘some of his supernatural powers are difficult for ordinary people to imagine or understand’, and he was also able to see the truth of the universe, the many more beautiful things which have existed there for a long time, as well as the origin, development and future of mankind’. (Research Society of Falun Xiulian Dafa).
What can we learn from this same source, of the teachings of Mr Li? Falun Dafa (the teachings, as distinct from Falun Gong, which are the exercises) is to cultivate a Falun, which is an intelligent entity. In A Brief Introduction to Falun Dafa, the reader is told that ‘the rotation of Falun synchronises with the revolution of the cosmos…it is a miniature of the cosmos’ and amazingly it seems has the best of Buddhism and Taoism. The Falun is planted into a practitioners’ lower abdomen by Mr Li and when it spins clockwise ‘it will automatically absorb and evolve the cosmic energy, helping the practitioner with his practice, when the Falun spins counter-clockwise, it will release energy, empty the body of waste material, purify Benti (the True Being), and put right all the wrong conditions’. It does not elaborate on how Mr Li is able to place the Falun, except, one would assume, by his supposed supernatural powers. And, the Falun is rotating 24 hours, even if the practitioner is not practising, and so claims that of all the cultivation systems in the world ‘this is the first and only one that has this quality’.
The Falun Dafa has 8 main points which differentiates it from other cultivation systems:
1. The cultivation of Falun does not make the elixir of immortality, nor fruit it.
2. The Gong cultivates the practitioner when he is not practising.
3. Cultivate the Main Consciousness and the practitioner himself will acquire cultivation energy.
4. Integrated cultivation of both human life and nature.
5. Five sets of exercises are easy to learn.
6. When the practitioner has not intention of the mind, he will not go astray, but his cultivation energy will grow rapidly.
7. No consideration of time, place or direction during practice.
8. Protected by the Masters Law Body, the practitioner has no interference by outside evils.”
Is it any wonder that it has proved to be so popular? Its promises are amazing, and it is easy – far easier than the traditional qi gong practices, including Tai Chi or any of the Martial Arts, which require a great deal of discipline and many hours of practice. Has Mr Li marketed a product which is very appealing to busy people in both the East and the West? It is easy and offers far more. This is not a cynical suggestion – its own material acknowledges this. In A Biography of Mr Li Hongzhi, it explains that an ordinary person has a job and so has limited time for practice each day, and ‘the traditional cultivation ways are too elaborate to practice and too slow in developing their cultivation energy’. Mr Li worked on developing a great Law suitable for modern people. And all the traditional practices which could lead a practitioner to ‘go deviant’ have been removed, and of course, every practitioner is protected by ‘Mr Li’s Law body’. Breathing techniques are very important in traditional qi gong, but are conveniently not necessary in Falun Gong because ‘a practitioner of our cultivation system need not adjust his respiration or pay any attention to his breathing… such methods are used only for elementary cultivation ways’ (website ch 5 Questions and Answers – Falun and Falun Gong)
It is not only the Chinese Government who is concerned about the growth of Falun Gong practitioners. Traditional qi gong masters are critical. A Washington Post article (Christopher Wanjek – Tuesday, Nov 20, 2001) quotes a qi gong master, Renzu Wang – ‘qi gong movements are precise, in order to maximise the flow of qi, Falun gong practitioners worry less about the precision of their movements; … qi gong is practiced in many different forms to address many different ailments and goals; Falun Gong is a single set of exercises billed as a cure-all practice’. Wang believes that ‘these exercises are no more ancient than step aerobics’.
Of concern to some is the fact that in the Western press the emphasis has been very focussed on the human rights issues and this is understandable, especially in countries where citizens enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. Yet the Western press has given very little information on the teachings behind the exercises of Falun Gong, and especially about some of the seemingly outrageous statements made by Mr Li either in interviews or in his books. In an article by Patsy Ryan, titled What Do We Really Know About Falun Gong?, (Cult Observer 2000, No 1) she quotes some of Mr Li’s teachings -
The moon is hollow and was created by pre-historical humans. Two billion years ago there was a large-scale nuclear reactor built on earth that operated for about 500 000 years In our physical world men are not the only people on the Earth. There are also people in the sea… Some look like us, some are a little different from us…
Some people are able to go up to a higher plane and others are not – ‘those who can go up will go up… Those who are left behind will become more and more corrupt and there’s no way out for them but to be annihilated. The rubbish has become rotten. So it has to be annihilated lest it should pollute the universe’. How has society become rotten? – ‘aliens have begun to invade the human mind and its ideology and culture’ These aliens come from other planets ‘and corrupt mankind by introducing modern machinery and controlling people spiritually, and the ultimate purpose of the aliens is to replace humans by cloning’. This is rather more sinister teaching than its advertised emphasis on truthfulness, benevolence, and tolerance.
