The Most Precious Gift
Hello! I would like to thank everybody for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences with you today. My name is Alejandro Centurion, I am 29 years old, and it was just about a year ago on April 26 that I first heard about Falun Dafa. That was a day I will never forget. I was then doing my medical internship at Tulane University. I had gone into the library looking for an article before starting my afternoon endocrinology clinic. As I was walking outside, back to clinic, my eyes were drawn towards the cover of the NY times lying on a table. I sat down and started to read the cover story, which talked about a peaceful gathering of 10,000 practitioners of a Qigong group called Falun Dafa at Zhongnanhai in Beijing. The overall tone of the article was fairly negative, as it referred to this group as a cult. This surprised me because I was familiar with Qigong practices, and knew that these ancient health-promoting exercises were very far away from anything that could justify them being labeled as a cult or sect. Also, having grown up in a half/Cuban household I was familiar with Communist media tactics, and knew that if a communist regime was making a big effort to label something as evil, it was probably actually something very good. During the clinic that afternoon clinic I was intrigued by this large Qigong group with over 70 million practitioners. Something inside told me to look more deeply into it, but I was not quite sure how. Then I remembered that the NY times article mentioned this group used the Internet, so after clinic I went back to look for the newspaper to see if I could find the mentioning of a website. Since there wasnt any, I wrote "Falun Dafa" on a piece of paper, went down to the computer room, and punched this name into the search. I still recall how beautiful the three golden Chinese characters (Zhen, Shan, Ren) (Truthfulness, Compassion, Tolerance) appeared on the first screen I found. I downloaded one of the books, and as I scrolled down the screen through the Lunyu, an "indescribable" rush of warmth came upon me. The words seemed somehow familiar, they rang so true, and were so profound. At that moment I knew, at a subconscious level, that I had stumbled upon something extraordinary. Falun Dafa however, has turned out to be even more magnificent and wonderful than I could have ever imagined.
As I later realized, the "coincidences" that led to my walking into the library that day had actually started a long time before. At the time I did believe that many of lifes apparent "coincidences" must have some larger purpose. Nonetheless, I still viewed my life as a string of random events, a puzzle that I could not piece together. With Dafas new precious insights, the past events in my life took on new meaning; they clearly had been preparation for attaining the Fa (Law). Without them I would not have accepted the Fa as readily as I did, or embraced it as truth. The most notable of these events began during my fourth year of medical school, during which I had quite a lot of elective months to explore the wide variety of alternative medicines available. My previous years of medical education had failed to give me an adequate explanation for the etiology of disease, and I was dissatisfied that the medications I had been trained to use could in most cases, only suppress symptoms. In my search to better understand what truly was the root cause of illness, something drew me towards the abilities and phenomenon that in the west are referred to as "energy medicine." These include Qigong, Psychic healings, Reiki, extrasensory perception, and telepathy among others. At first I was skeptical about many of the phenomenon I read about. However, the wealth of well-documented experiments on extrasensory human abilities (such as reports from declassified American intelligence carried out during the Cold War), and the large number of well-documented cures by these "energy healers," convinced me that there were indeed people who possessed these unexplainable abilities. Some western healers talked about having awoken from sleep one morning with energy, which I now understand as the "Reverse cultivation" and "Energy Borrowing" as explained by Teacher Li. They possessed the ability to heal others, at times even from a distance by knowing only the patients name. I was also intrigued by numerous and reliable accounts of Near Death Experiences (NDEs), as well as past life regressions attained through hypnosis, all of which pointed towards the existence of an immortal soul. Even though my training in western medicine could not explain and also denied many of these phenomenons, I sensed that I was headed in the right direction.á
I continued by studying the basics of traditional Chinese medicine, and started learning Tai chi and Qigong from a teacher in New Orleans. I made quick progress with my exercises, but was soon discouraged by the large expense of the classes, and the fact the teacher seemed intent on making a big business out of the practice. After awhile, my gut instinct told me to get out. So I went to the bookstore, bought some Qigong books, and decided to learn on my own. I practiced many different exercises and postures over the course of various months. I soon got bored with all except one, which I enjoyed the most and felt a lot of energy while doing. When I first learned Falun Standing Stance (Falun Zhuang Fa) many months later, it seemed very familiar. Now as I look back, I do not see it as a coincidence that the exercise I had practiced was virtually identical to the first wheel embracing position of Falun Standing Stance! The only difference was that it included a breathing element.á
