Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Falun Gong:A religion facing imprisonment and torture

Published:Sunday | November 9, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Erping Zhang
A Falun Gong practitioner at Dag Hammarskjoid Plaza in New York. -Contributed
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Dr Glenville Ashby, Contributor

Many argue that Karl Marx's famous dictum, "Religion is the opiate of the people," is used to justify an atmosphere of religious intolerance in China.

One such case involves Falun Gong, a movement noted for its meditative practices, philosophy of inner tranquillity, and slow, graceful movements.

Curiously, Falun Gong has been called the greatest threat to the State in China. Its followers number in the tens of millions. In the West, countless individuals are turning to its philosophy.

But how could a message of peace pose a threat to a powerful state? Is there something sinister lurking behind Falun Gong's innocuous veneer? What is behind the relentless crackdown and persecution taking place in China?

According to Alain Tong, president of the movement in France: "The Chinese regime realised that there were 80 million Falun Gong practitioners in China (70 million, according to official media reports) in the 1990s. Commentators at the time, particularly in the West, drew attention that this figure exceeded the number of Communist Party members, estimated at 60 million.

"This marked the watershed moment when the defamation campaigns and persecutions began. A lot of absurd stories were published. We were accused of being crazy, of driving our practitioners to suicide. Yet not a single incident had been reported before 1998. The State was worried that we were turning into a political force."

Recently, Erping Zhang, a long-standing member of the movement in the United States, elaborated on its teachings and the thorny relationship with Chinese authorities.

What is the meaning of Falun Gong and what are the history and philosophy of the practice?

Falun Gong is an ancient Chinese spiritual discipline in the Buddhist tradition. Pronounced 'Fah-loon Gong'. It consists of moral teachings, meditation, and four gentle exercises that are a truly unique and highly effective way to improve your health and energy levels.

At the core of Falun Gong are the values of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Falun Gong teaches that these are the most fundamental qualities of the universe, and are used as a guide for daily life and practice.

In the words of Falun Gong's founder, Li Hongzhi, "assimilation to the highest qualities of the universe is the foundation of practice. Practice is guided by these supreme qualities, and based on the very laws which underline the development of the cosmos". Falun Gong, also commonly known as 'Falun Dafa', has become the largest and fastest-growing practice in China, if not the world. In just seven years since its 1992 introduction to the public, an estimated 100 million people are practising Falun Gong.

In Asia, spiritual practices of this variety are often referred to as "self-cultivation", and form an integral part of classical Chinese culture. Various Daoist, Buddhist, and Confucian practices fit this rubric.

What is hierarchical structure of the movement?

There is no hierarchical structure in Falun Dafa. People practise it on a voluntary basis. There is neither registration nor membership. In some parts of the world, Falun Dafa practitioners set up non-profit organisations to comply with local laws in order to hold activities or other community functions.

What differentiates Falun Gong from Tai Chi?

Falun Gong is of Buddha School, while Tai Chi belongs to the Taoist School. Buddha School has 84,000 branches and Falun Gong is one of them.

How prevalent is its teachings in the West? Is an afterlife part of its teachings? What about reincarnation?

Falun Dafa is now being practised in more than 130 countries around the world, and its principal book Zhuan Falun has been translated into more than a dozen languages. The idea of reincarnation is part of traditional teachings of Buddha School, along with the concept of Karma.

Can you provide accurate statistics on membership?

Falun Dafa is not a membership organisation. Practitioners follow the teachings and practice on a voluntary basis. Prior to the persecution in 1999, the Chinese regime estimated that there were 70-100 million Chinese people taking up this practice. Due to the international publicity of our persecution, this meditation practice is now known worldwide and people of all ethnic backgrounds started to join the practice.

List some of the abuses allegedly suffered by members.

Members are sent to labour camps where many have died. While the oppression, or genocide as some have labelled it, is taking place in China, it has nevertheless impacted the lives of Falun Gong adherents in other parts of the world. The Chinese authorities have exported their campaign. A number of Chinese agents are known to have taken action to intimidate, deter, and coerce followers. So severe have been the tactics that it has prompted a United States congressional resolution specific to the matter. Adherents have found the tyres of their cars slashed; their homes vandalised and ransacked; received death threats and harassing calls; had their computers hacked; and even, in several cases, been physically assaulted.

Why is evangelising so essential to the movement?

Many practitioners of Falun Dafa are making a diligent effort to share with the world the injustice that is occurring to Falun Dafa in China in the hope of ending this inhumane persecution. Also, the practitioners of Falun Dafa are willing to introduce this healthy and enlightening mind-body meditation to their friends, relatives and communities.

Can you envisage Falun Gong in the next decade and beyond?

Certainly, the persecution waged by the Communist Party in China will not sustain for long and will end in the not-so-distant future. An interesting observation is that in Taiwan and Hong Kong where Chinese people are able to live free of Communist dictatorship, Falun Gong is peacefully embraced and practised.

Dr Glenville Ashby is a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council, NYC. Feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby