Falun Dafa, also called Falun Gong, has been making international Headlines in the past few weeks as the spiritual practice that is rattling China's cage. But what is this practice really all about, and why is the Chinese government reacting this way?
Falun Dafa is most accurately described as a "cultivation practice". Practitioners of Falun Dafa cultivates their heart in accordance with the principle of "Truth-Compassion-Tolerance" explained in a book entitled "Zhuan Falun" to become a better person and gain wisdom toward life, the universe and humanity. Practitioners also do five sets of simple and gentle exercises, including a sitting meditation, to balance and improve the well-being of their body and mind.
There is no membership, in the same way that one can practice Tai-chi but not actually be a part of any organization. There is no restrictions or obligations imposed on anyone, people can join or leave anytime. For those who want to learn, the teaching is always open to the public and free of charge. Once learned, some choose to practice alone at home while others like to practice together and discuss how their cultivation is coming along. Practitioners understand that the wish to uplift the soul is something deeply personal and can never be imposed upon anyone.
Falun Dafa emphasizes on the cultivation of one's heart in daily life with independent thinking and clear awareness of one's conscious in all situations. It is stressed that a practitioner should always seek inside for self-improvement whenever in conflict with others and striving to become better and better person in all environments. While encouraged to lead normal lives with families, work and personal property in the society, practitioners are taught not to let personal opinions, religious rituals, political motivations or organizational formalities ruin the purity of their cultivation, but to take fame and gains lightly.
Here is an American practitioner's story:
Sterling Campbell is a professional musician based in New York City. He says: "I used to do drugs, I used to drink and smoke heavily -- I don't even know where to begin telling you how decadent my life was, touring all over the world playing gigs. The lifestyle was making me freaked out and paranoid, but I didn't know how to pull out of it. I was lost." At some point he figured there had to be another way. "I just didn't know where to find it, which made me even more depressed and self-destructive."
Then one day, Sterling happened to be taking a walk in the park when he became intrigued by a small group of people practicing smooth, flowing movements. He started learning the Falun Gong exercises and reading Zhuan Falun and he says it really struck a chord within him. "It seemed to make so much sense that we should detach ourselves from our greed, competitiveness, and ego. I suddenly realized what a fake I had been all these years."
Sterling was also attracted by the purity and simplicity of the practice and how all activities are free of charge. "When I first started, I kept wondering: where's the catch? I had tried yoga and all sorts of Eastern disciplines, but so many teachers just wanted to take my money. With Falun Dafa, I couldn't believe it -- it was so positive and powerful, and yet no one wanted money or anything else from me."
That was more than a year ago, and he's still practicing. He says that sticking to it is in itself remarkable for a skeptical New Yorker like himself: "Trying to be a good person in accordance with Falun Dafa all the time is incredibly hard, but I can't imagine living any other way now. I can honestly say I'm happier -- on a much deeper level. Looking back on my life before, I just want to shout out: 'This stuff really works!'"
Why is the Chinese government persecuting Falun Dafa practitioners?
Falun Dafa was first introduced to the public in China by it's founder, Mr. Li Hongzhi, in 1992. The people who initially tried the practice not only found powerful healing effects, but many also find answers to their deepest questions in life. As they continued to practice, their friends and family started to notice how they were becoming healthier and becoming better people overall. Thus, almost entirely by word of mouth, the numbers of enthusiasts just kept growing. Far and wide, it spread into over 30 countries and attracted people from all walks of life and all cultural backgrounds to learn and practice.
However, back in the land where it was initiated, for the Chinese Communist Party, all matters of the soul, spirit or faith are deemed superstitious because they lie outside Marxist ideologies of materialism and atheism. Three years ago, the Chinese government chose to ban the book Zhuan Falun, because of so-called 'superstitious' content.
Despite their efforts against it, however, the practice continued to gain in popularity. After an official investigation into the practice, the Chinese leadership was shocked to discover that by early 1999, an estimated 70 to 100 million people all over China were practicing Falun Dafa. Orders were immediately given to police to start harassing practitioners, preventing them from practicing together, or threatening to lock people in jail if they didn't pay them large sums of money. In one incident in Tianjin, police even took to beating and detaining practitioners who dared to come forward to express their views.
Practitioners around the country responded by asking their local government agencies to assist them -- all to no avail. They were simply told that the orders had come from the central government. Thus, on April 25, about 10,000 people got together outside the main government buildings in Beijing to present their request for a legal and non-hostile environment in which to practice. The gathering was peaceful, orderly and lawful. After a few practitioners were able to meet with certain high-level government officials, everyone quietly went home.
What the Falun Dafa practitioners did not know at the time was the Communist Party and the government was beginning to consider the practice a serious threat to their power. In July, the government branded Falun Gong a cult and outlawed the practice. Police started ransacking people's homes, confiscating their books, and arresting hundreds of people whom they considered to be Falun Dafa 'organizers.' Tens of thousands of practitioners were then arbitrarily detained and mistreated since, some even tortured to death simply because they were not willing to denounce their belief. Many of these people, ordinary citizens with ordinary jobs, are now awaiting trial while their access to lawyers are denied. Recently, the persecution escalated to such an extent that the Chinese government has denounced Falun Dafa an "evil religion" and new laws were legislated to "punish without mercy" those who were labeled "cult". In addition to launch intensive defamation campaign against the founder and force such propaganda down to every community and workplace throughout the country, the Chinese government has also issued an arrest warrant and extradite request on Mr. Li and sent smear materials internationally.
For those of us here in North America who practice Falun Dafa, the crackdown in China seems like a terrible misunderstanding. We look at the teachings of Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance and we see nothing that any government wouldn't be overjoyed to have its citizens practice. The practice is peaceful and has no political agenda. We hope that people outside of China will come to understand why so many people in the world feel blessed to have found Falun Dafa as their true spiritual path.
We appeal to the international community to encourage the government in China to lift the ban on Falun Dafa and resolve this crisis peacefully through direct dialogue.