Inside Falun Dafa: Some Personal Views on the Practice
Jonathan Browde, New York, USA
Over the past seven months, Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) has made headlines in the world news time and time again. I have watched story after story unfold as new developments arise. Some of the stories contain factual information, some contain information that was obviously modified or taken out of context and some contain outright fabrications. Additionally, these news stories appear to lack any real in-depth information about the actual content of Falun Dafa. That is, they don't quite answer the basic question, what exactly is Falun Dafa? Rather than write "letters to the editor" about specific news stories or pursue traditional channels for clarifying the misrepresentation of information or lack of information in the media, I would simply like to give you a view of my personal life as an American and a practitioner of Falun Dafa. Outside of media constraints, I'd like to offer an intimate look, from an individual's perspective, at Falun Dafa.
To begin with, let me introduce myself. My name is Jonathan (Levi) Browde. I was born and raised in the southwestern United States. I am 27 years old. I have three sisters: one older and two younger. My father is a Law Professor at the local State University. Nine years ago, I moved to the East Coast to attend college. Currently, I live in Manhattan. I work in the computer software industry, and I have a fairly wide circle of friends. I am a New York Yankees fan, have musical interests ranging from Bob Marley to Bach, and I am a sucker for deep pan Pizza. And, of course, I am a Falun Dafa practitioner.
So, why was I attracted to Falun Dafa and what has it done for me?
Let's first start with the basics. Falun Dafa incorporates 5 sets of "exercises" that span from slow-moving standing gestures, stretches and postures to sitting in meditation. OK, so what's the big deal? It sounds just like Taichi, yoga or some form of martial art, right? On the surface, yes, it may look similar to these things, but it is actually much different. First of all, the system of movements is very easy to learn and doesn't involve any breathing techniques, mental exercises, strenuous motion or complex postures. The system has very ancient roots and has been passed down from a very remote age, yet it is simple to do and easy to learn. Secondly, it makes me feel better than anything else I've ever tried. In this day and age, I'm sure most Americans, are familiar with the feeling you get after a "really good work-out." The body feels good, the mind is clear, etc. Well, my experience is that Falun Dafa can do all of that, but to a much greater degree, and at a much more profound level. After practicing the Falun Dafa exercises, the body feels light, healthy and strong. The mind is clear, calm and focused. I was always an active athlete in school. After school I continued a regular workout schedule, combining stair-master exercise, free weights, nautilus machines, etc. However, my physical health and mental clarity never even came close to the level I have achieved from practicing Falun Dafa. How could that be possible if the movements are so relaxed that one doesn't even break a sweat? Isn't it necessary to really get the muscles working and the heart pumping to give the body a "good work-out?" Well, in my experience, no. The exercises of Falun Dafa have made me far more fit than any workout regimen I have ever tried. I cannot really explain to you scientifically why this is. I do know, however, that Falun Dafa has very ancient roots and is based on principles that are quite profound. Consequently, it is not so surprising that it has the power to cleanse and improve one's body to such an extent. Furthermore, this has not only been the effect on me, but also on many others I have met who practice Falun Dafa.
So, is Falun Dafa primarily a set of exercises?
No, not at all. I view the set of exercises as merely one component of Falun Dafa. Mr. Li Hongzhi (pronounced Lee-Hong-Jer), the man who first brought Falun Dafa to the public, has written a book called Zhuan Falun, which is the most complete work of Falun Dafa, laying out the principles and foundations of Falun Dafa. He has also written another book called China Falun Gong, which is more of an introduction to the principles and practice of Falun Dafa as well as a demonstration of the exercises. I spend a lot of my free time reading and re-reading these books. To me, they explain the principles of life, science and the human condition more clearly and more in-depth then anything else I have ever read, studied or come across. Additionally, these books have done something quite remarkable - they actually play a guiding role for me on a daily basis, which is something that no other book, be it spiritual, religious, philosophical, self-help, etc. has been able to do for me before. What do I mean by this? I have read many great books before, which I felt changed my life or opened my eyes to new vistas (from Jack Kerouac to Shakespeare and from Stephen King to Lao-Tzu). Yet, after looking back over the period of time in which I read these books, did they really change me? Did they really provide me with a way to become a better, healthier person – to truly rise above the fears, anxieties, self-doubt, selfishness, etc. associated with daily life? No, not really. Zhuan Falun, however, has played such a role; by studying the principles it has laid out, it has helped me to rise above these things again and again, constantly moving to higher levels. What is more, the books are free to download over the Internet www.falundafa.org. They can also be found in major bookstores and public libraries if you prefer to have a real book in your hands while reading).
So, that's it? Practicing the exercises and reading from the book?
Well, yes, that is primarily what we do as practitioners. Nothing else is really necessary for the practice. Additionally, you can do these things in your own way and according to your own schedule. Some practitioners do the exercises and read by themselves in the privacy of their own homes. Others do so in large groups. Some do the exercises in the morning, others in the evening, and still others whenever they have time to fit it into their busy schedule. I know practitioners who are busy pursuing Ph.D. degrees, while others are performance artists; some are wealthy business people and they come from all walks of life and strata of society. In other words, in terms of organization, it is not much different than those who jog or those who work out at a gym. Some people do it by themselves, others do it in groups. Some people jog in Central Park, others go to gyms or have equipment at home. It's really up to you.