Having read about the many health benefits of meditation, I began to read books on Buddhism, and even visited a Zen Buddhist temple in N.O. On my first visit, during the silent meditation the head monk raised his voice and told me to sit still. I realized that I probably was distracting the others, but I was having a very hard time dealing with the leg pain. Shortly after, somebody came around for the stick warning (this is supposed to help enhance ones focus and concentration, and maybe spark a brief episode of enlightenment). I declined, figuring that more pain would not help me keep still and avoid another scolding. My first discouraging visit to the temple was also my last.á
Then, during the last months prior to attaining the Fa, I read Lao Zis Tao de Ching. I read its poems many times, trying to decipher the meaning and wisdom within the clever riddles and paradoxes. Deep in my heart I wished I could understand more, and truly know how to follow this mystical Tao (Way). Little did I know, somebody had been listening, as only a few weeks later I attained the Fa.á
When I first started reading the Falun Dafa works that had then been translated, I was spellbound. These precious teachings, which had seemingly dropped out of nowhere, contained genuine answers and explanations to the many questions that religion, philosophy and modern science had been unable to provide. It is also a testament to the truth and power of Dafa that many of my accepted beliefs and pre-formed notions were quickly overturned. One of the best examples was my firm belief in the theory of evolution. I was so convinced by the "evidence" presented in my college evolution course that afterwards, I would often ridicule and laugh at my mothers belief in the "creation" story. As I now recall, my evolution text only included a brief paragraph in the introduction that dismissed "creation" as unscientific, never once discussing other interpretations of the fossil record or any of the controversial archeological evidence that I now know exists. After watching a fellow practitioners copy of the NBC TV special "The Mysterious Origins of Man," I better understood why I was oblivious to so many findings that strongly challenge the validity of the theory of evolution. In this television special many archeologists from around the world presented the data of innumerous ancient artifacts, fossils and ruins throughout the world, which convincingly show that humankind has existed on this earth much earlier than could ever be explained with the theory of evolution. As Teacher Li states, "Many bold scientists abroad have already publicly recognized this as prehistoric culture and a civilization prior to this of our humankind." Unfortunately, the bold scientists trying to bring to light this controversial evidence are generally not taken seriously by others in their field, and their data does not make it into college textbooks. One of the scientists interviewed in this special discussed part of the reason why this problem occurs while talking about what he referred to as "A knowledge filter." He added, "This is a feature that is a fundamental part of science, as well as to human nature. People tend to filter out things that do not fit, that do not fit the accepted paradigm or way of thinking. In science, you find that evidence that does not fit the accepted paradigm is..eliminated, it is not taught, not discussed, and people who are educated in scientific teachings generally do not even learn about it." Within my own field of medicine, my short career has shown this statement to be quite true. Many of my colleagues, all with strong backgrounds in science, disbelieve much of the evidence presented in the Zhuan Falun. Unfortunately because of this, they also give up reading after just the first few chapters. One of my friends claimed it was "blind faith" that overturned my belief in evolution, when in reality, what convinced me was simply genuine scientific evidence.á
There are no words to describe how amazingly fortunate I felt after attaining the Fa. I now understood the purpose of a human life, and knew that the Great Law of the Universe could genuinely guide and enable a person to cultivate towards enlightenment. How could there be anything more precious? At once I eagerly shared the Fa with my friends and family, as excited as a little kid wanting to share his new toy. I was hoping that they would embrace it and cherish this opportunity as much as I did, and only became frustrated when they did not. Because of my shallow understanding of Dafa at the time, I interpreted their resistance and the difficulties as an indication that my level was elevating. In reality, I was sinking like a rock. I had gone to an extreme. In my conversations with them, I only wanted to talk about Falun Dafa. I would become impatient with other topics of conversation, which all seemed boring and meaningless. Even my attitude towards my job was incorrect, and I did not put enough effort into my exams. Instead of enlightening to my attachments, I simply invested even more time and effort into trying ever harder to convince them. The harder I tried, the worse the results. I made mistake after mistake, and created many obstacles in my cultivation. However, as Teacher Li says, "You will be made to stumble, whereby you will become enlightened to the Tao. This is how one goes through cultivation practice." I could have avoided these rocky beginnings if I had enlightened to the many hints Teacher Li was giving me, but at the time I was too blind to see them. Finally one day, a medical school friend (the only one who was reading Zhuan Falun) pointed out my odd behavior to me and said, "You should read the section at the end of Chapter 8, Attachment of Complacency. Even the book says so." That evening I sat down and opened Zhuan Falun, which I had neglected to read since first attaining the Fa. I read:
"Due to human excitement, one will develop the unnecessary mentality of complacency. It causes one to behave abnormally in formalities, in interacting with others in ordinary human society, or in the environment of ordinary human society. I say that this is unacceptable." Despite this very obvious hint, it still took me some time before I settled down and was able to genuinely overcome the demons and attachments causing this behavior.
