February 26, 2001

The Chinese government would have the world believe Falun Gong meditation is the practice of a [Chinese government's slanderous word]. But a Toronto practitioner disputes that claim and maintains it has improved his relationships.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient form of meditation based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. In 1999, the Chinese government banned the meditation exercise, claiming its followers are part of a [Chinese government's slanderous word].

But Joel Chipkar, spokesperson for the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, said that after he started meditation he noticed a change in the way he and his father got along.

"We used to fight. We never saw eye-to-eye," he said. "Within the year (of practising Falun Gong), my reactions were different. I learned to sometimes put others first and in turn his attitude was different."

Unblocking congested energy

The practice involves five slow, gentle movements that supposedly relieve unblocked "congested energy" in the body.

Other reported effects of the meditation include an increased level of energy, improved health benefits and reduced stress levels.

In Toronto, more than 15 centres offer sessions in this sort of meditation. It is impossible to know the number of Toronto followers because many people practice Falun Gong at home. Taking those followers into account, those who run the centres say the total could run to more than 1,000. ...

Toronto followers could only speculate about the Chinese government's strong reaction against the group, suggesting the immense popularity of Falun Gong is considered a threat. Estimates place the number of supporters at between 70 million and 100 million in about 40 countries.

Turning a following into a [slanderous word omitted]

"Anything with a following constitutes a threat (to the Chinese government)," Chipkar said. "In China, anything called a [] is considered very evil. There's no middle ground. It's the worst, worst thing ... to be branded as a [slanderous word omitted]."

Chipkar said that the growing popularity of the group has made it "too big" in the government's eyes.

He told a story of an 80-year-old Chinese man who was questioned on a TV show about his intentions.

"They asked him, 'Are you trying to overthrow the government?' and he said, 'I can't even overthrow myself.' "

Carolyn Zhang, a Toronto practitioner, believes that the government considers the meditation a religion when in fact it is not. She said that China has never allowed the Chinese people to be openly spiritual.

No churches, no collection

"We don't worship," Zhang said. "It's not regular, it's a spiritual belief. We have no churches and we don't collect money."

Chipkar said he could understand how China's government might consider Falun Gong a religion based on its strong belief system.

He also provided other examples of the government's attempt to distribute "hate propaganda" about the group. Followers in China were thrown into labour camps and given electric shocks, he said.

There are also active opponents of Falun Gong in Canada, he said.

Chipkar suggested that since the group is peaceful, the Chinese government sees it as weak.

"We remain peaceful in the worst situation," he said. "We won't and have never fought back."

He says he believes the government knows this and so views the group as an "easy target."

But despite the controversy, both Zhang and Chipkar maintain that Falun Gong has a healing and relaxed effect and is non-threatening.

"The effect depends on the person," Zhang said. "Some people get an effect shortly after beginning, while some have no immediate result. For some it takes one hour; others it takes two hours."