Falun Gong

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Li Hongzhi giving a lecture in Chicago, 2005.

Falun Gong (Chinese: 法轮功: meaning "Practice of the Wheel of Law"), also known as Falun Dafa (Chinese: 法轮大法: "Great Law of the Wheel of Law"), is a system of qigong meditation introduced by Li Hongzhi in China in 1992. Falun Gong has grown rapidly to become a very popular form of religious practice in modern China; however, in 1999 the movement was declared illegal by the People's Republic of China and its materials and activities banned. Despite the controversy surrounding the practice, Falun Gong's successful growth illustrates the continuing appeal of new religious movements in Asia in the twenty-first century.

Contents

Origins

One of the slow-moving hand gestures of Falun Dafa's fifth exercise.

Founded by Li Hongzhi on May 13, 1992, Falun Gong was met with immediate acclaim and nominated twice as the "Star Qigong School" in the 1992 and 1993 Asian Health Expo in Beijing. The practice originally surfaced in the institutional field of alternative Chinese science, not religion, as the Chinese government considers qigong as a medical science.

As Falun Gong practice spread, Li stipulated that it could never be used for fame or profit and he emphasized that practitioners may only teach the system voluntarily. This insistence allegedly caused a rift with the China Qigong Research Society, the state administrative body under which Falun Dafa was initially introduced, and Li withdrew from the organization. In 1996, Li Hongzhi took up invitations to teach the practice in numerous countries in Europe and Asia. As of 2006, he resides in the United States.

Teachings and Practice

Li Hongzhi makes use of many religious concepts in his writings and the teachings of Falung Gong are an electic mix of Buddhist and Daoist elements. The major text of Falun Gong is the Zhuan Falun. [1] In Chinese, Falun means "Wheel of Law" in reference to the Dharma wheel or Chakra of Buddhism. However, Li Hongzhi interprets the Falun to be a miniature of the universe, and once it is installed into the abdomen, it turns continuously. When the Falun turns clockwise, it absorbs energy from the universe into the body; when it turns counter-clockwise it eliminates waste from the body.

Fa

The foundation of Falun Dafa is known as the "Fa" ("law and principles") that are set forth in the book Zhuan Falun. Falun Gong teaches that the "Buddha Law," in its highest manifestation, can be summarized in three words—Zhen 真, Shan 善 and Ren 忍, which translate approximately as 'Truthfulness (or Truth), Benevolence (or Compassion), and Forbearance (or Endurance)'. The process of cultivation is thought of to be one in which the practitioner assimilates himself or herself to Zhen 真, Shan 善 and Ren 忍. These terms derive from existing Chinese religious traditions.

Qi and Gong

According to Falun Gong, 氣, qi (which means "breath"), is a natural form of energy. Qigong systems usually teach breathing techniques coordinated with meditative imagery and are often associated with traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese martial arts. Falun Gong teaches that in what they call "high-level cultivation practice," and the practice of Wu-wei.

Falun Gong has five sets of basic exercises to facilitate this process. Central to Falun Gong is the traditional concept of "cultivation practice" (xiulian) in which the practitioner's goal is said to be elevating their mind nature (xinxing) to gradually let go of attachments such as selfishness, jealousy, pursuit, lust, zealotry and greed. Li Hongzhi teaches that though the purpose of cultivation practice is not healing and fitness, an illness free state can manifest even from qigong and that this has directly to do with him. Li states, “We will push you beyond it, making your body reach a state free of any illness.” [2]

Li Hongzhi states that he installs a falun in the elixir field of the lower abdomen (dantian) of practioners. Falun Gong practitioners believe that through the gradual improvement of their xinxing (mind-nature) they develop 功 (gōng), which they use to mean "cultivation energy" (this is an unconventional use of the word, which in Mandarin Chinese means "merit" or "achievement" and by extension is part of compound terms describing a disciplined regimen, where it can mean "study" or "practice"). However, rather than denying the more commonly accepted definition of the word, Falun Gong broadens its semantic meaning. Gōng, unlike qi, can also purify one's body, suppress illnesses, transforms the human body from the most microcosmic level (in systems that cultivate longevity), grows upward in the shape of a column above one's head, and is considered necessary in practicing towards enlightenment (or kaigong, "the unlocking of gong").

Ethics

Falun Gong lays emphasis on virtue (), to be a good person in all environments, and always think of others before doing things. Li Hongzhi often criticizes the state of modern society’s supposed moral degeneration. He echoes Buddhism by stated that the current era is the "Dharma Ending Period", in which humankind is undergoing great moral degradation. The Falun Gong movement recognizes the existence of karma as well as heaven for those who cultivate themselves properly. Thus, Falun Gong believes in the act of retribution, and all good and evil deeds will be paid in return in the due time. Li does not claim that viruses and bacteria are not behind people's illnesses, but he professes that they are not the root cause. The true cause of disease is considered karmic. The book Zhuan Falun says, "Nobody should blame others for it, as everyone has added fuel to the flame" (Zhuan Falun, 134).