Not everything went poorly at the beginning. I fully understood the principles and the importance of cultivating, "Only one cultivation way." I did not think twice about throwing away all my futi filled Qigong books and leaving behind the mind intention and techniques learned from before. I also stopped taking all of the vitamin and herb supplements that I had been consuming for years. As I took these steps I experienced the first signs of "body purification," most of which consisted of minor headaches and "cold like symptoms." A few days later however, I started experiencing discomfort deep within my left hip, severe enough that it caused me to have to limp. This concerned me a little since I had been very healthy my whole life and did not know what to make of this. I then remembered my mother having mentioned that one of my legs had become "paralyzed" when I was very young and that doctors had to stick a large needle into the hip to remove some fluid. I called home to ask her what leg was paralyzed. She said that she was not 100% certain, but that she thought it was my left. Afterwards, the pain soon subsided. I interpreted this occurrence by what Teacher Li says, "The ill part of your body, which you thought was healed before through Qigong exercises or by Qigong masters, will again have illness. This is because that Qigong master did not cure the illness for you-he only postponed it. It was still there and would recur later if not at that time. We must dig it out and eliminate it completely from its root." Although as a child I had not been treated by a Qigong master, I understood that all forms of treatment, be it with energy, surgery or pills, could not remove the underlying karma. Since then, when I have undergone episodes of "sickness karma," I treat myself as a practitioner and do my best to simply ignore them. If I read the book and do the exercises, these tribulations pass very quickly.á
One of my first bizarre experiences after attaining the Fa occurred while I was driving up to Atlanta, where I had gone to learn the exercises from some local practitioners. Let me start this story by first giving you a little historical background: I had first learned to drive while growing up in Europe, and over the years developed the habit of driving very fast. Although my driving was even downright reckless at times, I had never paid much attention to the complaints of the many passengers I had angered over the years. So on this particular day, as I was very excited too finally learn the exercises, my driving was certainly no exception. I flew past a police car parked on the side of the highway, and within seconds his sirens were spinning and he was quickly catching up behind me. My heart started racing as I knew this would be a HUGE ticket! Just as I was starting to pull over, the police car overtook me and stopped a slower moving truck ahead of me. An hour or so later, a virtually identical incident occurred. As if my car were invisible, the police trooper started the chase only to then pull over another vehicle. As you may imagine, to a new practitioner, this experience created a very incorrect understanding. I thought to myself, "Wow, this Dafa is really great!" I now realize that this incident served two purposes. As a practitioner who was just starting out and at a very low level, it served to impress me, and also to reassure me that I was doing the right thing by driving the long trip up to Atlanta to learn the exercises. The other purpose was to start pointing out my attachment. Some weeks later, my mother drove with me back up to CT after I finished my medical internship. I was speeding and she told me many times to slow down, but I paid little attention. Sure enough, soon after, sirens lit up in my rearview mirror. This time however, I was pulled over and got a ticket. Then I understood. Since that episode, I have not gotten any more speeding tickets. Now even my mother, who has always been my worst critic, compliments my driving.á
It has taken me a long time to enlighten to some of the ways by which Teacher Li gives guidance and offers hints regarding attachments. While talking with some practitioners in my area, they recommended I pay closer attention to events around me and to what people said to me. Once I started doing this, I improved tremendously. Previously, I had not realized the subtle ways Teacher Li spoke to me through others remarks and pointed out my faults. Part of the reason I had not enlightened to this was because of my stubborn view that I knew better than others did. Let me list a few examples.
Just the other day, I went to the supermarket to buy some groceries for my mom. When I got to the check out line the man behind me only had one item, so I asked him if he wanted to go ahead of me. He said, "No thank you. I am retired now and have time. You know, in my years Ive come to learn that patience is a virtue." I smiled in agreement, and searched inside for hidden attachments.
