A Wellspring of Self Improvement, Knowledge, and Understanding
John Nania, Minnesota, USA
In January 1999, I went to my usual clinic to see a new health care professional, who I hoped would be able to help me with my recovery from several car accidents I had been in, as well as with some other chronic health problems. This doctor was a licensed acupuncturist from China. As we were going over my history, he asked me, "Why do you think you have been in so many car accidents?"
In reply, I told him a little joke I had thought of a few days before: "I don't know, maybe I was an insurance company lawyer in a past life!"
But instead of smiling or laughing, as most people would, he just calmly looked at me and asked, "Do you believe in the past life?"
At his question, I looked down and thought for a few seconds. "I don't disbelieve in it," I answered. We went on to other subjects, but he had planted a seed in January that would sprout in the spring.
My doctor touched on an issue of truths beyond the observable physical realm. All my life, I have avidly sought truths, knowledge and understanding. I have followed numerous paths and learned from numerous teachers, many of whom came to me through books. I searched for answers and ways to improve myself.
I ran and swam and lifted weights, tried nutritional innovations and traditional Chinese medicine, studied sciences and humanities. I pondered and searched. I looked at various spiritual and metaphysical paths, but somewhere along the line I realized that I had lost my ability to hear the voice of God. Long before I reached my 40th birthday I was adrift spiritually. I had as many questions as ever, and could never fully accept the answers I'd been given, particularly answers to the Big Questions in Life that we all ask at some point: "Where do we come from? Why are we here? What happens when we die?"
Practicing Falun Dafa has helped me immeasurably to improve myself in three general categories: 1. My personal health and fitness; 2. My knowledge about humanity and the world we live in; and 3. My understanding of the higher meaning and purpose of my life and of life in general.
I had only a vague idea about what qigong was in March 1999, and didn't realize that it involves physical exercises. When my acupuncture doctor was treating me two days after I was hit by a car while I was crossing a street. He mentioned that he was practicing an advanced type of qigong. He was very low key, and I was open to the idea. So he wrote down the local Falun Dafa web site on his business card, and I took a look at it a few days later. He had suggested that I might want to try one of the books, and to read some of it every day until I finished.
What I read on the web site seemed different from other things that I had read. It was a powerful and authoritative voice, but a caring voice. It seemed to fill me with a current of electricity as I read, and I decided to get a copy of the book to take on a vacation. Even after I began reading Zhuan Falun in earnest, I didn't understand much of what I was reading. But for many things that I could understand, I found myself saying, "Yes. Yes! That's true! No one else says so, but that's the way it really is!" As I continued to read, I would make comments to myself like, "Yes, life on this planet is a maze.... Of course, mind and matter are of one thing ... That's right, studying all these different elementary level textbooks never will get you to the college level of understanding."
I finished Zhuan Falun in about 14 days, reading some every day, and before I was done, I was saying to myself, "This is The Truth! This is what I have to do now." Without ever seeing the exercises, or meeting more than one Falun Dafa practitioner, or knowing any more than what was in that book, I decided I was going to treat myself as a genuine practitioner. I had found my best Teacher in this book, a better teacher than those in the other books I had learned from all my life.
Our Teacher tells us, "You should be strict with yourself, though we allow you to improve gradually." (Zhuan Falun, 3rd Translation Edition, p. 146) When it came to my health and fitness, I continued to see a chiropractor and other caregivers for a few weeks. At first I didn't fully grasp the teachings about what physical symptoms really mean, and I didn't see how I could just stop going to get treatments after seven years and so-called permanent spinal damage. But when my chiropractor told me in May that he was moving out of state, it seemed like the hint that I needed to just stop spending time and energy on external things, like nutritional supplements and health-care treatments. So within a month of beginning cultivation practice, I quit all of that, and haven't been back to that clinic since.
When people who know about my past health issues ask me about my health these days, I say, "I feel good, I'm very well. I'm not perfect, but my health is fine, and I don't focus on that any more." When I get the opportunity to talk about health benefits of practicing Falun Dafa, I tell people, "I honestly believe this is the best thing I could be doing for my health."
