Commentary on Zhuan Falun lecture eight: basis of Falun Gong

10 Apr

The commentary below is based on the third edition of the English translation of Li Hongzhi’s Zhuan falun. Its purpose is to highlight problematic points of internal incoherence in the eighth lecture. While these points may or may not be representative of such problems throughout the text, they are what have especially caught my attention as illustrative of the fact that the Falun Dafa cult, as represented in this text, is a haphazard pastiche of previous traditions of religious practice (especially Buddhism) and psychophysical cultivation (primarily qigong).
The commentator does not deny that Falun Dafa has thus far proven to be very successful in sustaining itself, despite these issues; yet, I do not acknowledge this creation’s possession of the legitimacy of its antecedents, such as that may be. Zhuan falun draws ideas for its framework from Buddhism, qigong, Daoism, and scientific discourse, more or less distorting them (especially in the case of science) to fit (or not fit, as the case may be) into its program, and provide that program with a sense of legitimacy.
Though the commentary proceeds through the eighth lecture according to the order of the text, it happens to begin with just such an appropriated concept.
II. Commentary on portions of lecture eight
1. The nature of the “Main Spirit” – p. 314, in the paragraph beginning “Some disciples have said…” Text: The Main Spirit that we are mentioning here refers to our own minds. One should be aware of what one is thinking about or doing – that is your real self.
This idea is taken from the Buddhist psychology of the alayvijnana, “Universal Mind,” encountered in the Lankavatara Sutra and elsewhere. It is here, however, torn from the necessary framework which makes it a workable concept: the rest of the Buddhist mental apparatus (six senses and manas mind-system), the doctrines of mind-only and emptiness, and so on. Furthermore, the idea is abused throughout the text, by the material fixation with obtaining gong and advancing one’s own level and status, and generally ignoring the implications of positing the locus of what we take to be our identity in the mind, and conflating this mind with the manas.
2. Obtaining gong – p. 320, in the paragraph beginning “Think about it…” Text: Isn’t it your Main Spirit … we ourselves are going to obtain gong.
Isn’t it your Main Spirit that sacrifices? &c.: Note this in the context of the above. If the “Main Spirit” is the ‘Mind’ in the sense of alayavijnana, there is no self in it to suffer, and any thought of such a self is habitual delusion.
Gong seems to refer to the same concept of condensed, rarified qi that in Daoism was known as jing. The different terminology appears to be purely an effort to distance Falun Dafa from its Daoist antecedents, but the idea remains unmistakably similar.
The emphasis here and throughout on obtaining gong makes way for the establishment of a strongly grasping attachment to pursuit, despite the alleged goal of severing attachments. The text elsewhere prescribes keeping in mind how much gong one will obtain by enduring conflict (see below), more so than it emphasizes that attachments are to be overcome by this endurance.
3. Attaining gong through conflict – p. 322, in the paragraph beginning “Lao Zi said…” Text: Our school of practice teaches you … environment of everyday people.
Here is one of several passages in which gong is explicitly said to be attained through conflict among the people of everyday society (despite the proposition of the universal characteristic of “truthfulness-benevolence-forbearance,” which one might think would imply that conflict ought to be avoided). In a Buddhist discourse, it might be said that in conflict one should be detached because everyone and everything involved in the conflict, thus the conflict itself, is empty. Here, behaving detachedly in conflict is to the end of conveniently upgrading one’s “xinxing” and enabling the accumulation of more gong. This is not detachment at all – it is still the warring of desires.
4. There is no other way – p. 323, in the paragraph beginning “Speaking of this…” Text: Except for demons … it precisely targets one’s heart.
A terrible trick is being played here, by saying, just before this passage, that one has the choice of whether to practice cultivation or not, and following up here by saying that no other legitimate practice is available: “If [Li Hongzhi] cannot save you, nobody else can.” Blatant theft of authority is being committed by invoking the dearth of the Buddhist “Dharma-ending Period,” and simultaneously decrying “orthodox Fa” (that is, all other religion) as mired in “the End of Havoc” and useless to their adherents.
5. Society must not be disturbed – p. 329, in the paragraph beginning “Then, why hasn’t…” Text: The state of ordinary human society … disrupted or altered.