Well, if that is it, why is the Chinese Government so upset about Falun Dafa and why has it been banned in China?
One factor is that there are a large number of people practicing Falun Dafa in China: By the Chinese Government's own estimate during a state-sponsored survey a few years back, there were approximately 70 million people in China practicing at that time, including many Communist Party members, as well as high-ranking government and military officials. I think the Chinese Government is nervous about a large number of people engaging in any activity that is not under their direct control and supervision regardless of what that activity may be, especially if many of them also belong to the Communist Party or work for the government. In other words, on one level it is purely the numbers involved that has made the government upset. In fact, when Mr. Li was first teaching Falun Dafa in China back in 1992-93, the Chinese Government actually sponsored his lectures and gave Mr. Li awards for his work in teaching Falun Dafa to the people of China. Neither the content of Falun Dafa nor the form in which the people practice it has changed since then. The only thing that has changed is the number of people. Therefore, I believe this is what has made the Chinese Government so nervous.
The second factor at work here is the policies of the Chinese Government and its attitude toward human rights, freedom of beliefs, etc. Keep in mind, the Chinese Communist Government is officially an atheist state, and unfortunately it has exhibited a consistent record of suppression and intolerance when dealing with the spiritual/religious beliefs of people. In this sense, its treatment of Falun Dafa practitioners is par for the course. And while it should be noted that the methods utilized and the wide sweeping steps currently being enacted by the Chinese Government during the suppression of Falun Dafa are incredibly inhumane and unjustified, I do not wish to elaborate on this issue here in this article. I simply wish to point out that Falun Dafa practitioners are not against the government of China. They do not seek new leadership in China, political reform, or anything like that. It is of no interest to them. All Falun Dafa practitioners ask is that the people of China regain the basic human rights to freedom of assembly and belief, which are in the Chinese Government's own constitution as well as the UN Declaration of Human Rights that China has signed.
Well, the practitioners in China seem pretty adamant about not backing down: They seem pretty dedicated to the practice, right?
Yes, I would say that they are not backing down, but at the same time they are not advancing on the government either. They have made no demands for political reform or change, and they certainly have never gone on the offensive. They merely continue to try to explain to the government what Falun Dafa is all about so that the government will see that Falun Dafa poses no political threat. Previously, practitioners used the regular governmental channels to make these appeals, which were all in accordance with Chinese law. Now, even the regular channels for appealing to the government which ordinary Chinese citizens may utilize have been closed to Falun Dafa practitioners. They simply do what they can to peacefully start a dialogue with the government. The newspapers have taken to calling these peaceful appeals "protests." However, we are not talking about people marching in the streets with signs, yelling out slogans or demands. That, in my mind, is a protest. What practitioners in China have been doing is merely going outside to a local park or a public square (such as Tiananmen Square in Beijing) and quietly practicing the slow-moving exercises just like millions of Chinese have been doing for years throughout the country. This is not protest. It is a calm, peaceful appeal to the government to please stop the suppression that is driving a wedge into the heart of a nation with an ancient heritage and rich cultural tradition.
In terms of being dedicated to the practice, I would say they are dedicated, but not in a fanatical way or in a way that lacks basic common sense. The practice is quite powerful. In addition to some of the effects on myself that I have related to you, some people who came to Falun Dafa with terrible, life-threatening diseases now enjoy complete health. Also, Falun Dafa's ability to truly uplift your mind and spirit is quite miraculous. We often think of miracles as something shocking to the eye, like something you would only see in a big budget Hollywood movie. However, looking back on who I was before finding Falun Dafa and who I am now, I would say it is not short of a miracle. At any rate, I feel very fortunate to have been handed a Falun Dafa book by a friend at work. It really did change my life. So, yes I can understand why people in China are very saddened by what the government is doing and continually step forward, risking arrest, imprisonment and even violent physical abuse in order to rectify the situation. And, while, at first glance, they may appear a little over-zealous in their allegiance to Falun Dafa, is their behavior really so strange? It wasn't so long ago in this country when people willingly put themselves in harm's way in order to rectify the hatred and alienation brought about by segregation. Didn't people participate in sit-ins or board Greyhound buses in protest of segregation knowing full well that they would probably suffer arrest, imprisonment and even violent physical abuse? Didn't Dr. Martin Luther King himself, write a letter from a Birmingham jail? Was he really a criminal "disturbing social order" as the Chinese Government has accused the Falun Dafa practitioners of doing? I do not mean to draw a comparison between the Civil Rights movement in the United States with what is now happening to Falun Dafa in China. They are not the same thing at all. However, I do wish to point out that it is not so strange to have hard-working, well-grounded citizens who believe in their country to step out and peacefully appeal to their government when they feel an injustice has occurred. In my opinion, that is what is now happening in China.
So, how can I find out more about Falun Dafa?
There are a number of ways:
See a 9-Day lecture: When Mr. Li Hongzhi was teaching in China, he often gave a 9-day lecture series: That is, an hour and a half lecture once a day for 9 days. A few of these lecture series were captured on videotape, and practitioners periodically get together and host a 9-day lecture at a practitioner's home. This is how I was introduced to Falun Dafa. I thought it was excellent.