By Anupama Bhattacharya
A controversial but hugely popular Chinese system of meditative movements teaches how to bring the body, mind and spirit in harmony, thus living in sync with the laws of the universe
Brothers in arms
It is said that most spiritual paths are paved with difficulties. InFalun Gong’s case, this has proved to be more than true.
When I e-mailed an official Chinese spokesperson for material pertaining to Falun Gong and the reasons behind banning this practice in China, I was given the URLs of two websites. Till that time, I had come across only pro-Falun Gong sites, and was curious about what the Chinese government had to say. What I found, instead, was a plethora of irrational blames, some as ridiculous as claims of sorcery and heresy.
According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue, the Falun Gong organization is an evil cult that jeopardizes the Chinese society and its people. They compare Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi to Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara who led his followers into a mass murder mission in 1995. The official Chinese news agency Xinhua actually prints a report claiming: ‘Like all other heretical founders, Li Hongzhi is an evildoer who talks big and tells lies,’ and that Falun Gong is ‘an anti-society, anti-humanity, anti-science and anti-government malignant tumor, which poses great harm to society’. The government also claims thatFalun Gong causes mental disorders, and false belief in its benefits might stop a patient from taking required medical attention in time. This is denied by Falun Gong practitioners by clarifying that people with critical or mental illnesses are barred from practicing the system, since such people could not be calm enough to practice ‘cultivation’.
The main reason for this outburst, however, seems to sprout from political insecurities. Falun Gong’s ‘true purpose’, the report claims, ‘is to win public support for Hongzhi’s wicked political ambitions’. It further states that Hongzhi’s aim is to ‘make Falun Gong the ruling ideology in the world and to allow him to seize power that overruns the government and the law’. The USA is protesting against the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. However, the Chinese government is going all out to destroy what it perceives as the biggest threat to its regime since the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests.
‘When China realized,’ says Anders Eriksson, one of the practitioners ‘that so many people were practicing Falun Gong, they were afraid that this could develop into something political.’ (The group claims 80 million followers in China alone, more than the membership of the Communist Party; the Chinese authorities say two million). He, however, points out that this is a gross misperception of Falun Gong’s purpose. ‘Cultivation has nothing to do with politics,’ he explains.
Distrust, however, is difficult to root out. Which is why Falun Gong’s history today is bathed in the blood of its practitioners. Stories of murder, torture in police custody, unlawful arrests abound. The Agence France Press has even reported beatings with electric batons and cattle prods, forced abortions and sanctioned rape and the forced consumption of anti-psychotic drugs. The Amnesty International has condemned what it calls China’s gross human rights’ violation. But as of now, the Falun Gong’s fate in China is sealed. Perhaps it is a strange irony that while millions all over the world are embracing this system, it is being forced to die out in the land of its origin.
Fluid motions. Seeping deep within the body. Embracing the mind. Rising with the spirit. Sowing seeds of truth (Zhen), compassion (Shan) and forbearance (Ren). Moving as one towards wisdom and enlightenment. Therein lies the essence of Falun Gong, an advanced system of ‘cultivation’ and practice designed to improve a practitioner’s life, physically, mentally and spiritually.
However, this essentially peaceful spiritual exercise has been mired in controversy almost from the very beginning.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, grew out of Chinese Qigongpractices with a history stretching back thousands of years. Its new avatar was first introduced by Master Li Hongzhi in 1992 in China to make it more accessible to the public, and was registered with the Qigong Research Association there. However, the two systems did not always see eye to eye. Unlike Qigong, Falun Gong’s focus was not on healing or displaying supernatural powers. Instead, it concentrated on creating a complete body-mind-spirit harmony to help its students get in sync with the evolution principle of the universe. But when, in 1996, Master Li withdrew from that society, it was the beginning of a long and arduous journey that was to lead to the banning of Falun Gong in China and to test the faith of every practitioner of this system.
But first things first.
For most people, Falun Gong is still a comparatively new system and, on the face of it, not much different from various other healing and relaxation exercises. The difference lies, primarily, in its philosophy depicted through its emblem, the Falun, representing the wheel of dharma. The Taoist yin-yang and the Buddha’s dharma-chakra are both reflected in the Falun emblem.
‘This sign does not connote any concept of classes. It was 2,500 years ago in Sakyamuni’s time that the human society came to widely recognize this sign. Later, Hitler usurped it,’ explains Hongzhi. ‘The configuration of Falun is a miniature of the universe and has its own form of existence and process of evolution in each of the other spaces. Therefore, I call it a world.’
According to Hongzhi, the Falun is an intelligent spinning body of high-energy substance from another dimension, located at the dan-tian (lower abdomen), which absorbs energy from the universe and relieves the body of bad elements. The rotation of Falun synchronizes with the rotation of the universe. This energy substance is constantly rotating, putting the practitioner in the state of cultivation for 24 hours a day.
