My brief experience with the Falun Gong

8 Jul

Also known as Falun Dafa, Falun Gong has sparked world-wide controversy and heated debate. Is it a cult? A Buddhist religion? Or a qigong community with religious undertones? The verdict is still out.

Founder and leader of the organization Li Hongzhi claims to have studied under more than twenty Buddhist and Taoist masters. He also makes claims to divinity and possessing supernatural powers, besides promising that his disciples will also become godlike in power and ability.

These beliefs and religious undertones have resulted in harsh suppression of the group by the Chinese Communist government, which in turn has sparked to outrage and protest by many human rights groups.

Initially, Falun Gong was promoted as a government-recognized legitimate qigong (a.k.a. chi kung) organization. That quickly changed with the growing community’s membership and unofficial religious leanings.

Because qigong has a history of being associated with Taoism or Buddhism, (see History of Qigong), the Chinese government has allowed certain freedoms with these religions. However, it has also made it abundantly clear that qigong and other meditation practices are taught strictly for health and martial arts purposes.

With the emergence of the controversial teachings of Falun Dafa in the 1990s and the organization’s unofficial claim to practicing qigong for religious purposes, China has been less tolerant of such groups than ever before.

While I have no objection to any purported religious beliefs in connection with qigong, I am leery of what appears to be recruitment to cult-like practices.

My personal experience with the Falun Gong was very brief, beginning when the Falun Gong was first lauded as a very legitimate qigong organization in China. I had attended one of its meetings in the hopes of meeting like-minded people interested in furthering their experience in qigong practice.

After only a few minutes of meditation, without any special techniques in breathing and concentration that I could see, the entire room of fifty or so people began to jump up and down, shake various parts of their body, spasm or moan in trance-like states … almost everyone except the “teacher,” myself, and a few others.

Did I miss something here? In all my twenty odd years of training I had never seen any student – beginner or experienced practitioner – react so spontaneously at the direct suggestion of the “teacher”.

I have heard that there are cases with some people whose chi energy is so intense that they have trouble controlling their reactions, but not to the extent that I saw in that room that day. To me, it seemed more like mass hysteria.

The “teacher” claimed to be a senior left hand man of the group’s founder Li Hongzhi. His teachings that day consisted of merely telling us to “close [our] eyes and relax… let whatever happens just happen.”

Then after a few minutes of meditation he suggested that we should “begin to feel the chi rising in us, wanting to come out” and if we needed to “jump” or “shout” or “shake,” that was to be expected and to just let go.And that was exactly what people did.

Was it really an intense chi experience or mass hysteria?

My opinion? Mere suggestion can be very powerful, and if people want to believe badly enough, they will do whatever to convince themselves they “have the chi”.

What happens afterwards, whether they come away with any benefit or not is another matter. Perhaps it is enough just to have “faith.” However, based on my experience, I would not consider this real qigong, at least in the sense of systematic training in yogic breathing and meditation.

I only attended one meeting, so I can’t really comment whether the meeting I attended is really representative of what Falun Gong is all about or whether this qigong teaching was a personal interpretation of one disciple.

What I can say is that my perspective is undoubtedly skewed in the sense that I can’t help but compare this encounter with my own personal experiences and training in qigong. Ultimately, I think each person must judge for him- or herself what organizations such as Falun Gong represent.

Perhaps there was more in the qigong that I had yet to experience, but that was the extent of my encounter with Falun Gong, and the events that occurred in that room definitely dissuaded me from continuing.

When people who have never practiced qigong nor ever experienced chi before suddenly develop so much chi that they react spontaneously by jumping up and down, going into spasms or muttering gibberish, I have to ask myself what is going on, and do I really want to be a part of this.

Government-sanctioned qigong? At the time, I could not understand how this Falun Dafa was able to continue with government approval, given China’s anti-religious sentiment and reluctance to associate itself with anything even suggestive of religion.

In fact, I was not very surprised when only several years later in 1999 that the Chinese government began to crack down harshly on the Falun Gong and Zhong Gong, another similar religious group also operating under the guise of qigong.

I don’t think there is anything wrong in joining a “qigong organization” like Falun Gong that makes claims to certain religious beliefs, but I do think its teachers, disciples and any other representative agents should be clear about their intentions.

If you do intend to join such a group, just be aware that practicing qigong is not their primary purpose. Though they may ostensibly offer qigong classes, they may also have other ulterior motives for inviting you to join their group.

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