Falun Dafa - A Science of Body, Mind and Spirit

Jingduan Yang, MD, Pennsylvania

I. Health Benefits: Byproduct of the Practice

In March 1999, Mrs. Song, a 65-year-old Chinese woman, came to the United States to visit her son and daughter-in-law in Minnesota. For the past 10 years, she had hesitated to leave China, where she was under the close care of physicians of both Chinese and modern Western medicine. Mrs. Song had a long standing history of coronary artery disease with angina, which she controlled by taking nitrates every day. She also had severe rheumatoid arthritis for which she took a number of medications and Chinese herbal remedies. Despite such treatments, Mrs. Song had low energy, shortness of breath upon mild exertion, and swollen legs and ankles. She could foretell weather changes according to the severity of pain in her joints. The eye surgery she had 35 years ago had left her with glasses and uneven vision. In addition, she suffered nicotine addiction and smoked a pack of Chinese cigarettes every day. Of course, smoking exacerbated the poor functioning of her heart and lungs. She had unsuccessfully tried every possible way to quit smoking.

With the promise of having a physician knowledgeable about both Chinese and Western medicine traditions, and secure with her three-month supply of medications and herbal formulas, and, believe it or not, 20 cartons of Chinese cigarettes, Mrs. Song made the trip with her husband (who also a smoker!) to Minnesota for a three-month visit. As you can imagine, her son and daughter-in-law's apartment soon filled with the smell of smoke.

Mrs. Song's son and daughter-in-law both practice Falun Gong. Each day, they read a chapter from the book Zhuan Falun aloud to their parents. Mrs. Song found the book very interesting and liked the readings very much. The book reminded her of the traditional moral teachings she had received from her mother when she was young. One morning they read Chapter 7, which contains two paragraphs about how smoking negatively affects the practice of cultivation. Mr. Li wrote, "I advise everyone that if you truly want to practice cultivation you should quit smoking from now on, and it is guaranteed that you can quit...When you smoke a cigarette again, it will not taste right. If you read this lecture in the book, it will also have this effect."

Upon hearing this, Mrs. Song became excited and really wanted to practice Falun Gong, but she did not expect immediate effects. However, after lunch, she lit a cigarette, totally forgetting what she had earlier heard that morning. Her son and daughter-in-law noticed, but said nothing. After several deep drags, Mrs. Song suddenly dropped the cigarette and rushed to the bathroom. She almost vomited. However, she did not give up her skepticism and continued testing herself by putting an unlit cigarette under her nose and smelling it. Each time she did so, the smell made her sick. She has not smoked ever since then.

After reading the book and watching the video lecture, Mrs. Song began to understand many things she had never known, such as why people have to go through birth, old age, illness, and death. She learned that people should cultivate and practice in order to assimilate themselves into the nature of the universe, to become mentally enlightened to the truth of the universe, and to become physically purified and transformed. She embraced the teaching, learned the five exercises, and practiced them every day.

One day, after a group exercise practice, Mrs. Song suddenly experienced chest pain; this was new to her, and the medication she had been taking should have prevented it. Feeling puzzled, she began to remember the Teacher's words, "I do not talk about healing illness here, nor will we heal illness. As a genuine practitioner, however, you cannot practice cultivation with an ill body. I will purify your body. The body purification will be done only for those who come to truly learn the practice and the Fa (Law)." She further recalled the Teacher's words, "We must dig it (the illness) out and eliminate it completely from its root. With this, you may feel that your illnesses have recurred. This is to remove your karma fundamentally. Thus, you will have reactions."

She continued her reading and exercising despite episodic chest pains. In about one week, all the symptoms disappeared, together with her joint pain and swollen ankles. Happily, she bought herself a new pair of shoes, the size she had worn 20 years ago. She was amazed at the power of Falun Gong and began striving to live every moment of her life following the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. One morning in June 1999, she woke up and found her glasses broken under her, a kind of accident that had not happened to her before. She immediately discovered that she did not need them to see clearly anymore. On June 25, Mrs. Song gave a speech at a Falun Gong experience sharing conference held in Chicago. On stage in front of a large audience, she was able to read her paper without the aid of eyeglasses.