As for human behavior, Dafa contains countless insights. In the US, we can observe so much about humanity and see interpersonal conflicts played out on the roads and highways. Why are people so competitive in their cars? Why do they so often act so inconsiderately and dangerously? One day it came to me: "Why do people do these things? It's because they are selfish! All of us are selfish, and that's precisely why we are here on this planet, in this lifetime!"
How many people think of the interests of other's first when they are behind the wheel? When I understood that competition is the dominant mentality on the roads, it made it easier for me to shift my mind and become less tense, more calm when driving. As a practitioner, I am not supposed to fight and compete for personal interest, and I try to apply this to my own driving. I try to recall this passage from Zhuan Falun when driving, or in any interaction with other people:
"As practitioners, you will suddenly come across conflicts. What should you do? You should always maintain a heart of compassion and kindness. Then, when you run into a problem, you will be able to do well because it gives you room to buffer the confrontation. You should always be benevolent and kind to others, and consider others when doing anything. Whenever you encounter a problem, you should first consider whether others can put up with this matter or if it will hurt anyone."
Zhuan Falun gives far simpler and clearer, yet much deeper answers to the age-old Big Questions in Life. Knowing at least part of the answer to "Why am I here?" after reading the book, the question then becomes, "Now that I'm here, what am I supposed to do?" Before, I wondered endlessly about what my purpose in life was. I read books. I wrote and revised lists of goals, projects, priorities, and personal affirmations. I had thousands of philosophies, quotes, and ideas floating around in my head. It was all complex, shifting, uncertain, and confusing.
Falun Dafa has simplified it all. I do my best to apply these values, these principles, at every moment, and become completely in tune with them: Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance. This Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance, the fundamental characteristic of the universe and of everything and everybody in it, is the ultimate measuring stick and standard for my life. It's so easy and simple, but so deep that the end cannot be seen.
Not long after I began practicing, I began to say to myself, "This is such a valuable, great thing, but many Americans won't be able grasp this at first because of cultural and language differences, especially if they aren't familiar with oriental culture. How can I help other Americans understand this?"
When answering the question, "What is Falun Gong?" I'd like to share with people the term "cultivation practice" and explain it for them, even though that concept is unfamiliar to Western culture. Falun Gong doesn't neatly fit into the usual categories, but people will try to put it in a known, familiar category so that it fits with something they already know--that's just human nature.
Rather than going along with this tendency to categorize and classify, I try to describe what we do. I say something like this now to people: "It's an integrated system of cultivating and refining our minds and bodies. It's a holistic program of self-improvement in all ways. It's a way of purifying and raising our personal energy. We try to put ourselves in harmony with what we believe to be the fundamental principle of the universe, Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance."
I give the analogy of a garden to describe what we mean by "cultivation." I say, "You take a plot of land, you want to get all the bad things out, like the weeds, the rocks, the junk. Then you want to put in the good things--the seeds, the water, the fertilizer, the sunshine--so that good things will grow. This is like what we are doing with our own bodies, minds, and hearts through our cultivation practice."
I also like to say, "Doing the exercises is periodic, but cultivating our hearts and minds is 24 hours a day, every day."
I have received some good advice from veteran practitioners, and took to heart the advice I got about continuing to read the book over and over: one lecture a day is ideal, but at least read one or more complete sections of the lectures every day. From my own reading, watching the videotapes, listening to the audio tapes, and reading with a group weekly, my mind is getting steeped in and saturated with this tremendous insight and knowledge in several different modes.
When I read what the Teacher said about this world being a maze, I took it as part of my motivation for practicing: "OK, I'm getting out of this maze!" I said. I was also keen on the idea of not having to come back again into this maze later. I wanted to get away from and escape the pain and confusion of this earthly life. But as I have learned more, I listened carefully to what the Teacher says, "Everyone knows that our school of practice does not shun ordinary human society in cultivation practice, and neither does it avoid or run away from conflicts." Lately I think less about escaping the maze, which is running away from something negative and more about moving towards something positive. I realize my purpose here is to return to the origin, to go back to my original, true self, to raise myself upwards.
I have a positive purpose and a clear direction. I was wandering around lost, seeking self-improvement, knowledge, and understanding on back roads, byways, and dead ends, but now I'm on the superhighway. Zhuan Falun, the great book of the Great Way, is my road map for the journey back home.