What Falun Gong really teaches

10 Aug

Abstract: In the West Falun Gong, founded by Li Hongzhi, has successfully marketed itself as an innocent victim of the Chinese government’s repression. However, if one examines Falun Gong’s teachings and practices closely, one finds that its image of being a spiritual exercise masks the centrality of its founder’s god-like status and the cult-like use of deceptive and manipulative techniques to increase membership.

Ever since Falun Gong was banned by the Chinese government in July 1999, it has gained support and sympathy from human rights groups. By focusing just on its status as a victim of an oppressive regime, Falun Gong has also gained uncritical support from the media. As a result of all the favorable media attention, Falun Gong has been able to spread throughout the U.S., not only in the Chinese community but in the non-Chinese community as well. But what is the Falun Gong really about?

When Falun Gong was introduced to my parents in early 1999 in San Francisco, it was presented as an exercise that promised to improve health. I can’t describe how shocked I was when I heard my mother start talking about the aliens who live among us and saying that human society is bad, the end of world is coming, and Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong, is offering the last chance to save mankind. How did an exercise become a world-saving religion?

Since immigrating to the United States in 1998, master Li has promoted his Falun Gong as a Tai Chi like exercise ( [1]) However Falun Gong (exercise of the Dharma wheel) is just the exercise component of Falun Dafa (great law of the Dharma wheel); both terms refer to a unique system of belief and exercises that were created by Li Hongzhi and first introduced in China in 1992. The free Falun Gong exercises work as a lure to recruit people into a system of belief that Li has described as “the highest principle of the universe.” In fact, Li has made it very clear to his followers that “those who only do the exercise but do not study the Dafa they are not disciples of Falun Dafa whatsoever” ( [2]).

Li’s Falun Dafa is usually taught to newcomers after they feel comfortable with the exercises. In it you learn that only Falun Gong practitioners can detect the highest moral principles of the universe ( [3]), the existence of mixed races is a serious problem ( [4]), modern science is destroying mankind ( [5]), and homosexuality is not the standard of being human ( [6]). Yet to Li the worst thing that mankind can do is think negatively towards his Dafa (great truth): “Let me tell you, when this Fa-rectification [Li’s judgment day] matter is over, humankind will enter the next stage, and those people and beings who in their minds think that the Great Fa of the cosmos isn’t good will be the first weeded out” ( [7]). The enlightened master also repeatedly warns his disciples that: “A Dafa disciple who fails to achieve the effect of the safeguarding and upholding Dafa has no way of reaching Consummation (Falun Dafa paradise)” ( [8]).

While heavily borrowing Buddhist terms for his Dafa, Li portrays himself as a supernatural being whose teachings are superior to those of Sakyamuni (Buddha) and Jesus ( [9]). Although Li has continually denied that Falun Gong is a religion, these denials are difficult to reconcile with his repeated claims that he is providing the only hope for mankind in this “Dharma-ending period” ( [10]). In Zhuan Falun, the Bible of the group, he states simply: “If I cannot save you, nobody else can do it” ( [11]).

But when the press interviews Li, he tends to hide his importance. In one interview he said: “Every time I see practitioners I tell them sitting before you is just a normal person. Don’t make me into a god” ( [12]). This statement contradicts what he teaches his practitioners: “If you are a genuine practitioner, our Falun [the law wheel Li installs in his practitioners’ abdomens] will safeguard you,” he writes in Zhuan Falun. “I am rooted in the universe. If anyone could harm you, he would be able to harm me. To make it plainly, he would be able to harm the universe” ( [13]).

Oddly enough, since the Chinese Government’s crackdown of the group in July 1999, Li has offered the least support of all to his practitioners. While he urges his practitioners to fight for him regardless of their own life ( [14]), he is enjoying a safe and presumably luxurious life in the United States. It’s painful to see innocent people putting themselves at risk and getting hurt while chasing a delusion.

A group leader claiming that he is the only one who knows the truth of the universe or that he is the only savior of the world, a group using deception to recruit new members and not allowing room for questions or alternative viewpoints—these are some of the characteristics of a cult.  Cults also use mind control techniques to manipulate their followers.  This manipulation is designed to disrupt a person’s authentic identity and replace it with a new identity.  Individuals are deceptively and aggressively recruited, and through socialization new members learn to follow what other members do; slowly, they are influenced to think as the others do.  Dependence, conformity, and obedience to the leader’s absolute authority are encouraged constantly.  Looking at Falun Gong from the outside, one might think these practitioners have made their own choice.  But would anyone join the Falun Gong if they knew that they were going to be taught that Li is the personal savior of the world?  No, they all think that they are just joining a healthy exercise group.