Such health benefits are common to practitioners of Falun Gong. In 1997, a group of scientists and physicians from top hospitals and medical research institutions in Beijing surveyed 12,731 practitioners about the health benefits obtained from Falun Gong. According to the survey, out of the 12,731 participants, 93.4% had medical conditions, and 49.8% had suffered from at least three diseases before they began practicing Falun Gong. Through practicing Falun Gong, the total healing effectiveness reached 99.1%, among which the complete recovery rate was 58.5%. The fraction of "very energetic" people increased from 3.5% (before practicing) to 55.3% (after practicing); 96.5% felt mentally healthier. On average, each practitioner saved the state 3,215 yuan (about US $386) in annual medical expenses.

However, if you ask Falun Gong practitioners if health is the goal of their practice, their answer may surprise you: "No, health benefits are only the byproduct of our practice." How can they obtain these byproducts almost for free? While using the best that modern medicine has to offer, it usually takes someone a lifetime and an enormous amount of dollars and talent to obtain such an effect. Can we make sense of it from the perspective of modern medicine or traditional Chinese medicine?

II. Medical Perspectives: Scratching the Surface of Mind/Body Relationships

What benefits can people obtain from practicing Falun Gong? The following are common:

Greater feeling of relaxation, mental clarity, and freedom from stress

Increased quantity and quality of personal energy

Ability to give up smoking and other undesirable habits

Improved relationships, especially through learning to handle interpersonal conflicts better

Improved physical health and physical fitness

Increased understanding about what constitutes one's "true self"

Understanding about fundamental natural laws and principles

Understanding why tribulations enter our lives and how they can be useful

Insight into the relationship between mind and matter

Opportunity to work on self-improvement while spending time with a group of compassionate, accepting, and committed people

Modern medicine embraces a biopsychosocial model. After investigating 170 sudden deaths over about six years in 1971, George Engel observed that serious illness or even death might be associated with psychological stress or trauma. Emotional stress can contribute to wide range of health problems, such as coronary artery disease, asthma, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, flare-ups of viral infections, likelihood of contracting infectious mononucleosis, cancer, AIDS, and even Alzheimer's disease.

Poor life-style habits cause 70-80% of all illnesses. For instance, in the United States, about 10% of women and 20% of men meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse. Alcohol-related diseases (e.g., cancer, heart disease, and hepatic disease) and suicide account for about 200,000 deaths each year. Alcohol abuse reduces life expectancy about 10 years. The direct and indirect social costs are estimated at more than $150 billion, about $600 per capita.

In 1995, the United States had an estimated 61 million smokers; of these, 4.5 million were adolescents. Each year, 170,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed, resulting in some 150,000 deaths; 80-90% of all lung cancers occurs among smokers. In China today, there are 300 million smokers. Poor diet, lack of exercise, and depression also lead to higher risk of heart disease. Despite modern technology and health education, 400,000-500,000 people die from coronary artery disease each year.

While modern medicine looks primarily to mechanical or biophysical problems as causes of illness, traditional Chinese medicine has never separated mind and body. The organs are considered not only in terms of their anatomical existence, but also in terms of concepts of energetic networking and commanding sites of mental function.

Such emotional stimuli as joy, anger, sadness, fear, or worry affect the energy of the heart, liver, lungs, spleen, and kidneys, respectively. As a result, the physiological function of these organs is affected, and a number of somatic dysfunction may appear. Conversely, if these organs are assaulted by other pathogenic factors, such as infection, vascular events, toxicity, or trauma, they tend to generate corresponding emotional changes.

For example, feelings of anger toward others irritability or toward one's depression will affect the liver. In traditional Chinese medicine, the liver regulates the energy flow, helps digestion, nourishes sinews and ligaments, stores blood and regulates women's menstruation, is in charge of the ethereal soul that relates to dreams, and is responsible for vision and eyes. Its meridian is connected, through its partner, the gallbladder, with the shoulder, neck, and temple area of the head. When the liver energy is disturbed, as during stress, one may simultaneously experience several illnesses, as explained by modern medicine. Such illnesses include chronic pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraine, PMS, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, nightmares or sleep disorders, dizziness and vertigo, abnormal menstruation, and breast fibroids. All of these illnesses, according to traditional Chinese medicine, are caused primarily by a single condition called Liver Qi Stagnation. It may be more than coincidental that, when Prozac was widely used for treating depression, people also found it useful for treating PMS and migraines.