Another series of hints were directed to correct mistakes I was doing with my exercises. After learning the exercises from the videotape initially, I was sure in my mind that I was doing them perfectly. Teacher Li however has repeatedly pointed out some mistakes. One day when I was teaching my mother "Penetrating the two cosmic extremes," she told me I was turning the Falun five times. Although I did not believe her initially, once I counted, I saw she was correct. Another detail in the exercises I had been doing incorrectly were the "hollow fists" in Falun Heavenly Circulation. Master Li first pointed this out a few months into my practice when a friend, whom I had earlier taught the exercises to, told me that the description in China Falun Gong sounded different from how I had showed him. I did not catch the hint, and assured him that I was correct. It was almost a year later, when I was recently demonstrating the exercises at a Borders Books and Music that a Chinese practitioner stopped me and pointed out this mistake again. This time I caught on immediately and thanked him. Because of my attachments and not enlightening to Teachers hints, I dragged out a mistake, although minor, for close to a year.á
Just a few weeks ago a fellow practitioner suggested I should consider writing an experience sharing article for this conference. I said that I would rather not, with the excuse that I had nothing new to say that had not already been mentioned by other practitioners. I also told myself that I was too busy helping with the translation of Dafa works into Spanish, and thought that this justified my refusal. Then, within that same week, two other people said I should consider writing an experience article. I knew that I could not avoid these hints and wondered what attachments I was concealing. After some thought, I realized that my refusal was really related to my fear of public speaking, and of sharing my thoughts in front of a large group of people. Throughout my years of high school and college, I had always tried my best to avoid having to give talks or presentations, and just the thought of giving one made me very nervous. Once I enlightened to the attachment and set aside my fears, it was easy to sit down and start writing. I was grateful for Teacher Lis hints, and felt very happy that I would not miss another opportunity to make further advances.
The most direct and amazing hint I remember occurred one evening when I had managed to convince my mother to read a little with me. We were reading Master Lis Lecture in Sydney and it was her turn. Half way through one of the paragraphs she suddenly stopped and put down the page. She said, "Ali, Im tired of reading. I am going to go downstairs, fix myself a cup of tea, relax, and watch some TV." On the occasions when my mother did read with me she usually would not read for very long, but this time we had not read for much more than five minutes. I pointed this out and encouraged her to try reading a little longer. She agreed, picked up the page and proceeded where she had left off. As she reached the end of what was the next sentence her cadence slowed. The words on the page were mysteriously speaking directly at her. They read: "It is absolutely impossible for you to move up in cultivation and reach a level as high as you want by sitting there comfortably, drinking tea while watching TV." She stopped and looked up at me, as if expecting me to explain how it happened. I was in just as much awe as she was! We both laughed in amazement for quite a long while.
There are other instances however, when despite catching on to Teachers hints I am still unable to figure out exactly what attachment Teacher is pointing out to me. For example, last Christmas I decided to buy my mother a cellular phone. When I was purchasing it, the salesman told me that if I bought two, I was entitled to a mail in rebate that would allow me to get two for the price of one. Since I had been thinking about getting a cellular phone for myself, I did not pass up this good deal. After Christmas, when I set up the phones, I was disappointed to find out that the cellular carrier did not have adequate coverage where we lived, and because of poor reception could not use the phone at home. Then, a month or so later as I was opening mail, my hand slipped while opening an envelope, tearing in half the rebate check. By nature I am not clumsy at opening mail, and had not torn the inside of any mail since I could last remember. Being that it was the rebate check, I knew Master Li was trying to point something out. I then also recalled how earlier it had taken me many days of searching before I found the misplaced sales receipt to mail in for the rebate. Despite catching these hints, I still have not enlightened to the exact issue this was addressing. Was it an issue of exchanging De? Was I being cheap? Was I selfishly thinking about my own wants while buying presents for others? Or was it just because I got happy from the "good bargain?" Nonetheless, I threw away the check and forgot about the issue. A few weeks later I was pleasantly surprised when I received a call inside my house on my cellular phone, and notice the indicator on the screen indicated full reception. The cellular company had expanded coverage into our area.á