One of the most important and common methods that cults use to control their followers can be called “exclusion of the outside world.”  Cult members are taught not to trust people outside of the group, including family members.  This component of mind control is definitely found in the Falun Gong teachings.  Falun Gong practitioners are made to distrust the moral thinking of non-practitioners who are called “ordinary people.”  This is done intentionally by master Li, who repeatedly teaches: “As a practitioner you cannot act according to the ordinary people’s standards” ( [15]).  This manipulation technique not only isolates practitioners from non-practitioners, including family members and friends, but also creates a system where practitioners only share information with other practitioners.  As a result, practitioners mutually reinforce each other’s belief in the teachings, thereby eliminating any conflicting or alternative views.

By reading Cults in Our Midst, written by the leading cult expert Dr. Margaret Singer, I came to recognize that all these mind control techniques have been used on my parents.  Since the beginning of 1999, they have practiced the exercises two hours a day and studied Li’s books every day.  They have hung Li’s portrait in our living room, and have gotten rid of all religion and exercise books except those of Falun Gong.  After the crackdown on the group, my mother not only donated money to the Falun Gong, but was also asked by the organization to distribute flyers and other materials on the streets and protest in front of the Chinese embassy.  I estimate that she spent at least nine hours a day, almost seven days a week, doing Falun-Gong-related activities until January 2002, when her husband had a stroke.  Falun Gong has become her life. This is also true for other devoted Falun Gong practitioners.

What worries me the most is that ever since my parents became Falun Gong practitioners they have abandoned seeking medical treatment when needed.  In Zhuan Falun, Li claims that his practitioners’ illnesses will be cured directly by him ( [16]).  Since illness and suffering are considered opportunities to repay the debt of karma, seeking medical help denies a practitioner this opportunity.  He writes: “taking medication during practice implies that you do not believe in the disease curing effects of the practice.  If you believed in it, why would you take medication?” ( [17])  Due to this teaching my stepfather suffered unnecessarily during previous attacks of gout and flu.

Worrying about my parent’s health and trying to protect them from this cult, I started to question Li’s teachings long before my stepfather’s stroke.  In so doing, I sadly discovered how greatly their world view had changed.  In stating their belief that Li has supernatural power, that the world is coming to an end, that sickness is caused by bad deeds, and that demons are everywhere, I realized that they had been brainwashed.  Our discussion soon turned into debate and then argument. To my shock my mother called me evil.

After our second argument I moved out.  Living at home with my parents had become painful and uneasy.  It hurts me to see them hurting themselves and I can’t do a thing about it.  I have even started to feel anxiety, anger, and sadness.

When my stepfather had a stroke in January; my mother, sister and I were traveling in China.  He went without medical treatment for approximately five days.  While he was alone in the house two friends came to visit him and offered to take him to the hospital.  Although the right side of his body was paralyzed he was able to open the door for his friends.  He could have gone to the hospital at that time, but he refused due to his belief in Li’s teachings.  Days later my sister returned home and found him sick.  She had to beg and cry for him to go to the hospital.  When he finally got to the hospital, the doctor pointed out that he could have died if he hadn’t been treated for another two days.  He was in the hospital for a month.

Today, Falun Gong practitioners can be seen everywhere. They have set up at least fifty permanent exercise sites throughout the Bay area, seven of them in San Francisco, one in front of City Hall.  Throughout the U.S., they have hundreds of practice sites, about seventy web sites, radio shows, TV broadcasts, and their own newspaper. The Falun Gong group has perhaps become the fastest growing quasi-religious cult in the U.S.

Beneath Li’s superficial teachings of “truthfulness, compassion and forbearance” are teachings that are intolerant of dissent and homophobic, that discourage sick people from seeking needed medical treatment and that manipulate followers to blindly follow Li’s absolute authority.  Unfortunately while the media has focused only on the human rights issues in China, it has failed to educate Americans about how deceptive and harmful the Falun Gong can be in our own country.

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