All these interactions are realized through an energetic networking system called meridians. Meridians have their representative points on the surface of the body, which one can stimulate with such tools as needles, pressure, or moxa to modulate energy dysfunction of the internal organs. For thousands of years, traditional physicians have been helping people with their qi by using acupuncture, herbal formulas, Dao Ying (like Qigong today) and, in particular, by advising people to stay emotionally peaceful.

However, the secret to optimal health is to have a "clean heart and few desires." In the Yellow Emperor's Internal Classics of Medicine it is said that, "Heart is the organ of the Emperor; when the Emperor is not wise, the other twelve organs will be in danger." But how can one come to have a clean heart and few desires?

III. Cultivation Practice: Spiritual Renewal

When you first see people practicing Falun Gong, you may find the movements graceful and soothing. However, you may not find the practice particularly different from other forms of Qigong, Yoga, or Taichi. Why has Falun Gong attracted such a large population within such a short time? Why do its practitioners claim such wonderful, sometimes miraculous, healing effects?

The term qi, life force or energy, is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Falun Gong practitioners try to replace this ordinary qi with what is termed gong. Described in Li Hongzhi's book, Zhuan Falun, gong is a higher energy from the universe. While qi is subject to all kinds of dysfunction (what Traditional Chinese Medicine describes as qi deficiency, rebellious qi, sinking qi, stagnant qi, collapsed qi, etc.), gong is a higher level of energy from the universe that is pathogen resistant. However, Falun Gong holds that the only way to obtain this higher form of energy is to cultivate one's spirit and mind to assimilate into the nature of universe--Truth, Compassion and Tolerance. Practicing the five sets of Falun Gong exercises is said to enhance and accelerate the process of gong development, but only if one accompanies the exercises with cultivation of one's heart and mind in his daily life.

So, is this belief true? And what exactly happens if gong is, in fact, developed? Professor Lili Feng and her assistants at the Scripps Research Institute in California have been studying 17 Falun Gong practitioners' lymphocyte efficacy against HIV virus in vitro, and the preliminary results are impressive. Some of these cells have been proven to be HIV resistant. One scientists in the group, a molecular biologist, found that the practitioners' neutrophils (white blood cells that play a key role in fighting bacterial infection) live 30 times longer than average cells, and also remain in high function during their extended lifespan. Currently, this scientist is expanding her study samples to include more practitioners' data. She could not explain her findings using science's current understanding of such things. She told me that "it can only be explained by the teachings in Zhuan Falun."

According to the Buddha school, bad karma accumulates from wrongdoing in ones this and past lifetimes, causing suffering. Falun Gong holds that the suffering from illness results from karma, and that, through self-cultivation, this karma may be eliminated, bringing one to an illness-free and ultimately enlightened state. In Zhuan Falun, Mr. Li Hongzhi states, however, that "cultivation depends on one's self, and cultivation energy depends on one's Master." So it is understood that, through obtaining the right teachings and through self-cultivation, one may not only become illness-free, but may reach enlightenment.

To my understanding of Falun Gong, when a practitioner follows the right teachings, miracles can happen. Practitioners begin to become fully aware of their personal and ethical shortcomings, and make improvements. They begin to understand how to live a truly meaningful life, and for this they are rewarded. It becomes clear to them that, without the health of one's spirit, one's mind and body can never be healthy.

Starting in 1949, when the Communists took power in China, any belief in enlightened or divine beings was regarded as backward and superstitious. In fact, every aspect of traditional Chinese culture was viewed this way. The people who dared to hold onto their beliefs were severely punished; many were even executed. Since then, the Communist Party has controlled the educational system and media. Because the party exalts science and suppresses traditional beliefs, very few Chinese of recent generations believe in anything beyond what exists in this material world. A quote from Chinese President Jiang Zemin of China represents this view well. He asked, "Why do many Americans, living in such a scientifically and technologically advanced society, believe in God?"

Over the last seven years, more than 100 million people in China and abroad have become spiritually renewed through practicing Falun Gong. For them, though, it hasn't been simply faith that has led them in this direction, but incredible personal experiences, including healing of chronic and sometimes "incurable" illnesses and enlightenment to the truth of the universe. Because of the power of such experiences, upon facing severe punishment and even threats of death by the Chinese Government, Falun Gong practitioners have not given up, but instead have become more persistent in the practice. They return the Chinese government's fabrications with stories of truth; they return the persecution with compassion and tolerance.