Falun Dafa - A Spiritual Discipline
Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) is a spiritual discipline which places great emphasis on morality and virtue. It is a traditional self-improvement practice and holds Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance as its central tenets. Adherence to the doctrines is believed to lead to increased health and well-being.
The literal translation of Falun is ‘law wheel’ and encompasses both the Taoist and Buddhist schools of thought.
Falun Gong identifies as a qigong (pronounced chee-gong) practice of the Buddhist school. Falun Gong emerged at the end of a boom of such qigong schools, all of which propound meditation, slow-moving exercises and regulated breathing. Where it differs from other practices is in being completely free of fees, formal membership or daily rituals. The theological nature of its teachings are based on the spiritual disciplines professed by its founder Mr Li Hongzhi. Moral rectitude and meditation are believed to lead to better health and to spiritual enlightenment.
Falun Gong was first introduced in 1992. In the space of a few years, there was a positive impact on national health costs with one government survey estimating that Falun Gong was saving the country over 100 billion Chinese dollars per year in medical fees. The three fundamental qualities of truth, compassion and forbearance, combined with calming exercises and meditation had a major impact on many individuals bringing about a state of selflessness, greater insight and awareness leading to the restoration of inner peace and health. The practice became so popular that it is believed that between 70 and 100 million Chinese nationals were devotees of its principles.
Falun Gong has always maintained a non-political stance. But by 1999, when estimates of the number of adherents exceeded the total membership of the Chinese Communist Party, Falun Gong suddenly lost the support of officials and it began to be seen as a potential threat. It is alleged that the dictator of the time, Jiang Zemin, was afraid the widespread popularity of the movement would overshadow his own legacy. He personally instigated the eradication of all Falun Gong followers.
A ban was placed on the movement in July 1999 and a coordinated propaganda campaign began in an effort to outlaw the practice and bring about its eradication. On July 20, 1999 thousands of Falun Gong leaders were abducted and detained.
By October it had been declared a ‘heretical organisation’ and since then, practitioners have been subjected to wide and diverse abuses ranging from forced labour, severe torture, psychiatric abuse and other methods of thought reform.
The ban on Falun Gong forced the organisation (such as it was) underground and the internet became a way of connecting practitioners. The authorities sought to expose it as a highly organised group thus justifying its repression but the credibility of this (as being highly organised) was never substantiated.
This movement seems to have no downside. There is no administration, no fees, no soliciting for donations, no physical places of worship. Followers can participate as much or as little as they like; there is no-one instructing on beliefs or behaviour although it is easy to find someone to explain the various exercises. Even the books written by Li Hongzhi are free to download.
Yet leaflets on the discipline cite incredible persecution by the Communist Party authorities. Electric shocks, gang rape, force-feeding and forced harvesting of living organs are said to take place. Estimates of deaths are in the tens of thousands. Torture deaths are counted as suicide and bodies are cremated without investigation leading to highly suspect statistics as to the deaths related to the repression of Falun Gong. Since the persecution of Falun Gong adherents began in 1999, there have 41,500 unexplained organ transplants ie the organs do not come from convicted executed prisoners, the brain dead or from family donors.
David Matas, the Canadian human rights lawyer and author, said ‘The Communist Party of China, for no apparent reason other than totalitarian paranoia, sees Falun Gong as an ideological threat to its existence. Yet, objectively, Falun Gong is just a set of exercises with a spiritual component.”
Falun Gong advocates can be found in some 114 countries across the globe and it is believed that tens of millions continue to practice the discipline inside China. Its Chinese adherents have emerged as a prominent, dissident voice, advocating greater human rights and an end to Communist Party rule. The most active communities outside of China are in the United States and Canada. In 1995, Falun Gong was taught at the Chinese consulate in New York along with Chinese silk craft and cooking. The growth of the movement outside China has largely mirrored the migration of students from China in the early to mid 1990s. Numerous Western governments have condemned the persecution, intimidation and incarceration of Falun Gong followers. There is however, a wariness in the minds of many westerners as to the veracity of the claims. The push by the Chinese authorities that this is a destructive ‘cult’ has made an impression on those who know little of the background and practice of Falun Gong.