‘Some people are very sensitive, and will feel the rotation of Falun,’ writes Hongzhi in his book China Falun Gong. ‘During the initial period after Falun is installed, you may feel a little unused to it being in your body, you may have abdominal pain, or feel like something is moving and have a sense of warmth. After you have adapted to it, you will not have any sensation. But people with supernormal capabilities can see it. It’s just the same with the stomach; you do not feel the movement of your stomach.’
This Falun enters the person after the practice of Falun Gong. When energy is emitted through these exercises, a string of Falun is released, though the key Falun remains at the abdomen. With continuous practice, this Falun is strengthened. There is, however, a catch. If you practice the exercises but harbor ill thoughts, the result will be negative, harming you rather than helping.
Falun Gong aims at developing the Xinxing or heart/mind nature. The cultivation or xulian of Xinxing includes giving up negative behaviors, dealing with losses and pains and letting go. Here, cultivation stands for tending the body-mind-spirit like a garden. Its practitioners say that it’s also good for stress relief, body cleansing and health improvement, as well as for enhanced moral sensibilities.
‘An illness,’ explains Hongzhi, ‘is a type of black energy cluster. After we break it into pieces during the early stage of the class, you will feel that spot is swollen. However, it has already lost its roots, and has started discharging outward. It will be expelled very quickly. The disease will no longer exist.’
In fact, according to Yuhua Cheng, a Beijing-based physician, Falun Gong’s therapeutic effects are many. ‘From my experience, I can say that allopathy is too superficial. But Falun Gong can even cure some diseases considered incurable by modern science.’
The practitioners begin to realize the health benefits pretty soon. ‘Ever since I started practicing cultivation,’ says P. Zhang, an Atlanta-based practitioner, ‘I’ve lost 15 pounds, my blood pressure is normal, and my recurring headaches are gone.’ Glenda McNiece from Sunshine Coast, Australia, has another story to tell: ‘About 20 years ago, I was involved in an accident, which left me with a broken collarbone and back injuries, including bruising around the vertebrae and a misaligned pelvis. From this I suffered severe nerve and sciatic pain. When I first started practicing Falun Gong a year ago, I felt immediate relief from the neck and shoulder tension. As I continued, my overall health improved.’
That, however, is only part of the story.
Though Falun Gong is beneficial for health, these are only side effects. The focus, throughout, is on cleansing the body and preparing it for higher states of awareness.
‘I did not come to the public to treat illnesses. Where there are people, there will be illnesses,’ says Hongzhi. ‘It is acceptable to treat illnesses. But it is not permissible to use powerful Gong to treat illnesses professionally, nor is it allowed to replace the laws of this world with laws that surpass this world. Otherwise, the results of curing illnesses would not be good.’
And most often, even the practitioners begin to see beyond the healing properties of Falun Gong.
‘I often used to worry about things I could not change,’ says Adam Gerard, from Sydney. ‘But now, whenever I find myself in trying circumstances, I simply recall Master Li’s words and the principles of Zhen-Shan-Ren. My mind is considerably calmer now.’ The system comprises five sets of cultivation exercises. Most of these exercises are easy to learn and can be practiced anytime, anywhere. And they are taught absolutely free. They are also largely simple and smooth, without any strenuous motions, and can be learnt from the main books of Falun Gong teachings written by Hongzhi, around which the system revolves, and from videotapes.
‘Without the guidance of the book Zhuan Falun,’ says Anders Eriksson, a Sweden-based practitioner, ‘it is difficult to practice cultivation. I’ve read and reread it, and every time I get a higher understanding. But the main idea is to let go of your attachments and desires.’
For Eriksson, Falun Gong was the culmination of a lifelong search that began when he was 13. ‘I had been trying to understand the meaning of life through different religions, New Age systems and therapies. But when I found Falun Gong, I knew that I didn’t need to search anymore. For me and 100 million other people, Falun Gong is the greatest thing.’
A. Adler, a New Jersey-based practitioner, agrees: ‘I had looked into different philosophies and religions… but when I found Falun Gong, I knew I had finally stumbled onto something unique and powerful. I knew I had found the Tao, the Way, and answers to the most fundamental questions in life.’
In fact, for most people, Falun Gong seems to fill the spiritual and existential void that stems from increasing disillusionment with the modern world.
The purpose of Falun Gong is to return to the original self. But unlike most other systems, it does not demand any perceptible change in a person’s life. According to its practitioners, Falun Gong is not a religion, cult or sect. There is no organization as such, nor any priests, temples or churches. Or any rituals or worship services. What people have, instead, is ample freedom to do what they like. There are no restrictions on timings or any obligation to volunteer for activities. It also does not have a rigid structure, and all members are considered students, without any difference. In fact, Hongzhi encourages normal family life and stresses that letting go of attachments does not mean asceticism. The idea is to live in this world, but understand that it is all maya.
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