The most challenging and frustrating aspect of the practice so far, as I know it is for many, has been achieving the goal of doing the 5th exercise in full lotus for a full hour. When I started out, I could not even do single-lotus, not only because of the excruciating pain but because my knee would stick up so ridiculously high that my hands would bump in into it while doing the hand gestures. I soon became very frustrated with my inflexible legs and my painfully slow day to day progress. Dwelling so much on my inability to do the double-lotus reached the point where it became a big attachment. Fixing my mind on achieving this goal caused my endurance to decrease, and out of frustration I even started skipping practice. It was only once I gave up this goal, and instead focused solely on improving my Ren, that I really started making progress. I became more patient with myself and made sure to endure a little more each day. Then, one day 8 months into the practice, I was surprised to find that my legs went down much farther than usual, so I decided to try the double lotus. I was able to get into this position for the first time and did the exercise without much pain for five minutes. The next day however, I was frustrated to find I was back to where I was two days before. Similar events have happened occasionally. I realized that it is Master Lis way of giving encouragement and telling me that it will be possible, but not easy. Another piece of helpful advice that a veteran practitioner gave me was to be sure to complete the entire hour, even if I had to drop my leg to a lower position to endure. At the beginning, I would stop once I could not endure anymore, even if there were many minutes left. Once I made the decision to be firm and stay the entire hour, I noticed a great improvement and many aspects of my Xinxing also became more firm. On the other hand, when I do not endure as much as I should, my Xinxing becomes fragile, and certain tribulations become more difficult to pass. At the moments when I find myself discouraged by my low level of Ren, I put myself in the shoes of practitioners in China and realize how insignificant my hardships really are; or I think about the countless hardships Master Li has gone through to bring the Law to us. I then feel ashamed at my poor effort and force myself to upgrade my Xinxing.
Perhaps the most difficult tribulation to pass initially was the demon of Lust. Teacher Li says, "If your ability of ding is not adequate, it will appear in your dreams during sleep." When I failed the test the first times it certainly made a big impression on me. Unsure as how to best prepare for it, I read pertinent section from Zhuan Falun over and over. With firm determination I eventually passed the test successfully. However, I was soon discouraged when I dropped back down again. New transformed illusions, such as those of past girlfriends, pointed out attachments that I still held within my filthy heart. I realized that during my initial efforts I had not dug out the roots of this attachment completely. Without continued firmness and perseverance the attachment would simply sprout out and grow again. When considering what other problems I may be having I realized that fear also played a large role. I was worrying excessively about failing this test, feeling that I may be ruined if I did not pass it. Teacher Li says, "You are already able to give up the attachment, why not give up the fear of attachment, itself as well? With these realizations and renewed firmness, I was able to pass.á
Upon reflecting back on the past year, I believe that I made my greatest strides once I started following wu-wei (non-doing; the natural course). Although I had understood the surface meaning of this concept and had read the passages in the book many times, it took me a long time before I got the hang of applying this in daily life. Many opportunities to improve myself have slipped by in the process. When things did not work out how I thought they should, instead of enlightening to wu-wei, I would force the issue thinking that if I just tried harder, they would straighten out. At the beginning I also set too many goals, and too often would plan out in my mind what I thought should happen, or how events should unfold. This was primarily because I continually measured things with my human logic, which Ive had a difficult time breaking away from. I also did not pay close attention to Teacher Lis statement that, "A practitioners cultivation is arranged systematically by my fashen." Once again, I had understood the surface meaning but failed to see that I was preventing this from occurring naturally. Many strong attachments kept pulling me off course. I now realize that I spent many months arranging my own path, instead of enlightening to the predestined one arranged by Teacher Li. Only after I focused more on studying the Law, honestly improving myself and eliminating attachments, was I able to truly start following wu-wei. When I can follow wu-wei everything is different. My pre-arranged path opens up effortlessly and I do not always feel like I am continually swimming upstream. Even things I had wished would happen, but could not achieve through effort, came to happen naturally. As Teacher says,"Want nothing, gain naturally."á
I cant believe the amazing changes that I have made over the past year. In many ways I feel like a new person, and in my heart I have a feeling of peace and happiness unlike ever before. Nonetheless, the progress I have made seems small compared to how far I know I still have to go. I know however, that as long as I do my part, Master Li will guide me every step of the way.á
From the bottom of my heart, I would like thank Master Li for this most precious of all gifts. I also would like to take this opportunity to express how extremely grateful I am to all of you; your experience articles and insights have been invaluable. I hope that everyone will cherish this unique opportunity! Strive forward and awaken to your predestined paths, and continue to overcome all obstacles until you return to your original, and true selves!á
Category: Beginning Cultivation