Enlightenment

If practitioners follow the requirements of the Fa and can meet the moral standard of higher realms, they are said to attain Consummation (or Enlightenment). In Li Hongzhi's earlier teachings the focus was on an individual practitioner reaching Consummation. In 1999, Li Hongzhi stated, “The vows of Gods in history are being fulfilled. The Dafa is judging all beings.” Underlying this prediction is the teaching that the entire cosmos is undergoing a process called “Fa-rectification” – a kind of renewal of the cosmos into the most original, purest state of being. “All of the cosmos’ beings have strayed from the Fa, so they have to be rectified with Fa,” stated Li in Switzerland (Li Hongzhi, Falun Buddha Fa: Teaching the Fa at the Conference in Switzerland, 1998 [3]). This process is said to affect all sentient beings (as well as matter) in the universe: they are being repositioned according to their moral goodness or xinxing (mind-nature). Those who have taken the side of the Chinese Communist Party in persecuting the Buddha Law are said to perish by the natural force of this process “when the Fa rectifies the human world,” meaning, when this process breaks through from the microcosm, while all others will be provided benevolent resolutions. In 2001 [4] Li Hongzhi made clear that this Fa-rectification would target people based on their moral qualities:

Moreover, when an Enlightened Being descends to the world, it is usually at a time when people’s morals are declining day by day, when people’s sins and karma are enormous, or when people’s morality is degenerate. Once the saved ones have attained the Fa and left, the dregs of humanity and the degenerate world that are left behind will be weeded out. (Li Hongzhi, Essentials for Further Advancement II, [5])

Li as a Saviour

Li is seen by many practitioners of Falun Gong as the exclusive savior of humankind who possesses the supernatural power to heal illnesses. Most notable were his treatments at the Asian Health Fair in 1992 and 1993, which were performed to “promote Falun Gong.” In Zhuan Falun [6] Li states, “If I cannot save you, nobody else can do it.”

In 2003, he added: [7]

I have truly borne for you the sins you committed over hundreds and thousands of years. And it doesn't stop at just that. Because of this, I will also save you and turn you into Gods. I have spared no effort for you in this process. Along with this, since you'll become Gods at levels that high, I have to give you the honors of Gods at levels that high and all the blessings that you need to have at levels that high.

Li says that the illnesses of "true practitioners" are directly cured by his fashen ("law bodies"). These bodies, independent entities who share the main person's thoughts and intentions, are said to be born in the dantian (the stomach, known as the "cinnabar field" in alchemical Daoism) when one reaches a very high level in cultivation practice. "Your illnesses will be cured directly by me. Those who practice at exercise sites will have my fashen to cure their illnesses. Those who study Dafa by reading the book on their own will also have my fashen to cure their illnesses." [8]

“In the Fa-rectification, Master is actually saving all beings, not just the good ones; evil ones are of course included as well. I have often said that during the Fa-rectification I don't hold the past faults of any sentient being against him, and that I look only at a sentient being's attitude toward Dafa during the Fa-rectification. In other words, no matter which beings they are or how huge the mistakes and sins they committed in history, as long as they do not play a negative role with regard to the Fa-rectification, I can give them benevolent solutions and eliminate their sins and karma.” (Li Hongzhi, Turning the Wheel Toward the Human World, 2005 [9])

Membership

Since there is no concept of membership in Falun Gong practice, the actual number of practitioners is unknown. When the Chinese government banned the movement, the number of Falun Gong practitioners was estimated by the government to be under two million or even less; however, according to a state-conducted survey in 1998, there were over ten million practitioners in China [10]. Some believe that after the July 1999 crackdown, the Chinese government began publishing what is claimed to be a lower number to downplay Falun Gong's presence in Chinese society. Falun Gong sources themselves claim that there are at least 70-100 million practitioners [11].

International Recognition

Falun Gong has been honored with over 900 proclamations and awards [12] from Australia, Canada, China (before the ban), Japan, Russia, the United States, and other countries. However, these awards are a matter of controversy: Falun Gong expert Patsy Rahn [13] (2002), states they “are documents routinely obtained by groups from public officials in the US for public relations purposes” and may be used to mislead people in China into believing “that the American government supports Master Li and his Falun Gong practitioners.” Conversely, Noah Porter [14] (2003) argues that these awards are not always easy to get, citing one example from Tampa, Florida.

Suppression in the People's Republic of China

Arrest of People practicing the fifth exercise in China

In its early phase, Falun Gong was renowned throughout China as a form of qigong exercise in tune with the politics of the state. However, as the movement gained momentum Li and the followers of Falun Gong grew bolder in their criticisms of the government and held large but peaceful protests. Beginning in 1999 the government of China moved to suppress Falun Gong activities. Accusations of unethical and subversive behavior were made against Li and his followers, such as describing Falun Gong as a dangerous personality cult. Critics of Falun Gong also tended to highlight particularly controversial issues and statements by Li, in an attempt to provide striking examples of the alleged incredulousness of Li's cosmology. His position as the only teacher-master of Falun Gong was also disputed, some arguing that his apparent power over the practitioners' worldview is suspect.

References

External links

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