Falun Gong or Falun Dafa (literally means "Dharma Wheel Practice" or "Law Wheel Practice") is a spiritual discipline first introduced in China in 1992 through public lectures by its founder, Li Hongzhi. It combines the practice of meditation and slow-moving qigong exercises with a moral philosophy. Falun Gong emphasizes morality and the cultivation of virtue in its central tenets of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance (Chinese: 真、善、忍), and identifies as a qigong practice of the Buddhist school, though its teachings also incorporate elements drawn from Taoist traditions. Through moral rectitude and the practice of meditation, practitioners of Falun Gong aspire to better health and, ultimately, spiritual enlightenment.
Falun Gong emerged at the end of China's "qigong boom"—a period which saw the proliferation of similar practices of meditation, slow-moving exercises and regulated breathing. It differs from other qigong schools in its absence of fees or formal membership, lack of daily rituals of worship, its greater emphasis on morality, and the theological nature of its teachings. Western academics have described Falun Gong as a qigong discipline, a "spiritual movement" based on the teachings of its founder, a "cultivation system" in the tradition of Chinese antiquity, and sometimes a religion or new religious movement.
Although the practice initially enjoyed considerable support from Chinese officialdom, by the mid- to late-1990s, the Communist Party and public security organs increasingly viewed Falun Gong as a potential threat due to its size, independence from the state, and spiritual teachings. By 1999, some estimates placed the number of Falun Gong adherents in the tens of millions. Tensions culminated in April 1999, when over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered peacefully near the central government compound in Beijing to request legal recognition and freedom from state interference. This demonstration is widely seen as catalyzing the suppression that followed.
On 20 July 1999, the Communist Party leadership initiated a nationwide crackdown and multifaceted propaganda campaign intended to eradicate the practice. In October 1999 it declared Falun Gong a "heretical organization" that threatened social stability, and blocked Internet access to websites that mention Falun Gong. Human rights groups report that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subject to a wide range of human rights abuses; hundreds of thousands are believed to have been imprisoned extrajudicially, and practitioners in detention are subject to forced labor, psychiatric abuse, torture, and other coercive methods of thought reform at the hands of Chinese authorities. In the years since the suppression campaign began, Falun Gong adherents have emerged as a prominent voice in the Chinese dissident community, advocating for greater human rights and an end to Communist Party rule.
Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi has lived in the United States since 1996, and Falun Gong has a sizable global constituency; inside China, some sources estimate that millions may continue to practice Falun Gong in spite of suppression. Hundreds of thousands are believed to practice Falun Gong outside China across some 70 countries worldwide.
What is Falun Gong?
Falun Gong (Chinese, "Practice of the Wheel of Dharma") is a Chinese movement founded by Li Hongzhi in 1992. Its adherents exercise ritually to obtain mental and spiritual renewal.
The teachings of Falun Gong draw from the Asian religious traditions of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Chinese folklore as well as those of Western New Age movements.
The movement's sudden emergence in the 1990s was a great concern to the Chinese government, which viewed Falun Gong as a cult and a threat.
Master Li Hongzhi
- Date founded: 1992
- Place founded: China
- Founder: Li Hongzhi (1951/2-)
- Adherents: 3 million (acc. to official sources); 100 million (acc. to Falun Gong sources)
Falun Gong is also known as Falun Dafa. Technically, Falun Gong refers to the practice, while Falun Dafa refers to the teaching of the movement, but the terms are now generally used interchangably.
Falun Gong has claimed not to be an organization and its texts speak of it as a practice rather than a religion. But it does contain teachings about the spiritual world and it has a closely connected membership (achieved in large part through the internet). 1
Falun Gong has its origins in Qi Gong (Chinese: "Energy Working"), the use of meditation techniques and physical exercise to achieve good health and peace of mind, which has a long history in Chinese culture and religion. However, practitioners in modern China present these techniques as purely secular in an effort to escape official restrictions against independent religious activity.
But in the late 20th century, new masters appeared who taught forms of Qi Gong more clearly rooted in religion. The most influential of these, Li Hongzhi (born May 13, 1951, according to followers, or July 7, 1952, according to critics who contend that Li adjusted his birthdate to be the same as the Buddha's), worked in law enforcement and corporate security before becoming the full-time spiritual leader of Falun Gong in 1992.
After gathering a large following in China (100 million according to Falun Gong, or between 2 and 3 million according to the Chinese government), Li took his movement abroad in the mid-1990s, settling permanently in New York City in 1998. The next year, a massive campaign was launched by the medical establishment (including both practitioners and academics) and the Chinese government to denounce Falun Gong as a xiejiao ("false teaching" or "cult").