Repeatedly the text emphatically declares that society’s normal state must not be “casually” disrupted. Usually this comes up when the issue of supernatural powers is being discussed. Again and again the text insists that such powers may not be displayed in any way that would disrupt ordinary society, while asserting at the same time that anyone who would be inclined to use their powers in such a manner will not develop them at all. If this is so, then the whole repeated discussion is a great fuss about nothing.
It seems to be the disturbance of society itself that is the real issue in these passages. I suppose that the emphasis on this point is part of the trend which may be seen throughout the text of a program of coping with anomie without abandoning society. It is ironic that the growth of this cult has and continues to cause a great deal of societal disturbance.
6. Installation of automatic cultivation mechanisms – p. 333, in the paragraph beginning “An everyday person…” Text: Genuine practice toward higher levels … when the time is due.
… a state of wuwei: This passage rather fragrantly abuses the notion of wuwei by conflating the profound Daoist idea with simply not having to do anything special because the installed mechanisms on the practitioner’s body cultivate the practitioner automatically. This mechanistic concept, ready-made and making it so easy to supposedly achieve so much sounds rather like a modern day scam email: one need only do a tiny thing (like hand over one’s bank account number) and one will receive millions of dollars without lifting a finger. Legitimate traditions of cultivation practice like those antecedent to Falun Dafa demand rigorous effort, just as actually acquiring millions of dollars. There is the occasional Huineng hearing the Diamond Sutra, just as someone occasionally wins the lottery, but as far as the “everyday people” to whom Zhuan falun is addressed are concerned, spiritual refinement does not come easy.
7. Conflation of Buddha-bodies – p. 336, in the paragraph beginning “As one moves forward…” Text: Put simply, this body … from our physical bodies.
This appears to be more or less an conflation of the Dharmakaya, another sophisticated concept taken out of context, with the text’s outright ridiculous pseudo-science, resulting again in the cheapening of a profound idea. Nothing shall be said about Li’s numerous claims elsewhere about the powers of his own fashen.
8. Zealotry – p. 337, in the paragraph beginning “I will address…” Text: It causes one to behave … this is unacceptable.
Here may be made another note of unfortunate irony, more than anything else. The text insists that behaving “abnormally in one’s form of doing things, [and] in interacting with others in ordinary human society” is unacceptable, yet this is precisely the sort of situation Falun Dafa has given rise to.
9. Meditation – p. 339, in the paragraph beginning “Our practice is unlike…” Text: We have said … body cannot move.
Of the nine points of this commentary, this is the most significant. The meditation specified here is explicitly embracing one side of dualism, that is the “A” of “feel[ing] wonderful and very comfortable”, while not only denying but forbidding the pursuit of a non-dualistic, non-discursive mental state: “You are absolutely forbidden to be in a state of trance wherein you know nothing. Then, what specific state will occur?” (Italics mine.) It is of course quite clear that such meditation must be disallowed in this cult, for its framework, hodgepodge though it may be, is decidedly dualistic, discursive, and discriminating, and would likely be entirely undone in the mind of a meditator who went beyond the eggshell of being aware of themselves.
That millennia of meditative technique is cast aside here ought to speak for itself inasmuch as any question of legitimacy is concerned.

III. Concluding comments
Zhuan falun is a text woven together of disparate elements of legitimate traditions combined to give an air of legitimacy to the Falun Dafa cult and its practice. The combination, however, is haphazard and lacks integrity, both in the distortion of the appropriated parts and in the whole which they comprise.
Though I have commentated with a great deal more vitriol than I am usually wont, nonetheless do I acknowledge that this cult would not have found such purchase in the world if it did not give its practitioners something. Exploring why this is so would require more than the present task permits. Suffice it to say that the good fruits some have apparently harvested from this harlequin tree are not enough for me to be persuaded to disregard the roots.

IIII. Colophon
A Commentary on Nine Points in Zhuan falun lecture eight, poorly composed by Martin de Souza, a student of Religion at Reed College in the 2005th year, eleventh month.

(, October 17, 2006)

 Text from:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: