What is Falun Gong?
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is practiced by millions of people around the world. You may have read about it in the news, or perhaps come across Falun Dafa practitioners at a parade or some other civic event. It’s also common to see a group of practitioners gathered in a park doing the gentle, slow moving exercises or sitting with their legs crossed in meditation.
Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline that is Buddhist in nature. It brings together meditation, energy exercises, and moral teachings as a means to cultivating the mind and body, with the ultimate aspiration being spiritual transformation, or what in the East is known as “enlightenment.” As of 1999 some 70–100 million persons in China were reportedly practicing Falun Gong, making it the most popular practice of this nature in all of China, if not the world. It is taught by Mr. Li Hongzhi.
Falun Gong means different things to different people; ranging from simply being a set of exercises for physical health; to a practice of self-transformation, and a moral philosophy that people aim to embody in their daily lives.
What’s the difference between Falun Gong and Falun Dafa?
These are two names for the same practice. They can be used interchangeably. “Falun Gong” translates as “Practice of the Law Wheel” or “Law Wheel Qigong,” while “Falun Dafa” translates as “Great Way of the Law Wheel.”
The name “Falun Gong” was used during the practices early years in China, and “Falun Dafa” from around the time of 1995 on. In the West the practice is most commonly referred to as “Falun Gong.”
Is this like Tai-chi?
The four exercises of Falun Gong bear some semblance to Tai-chi, in that they are slow moving, gentle, and balance and strengthen the body on an energetic level. The practice of Falun Gong differs in its prioritization of what in China is known as “self-cultivation,” which can be thought of as a program of moral teachings.
Is this Qigong?
Falun Gong includes four exercises which are indeed a form of qigong, and similarly, these work to balance and renew the body beginning from an energetic level. The practice is more similar to traditional qigong disciplines of China insofar as such exercises in Falun Gong form but one part of a larger spiritual discipline. In traditional China qigong was usually the province of Daoist monastics, for example, who used it as a means to not only health and longevity but also higher religious ends, such as transcendence.
Is this a branch of Buddhism?
Falun Gong is Buddhist insofar as it aspires, ultimately, to the cultivation of Buddhahood and is one of a number of disciplines comprising the larger Buddhist system or school of practices. Some such practices trace back to Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha; Theravada Buddhism is one example. Others, such as the Kagyudpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, do not. Falun Gong does not. Falun Gong is more properly classified as Buddhist qigong rather than religious Buddhism. While the two ultimately share in the same aspiration—enlightenment, or liberation—Falun Gong’s approach involves, alongside moral self-cultivation, disciplined physical practice of qigong exercises. By contrast religious Buddhism generally features a devotional component, a monastic/lay distinction, a ritual calendar, set doctrine, etc. All of this is best understood within the larger context of Falun Gong’s teachings, however, which are beyond the scope of this section. Readers are referred to the book Falun Gong, where this question is addressed in greater detail.
What is the goal of practicing Falun Gong?
Different people take up the practice with different goals in mind, some of which might be health, stress relief, emotional balance, more energy, relaxation, and spiritual fulfillment. The highest ends of Falun Gong, as taught in the book Zhuan Falun, are of the latter (religious) variety, and include enlightenment, spiritual perfection, returning to one’s “original, true self,” and “attaining the Dao.”
What are the benefits of it?
These are similar to the above, and include thing such as relaxation, better health, stress relief, a sense of emotional balance, greater energy, deeper awareness, spiritual insight, and various forms of religious achievement.
Can it cure things like cancer?
While healing is not a goal of Falun Gong proper, it could be called a feature of it to the extent that it commonly occurs in the process of disciplined practice; it is more of an a byproduct, meant to enable better, more focused practice. Those who practice sincerely report a wide range of health benefits, including the complete remission of a variety of diseases and health conditions. Indeed, a number of these cases involve various forms of cancer.
Most people who practice the exercises daily and follow the teachings of Falun Dafa report improvements in their health. Often, these improvements are subtle, involving such things as relief from stress, better sleep, a “lighter” and more energetic feeling, and happier moods. Many others, though, such as those whose stories are collected in this book, report dramatic health improvements, including the disappearance of life-threatening diseases.
For more information, please see Life and Hope Renewed: The Healing Power of Falun Dafa. The amazing stories in this book are first-hand accounts of people from all walks of life who recovered from serious, or in many cases, terminal diseases through practicing Falun Gong.
Who practices Falun Gong?
Pretty much anyone you can imagine. It is now practiced in over 70 countries, with the largest number of adherents being in mainland China. Ages range from kids barely old enough to read to retired adults in their 90s, while ethnic and social backgrounds vary equally. Followers include federal government officials, military personnel, police officers, university professors, scientists, craftsmen, medical doctors, many artists, as well as actors and actresses.
Do you have to do it outdoors?
No, Falun Gong exercises and meditation can be done anywhere, anytime.
Do I have to know Chinese to practice it?
No, you don’t. The teachings of Falun Gong have been translated into twenty-some languages, and the instructions for its exercises are available in a number of languages or can be taught by a local volunteer.
How much does it cost?
Nothing per se. All Falun Gong books are available to read online and download free of charge. They are also carried in many major libraries. All Falun Gong workshops, exercise sessions, and related events are always free of charge.
How long does it take to learn?
The exercises and meditation can be learned fairly well in an hour or two, and perfected over the course of about a week or so. The primary teachings, as set forth in the books Falun Gong and Zhuan Falun, can be read in several sittings. Mastery of these, of course, is a lifelong process of spiritual development.
Is Falun Gong hard to do?
How easy or hard it is tends to be a highly individual matter. The exercises are quite easy for most people to learn, and far less complicated than, say, Tai-chi or most forms of qigong. The meditation tends to be harder, specifically, the full crossing of the legs. The difficulty of living by the teachings in daily life is a combination of many personal factors, and varies tremendously; in general, however, most people find the principles of Falun Gong easily graspable, immediate, memorable, and easy to implement. When both mind and body are cultivated together, progress can be remarkably fast, many persons report.
How long does it take to practice the exercises each day?
There is no set amount of time required for practice. The full session of exercise music, if one wishes to listen to it while practicing (which is recommended), is one hour for the four standing exercises together (though they can be practiced separately), and one hour for the meditation. Regular, daily practice is of course best, but any amount or time that can be fit into a busy schedule will bring benefits.
Will this interfere with the practice of my religious beliefs? Can I do this if I’m a Christian/Jew/etc.?
Yes, persons of any faith tradition are welcome to learn the practice. Whether someone decides to focus exclusively on the practice of Falun Gong at some point is always a personal choice. A number of Buddhist monks and nuns are counted among Falun Gong’s adherents, for instance, as are some Christian ministers and other religious professionals.
Can young children practice it?
Certainly. Many parents testify that Falun Gong is a wonderful source of positivity in their child’s life, with its moral certainty rendering the concerns most parents have over things like drugs, smoking, and premarital sex bygone worries. Many kids learn the exercises quickly and enjoy the sensations of energy and calm they bring; some parents relay that Falun Gong is the first thing that got their child to sit still.
How does a person begin the practice?
The teachings of Falun Gong, set forth in the books Falun Gong and Zhuan Falun, can be accessed online for free or found in a bookstore or library. The exercises can also be learned through the online instructions, though learning from a volunteer in person is preferable. The ideal way to learn both is to attend a Nine Day Seminar, offered periodically wherever people practice; these involve a video showing Mr. Li teaching the practice and instruction in the exercises, and usually last about two hours each evening.
Is Falun Gong religious?
Falun Gong comports with the definition of religion generally accepted in the West, in that it involves a systematic program of spiritual exercises and teachings that seek to effect moral growth, inner purity, and higher states of spiritual realization. Its teachings discuss, as do most major religions, otherworldly realms and the existence of other, higher lives or forces. It does not, however, have any initiation rituals that differentiate member from outsider; an institutional structure; physical premises, such as houses of prayer; or worship of or devotion to any specific deity or combination thereof.
Why does the Falun look like a swastika?
The swastika is an ancient symbol of good fortune embraced through the ages by cultures around the world. Swastikas have adorned Buddha statues for many centuries, long before the symbol was misappropriated and tragically associated with the horrors of the Holocaust. The symbol’s true meaning is embodied in the Falun emblem. Learn more here.
Who is Mr. Li Hongzhi?
Mr. Li Hongzhi is the founder and Master of Falun Gong. He first taught the practice to the general public in 1992 in northeastern China in the city of Changchun. He is the recipient of numerous awards and citations for his efforts to promote human betterment. Mr. Li Hongzhi has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Sakharov Prize For Freedom of Thought.
Why is Mr. Li Hongzhi referred to as “Master”?
This is a common honorific in China for any accomplished instructor in any of a variety of skilled arts—such as the martial arts, Tai-chi, or qigong—or religious disciplines, such as Buddhism or Daoism.
Why is Falun Gong persecuted in China?
The complex rationale behind the persecution can be broken into four elements: a paranoid dictator’s fear of Falun Gong’s meteoric growth and soaring popularity; that same dictator’s intense jealousy of Falun Dafa’s popularity; the inherent conflict between the communist regime’s savage political ideology and its polar opposite—Falun Dafa’s principles of “Truthfulness, Benevolence, Forbearance”; and the very nature of communism, which to sustain itself requires periodically labeling a small segment of the population as the “class enemy” to “struggle” against. Learn more here.
What are Falun Gong’s political views?
The practice itself does not have any express political views. Political opinions among adherents are as diverse and varied as you might find in any given population. Some persons are members of liberal parties, some conservative, some reform, etc.
Answers adapted from falundafa.org and faluninfo.net.