Unlike other Chinese organizations, Falun Gong responded strongly, staging a demonstration of more than 10,000 followers in Beijing on April 25, 1999, which prompted an even greater government response. The movement was condemned and outlawed by the Chinese authorities, who identified Falun Gong as the latest of many Chinese religious societies that have combined religious assurance with political dissent. In October the enforcement of a new anticult law led to the arrest of 100 Falun Gong leaders (joining 1,000 members who had been arrested earlier). Public trials began in November and continued into the 21st century, with many defendants receiving prison sentences of up to 12 years. 2
While the Chinese government gained the cooperation of some Western anticult groups in its campaign to expose Falun Gong as a "cult," it was also criticized by human rights organizations who denounce the suspicious deaths, allegedly by accident, of some Falun Gong members detained in Chinese jails. According to FalunDafa.org, "To date [December 2005], there are more than 2794 documented cases of otherwise healthy practitioners being beaten and tortured to death while in detention."
In the meantime, Falun Gong has attracted followers from around the world, and Master Li claimed in 2002 that the spread of Falun Dafa for 10 years had averted major cosmic catastrophes. 3
The main text of Falun Gong is Li Hongzhi's book, Zhuan Falun (Turning the Law Wheel). There is also a book for beginners by Li Hongzhi called Falun Gong.
Beliefs and Practices
According to a Falun Gong website,
Falun Dafa is a practice that has brought better health and inner peace to millions around the world. We call it a cultivation practice: "cultivation" refers to the improvement of one's heart and mind through the careful study of universal principles based on truthfulness, benevolence, and forbearance; "practice" means doing exercises and meditation to energize the body. 4
While in traditional Chinese Buddhism falun means the "wheel of law" or "wheel of dharma," Li uses the word to indicate the center of spiritual energy in the human body (akin to a chakra). He locates the falun in the lower abdomen and teaches that it can be awakened (or "installed") through a set of exercises called Xiu Lian("Cultivating and Practicing"). This dispels karma that causes illness, and thus can cure and prevent disease.
The Falun is regarded as a microcosm of the universe; once it is installed into the abdomen, it rotates 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. Some Falun Gong practitioners whose "celestial eye" (tianmu) is open, can see the falun, which looks like the Falun Gong symbol (see below).
Unlike other Qi Gong groups, Falun Gong insists that its founder is the only authoritative source for determining the correct exercises and that a spiritual discipline, the "cultivation of the Xinxing" ("Mind-Nature"), is essential to the success of the exercises.
The practice of Falun Gong consists of five exercises, four standing and one sitting, which involve meditation and slow movements. Falun Gong practitioners also "study the universal principles of truthfulness, benevolence, and tolerance." 4
On a more esoteric level, Li also teaches that demonic space aliens seek to destroy humanity and, since their arrival in 1900, have manipulated scientists and world leaders. 5 Critics of the movement not only ridicule such claims but regard its reliance on Xiu Lian as an alternative to official medicine as hazardous to the members' health. The Chinese government claims that 1,400 Falun Gong devotees have died as a result of this alleged rejection of modern medicine. 2
The Falun Gong symbol or "Falun Emblem" (left) is a representation of the falun itself and also a miniature of the universe. It is the pattern that those with supernormal capabilities always see in the falun (though its colors can vary). It consists of five swastikas and four yin-yang symbols within two concentric circles. It is intended to appear as if it is rotating, as the falunalways is.
The swastikas represent "the Buddha School" and are also traditional Chinese symbols of good fortune. Moreover, Li teaches that
a swastika signifies a Buddha's level and "the higher a Buddha's status, the more symbols a Buddha has." The four yin-yang symbols (Taiji) represent the "Tao School." Their color has special significance, which Li explains this way:
What we generally understand is that Taiji is made of the two substances of black and white, the qi of yin and yang. That notion comes from a very low level, as Taiji has different manifestations in different dimensions. At the highest level, its colors manifest in this way. The Tao that we commonly understand has this red color at the top and this black color at the bottom. For instance, some of our practitioners’ tianmu [third eyes] are open, and they have discovered that the red color they see with their flesh eyes is green in the adjacent dimension. In other words, colors change from dimension to dimension. The Taiji with the red color at the top and the blue color at the bottom belongs to the Great Pre-Taoism, which includes the cultivation practices from the Qimen School.
Falun Gong is a recent religious movement with roughly three million practitioners. It was founded in China in 1992 by Li Hongzhi. It combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism with traditional Chinese folklore. Falun Gong aims to obtain mental and spiritual renewal through meditation. Adherents practice special exercises to awaken their center of spiritual energy and rid themselves of physical and spiritual ailments. The faith has received extensive criticism from the Chinese government, which initially saw the new cult as a threat. Outsiders also tend to ridicule Falun Gong’s contention that antagonistic space aliens are manipulating world leaders.