Why have these teachings had such appeal to the Chinese population? There are several suggestions – the collapse of the health care system has attracted followers since it promises healing, and the absence of spirituality in an officially atheist society leaves a gap in peoples’ lives which this movement fills.
In The Cult Observer, 1999 No 12, an article explains that whilst Westerners, on the whole, believe in a supernatural being, the Chinese believe that a living person can become supernatural through some process or spiritual pathway. Hence, the Chinese Government is attempting ‘to root out the superstition that threatens the social order in China. Falun Gong, as with other practices, is not simply exercise or relaxation. Whilst Westerners seek salvation after death, the Chinese seek a path which will lead them to attain supernatural power on earth. And an historical precedent is cause for concern for Chinese authorities. About 1900, followers of the Boxer Rebellion, encouraged by the Dowager, believed they had attained supernatural power and that their bodies were impervious to weapons. Twenty million died. The potential numbers in China who could believe themselves to be supernatural is a frightening thought. It seems that the Chinese government is not opposed to the practice of qi gong, but is opposed to a practice that teaches its followers that they can be supernatural.
As mentioned earlier, the Chinese Government has called Falun gong ‘an evil, dangerous cult’. Is it a cult? To quote Patsy Ryan again (The Cult Observer, 1999 No 12), she considers Falun Gong from these characteristics of a cult – centralized control by a charismatic leader; an us/them mentality which isolates; and a lack of toleration of dissent. She uses published Falun Gong material to reach her conclusions. She concludes that the control comes from: ‘1) setting up Master Li as omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent and listing what he can GIVE practitioners. 2) Telling practitioners the DON’TS … And 3) telling practitioners what they will LOSE if they go wrong. She concludes that there is an us/them mentality since ‘ordinary people’ are considered to be degenerate, likely to contaminate and possibly have demons out to possess the practitioner. Mr Li tells his followers that there is a big gap between them and the ordinary people. If a practitioner were to fall from grace then Mr Li can take away the good things and return the bad things to him. If you fail in his method then you are ‘doomed’. Finally, Patsy Ryan believes that there is a lack of toleration of dissent, and quotes an incident when a 72 year old theoretical physicist published an article where he questioned the ‘so-called magical effects of Falun Gong’, and 6000 practitioners staged a sit-in at his university on April 19th 1999. She concludes ‘With so much good promised if you follow, and so much bad predicted if you leave, there is strong reason to remain’. Falun Gong would seem to have some strong cultish characteristics.
In conclusion, it could seem that the Chinese Government has grounds for being concerned about this phenomena. The Western world can be concerned about the extreme measures taken to try to eradicate the Falun movement in China, but, at the same time it should be informed of the dangerous concepts behind Mr Li’s teachings, and should not accept on face value its self promotion of great health benefits and ’a powerful system to elevate and purify one’s Heart, Mind and Body’, with its purported emphasis on Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance.
1. Falun Gong Publications. Web site – http://www.campulife.utoronto.ca/groups/falun/works/ENG/flg.eng5html
a. A Short Biography of Mr Li Hongzhi
b. A Brief Introduction to Falun Gong
c. Chapter v Questions and Answers
i. Falun and Falun Gong
ii. The Cultivation Principles and Exercises
iii. Cultivation of Xinxing
iv. Celestial Eye
vi. Spaces and Human Beings
2. National Post, Saturday, July 6, 2002 Master Li’s Disciples by Brian Hutchinson
3. The Cult Observer. 1999 No 12 Is Falun Gong a ‘Cult’? The Falun Gong Phenomenon 2000 No 1 What Do We Really Know About Falun Gong?
4. The Gazette, Montreal, Saturday, June 9, 2001
Listening to Master Li by Susan J. Palmer
5. The Washington Post, Tuesday, November 20, 2001 Falun Gong: What’s Behind the Movements? By Christopher Wanjek
(From TACL Vol 27 #4 Aug-Sep 2006) Article also appears in modified form as an CCGM tract