Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) is a traditional Chinese spiritual practice for the mind and body. The practice combines five gentle and slow exercises with a moral philosophy centered on the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance, or in Chinese, 真 (zhen), 善 (shan), and 忍 (ren). Falun Gong teaches that these are the highest qualities of the universe, and that by take these values as a guide for daily life, practitioners can attain true wisdom, physical health, and a serene state of mind.
Falun Gong was first introduced to the public in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, during the height of China’s “qigong boom” (“qigong” refers to practices that involve meditation, slow exercises, and/or regulated breathing). By the late ‘90s, people practicing Falun Gong exercises could be found in thousands of parks across China. Many took up the practice because of its extraordinary effects on health and wellness, including increased amounts of energy, better sleep, emotional balance, a sense of calm, and sometimes even seemingly miraculous shedding of chronic illnesses and diseases– effects of the mind-body connection that modern medicine is only beginning to understand.
What fundamentally distinguishes Falun Gong from other qigong practices is Falun Gong’s unique emphasis on self-cultivation toward a higher spiritual and moral plane. Falun Gong’s teachings encourage practitioners to act truthfully, do good deeds, conduct themselves with patience and forbearance when encountering difficulties, and to relinquish psychological attachments to material things as well as excessive emotion like jealousy and anger. These guidelines are outlined in a book called Zhuan Falun, a compilation of Li Hongzhi’s lectures in the mid-90s.
Although it draws on Buddhist philosophy, Falun Gong takes a different course of cultivation practice in that it places great importance on participation in the secular world. Falun Gong practitioners are people from all walks of life that pursue very diverse careers; they are encouraged to maintain regular jobs and family lives, to observe the laws of their respective governments, and are instructed not to distance themselves from society, all while aspiring to transform the self on a spiritual level. In such an environment, Falun Gong teaches its students to become altruistic and compassionate people and to have a positive influence in the world.
Benefits of the Practice
On the surface, Falun Gong is extremely beneficial to relieving stress and achieving physical health, but healing is by far not the only positive effect of the practice. On a deeper level, it’s a cultivation system for self-betterment and removing one’s attachments and desires. Falun Gong emphasizes the cultivation of one’s mind, putting others before oneself, and applying the practice’s moral principles to all situations and circumstances. The goal is to achieve a state of selflessness, greater wisdom, and inner peace.
The rewards of Falun Gong are sublime: an almost miraculous change in temperament and sensibility, a shedding of negative attitudes and energy, and a feeling of compassion and tolerance. Needless to say, these changes have manifested in profound effects on many practitioners’ lives, including better relationships, reduced stress, and a better ability to deal with conflicts, ultimately bringing about mental clarity and peace of mind.
Spiritual Traditions in China
Since ancient times, China was known as the “Celestial Empire,” a land rooted in profound spiritual beliefs with a culture inspired by the divine. For five thousand years, spiritual traditions, like Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, have formed the core of Chinese culture. Often referred to as ways of “cultivation,” they emphasize harmony between humanity and the universe and espouse moral ideals, like benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faithfulness.
Endowing Chinese society with a moral and spiritual foundation, these belief systems ensured peace, harmony, and a safeguard for human morality within Chinese society. Everyone, from peasants to emperors, held themselves to higher ideals and sought moral and spiritual elevation. Unfortunately, the essence of much of these spiritual principles has disappeared in modern China after the Chinese Communist Party used the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s to destroy much of China’s cultural history and traditional principles. And over the decades, the Chinese communist regime has continuously pushed for untraditional values such as class struggle and materialistic pursuits.
The teachings of Falun Gong bring people back to these traditional Chinese spiritual beliefs. Through dedicated practice and consistent self-reflection, cultivators come to achieve a state of selflessness, greater insight and awareness, inner purity, and balance—ultimately, they approach a state of spiritual attainment that in the Chinese tradition is known as “enlightenment” or “attaining the Dao (the Way).”
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes balance—a harmony of yin and yang and the energies within the body. Rather than targeting specific symptoms or parts of the body, Chinese medicine takes a holistic approach to health. All the organ systems are seen as interrelated to one another, and proper treatment considers the body as a whole.
As an ancient Chinese aphorism goes, “illness is 70 percent psychological, and 30 percent physical.” In Chinese medicine, the mind and the body are closely intertwined; physical health cannot be achieved without mental tranquility.
By performing Falun Gong’s five simple exercises and letting go of one’s jealousy, anger, resentment, and pursuit, practitioners of Falun Gong can free themselves of mental entanglements and experience uplifting effects not only spiritually, but also physically.
Falun Gong Around the World
Today Falun Gong is practiced in more than 114 countries around the world despite the Chinese government’s ongoing persecution. The practice grew quickly in popularity throughout the world due to its proven health benefits and moral philosophy. On university campuses, students organizations and clubs centered around Falun Gong have proliferated across North America, Australia, and beyond.
In addition to holding practice and study sites in various locations, Falun Gong practitioners both inside and outside China have been actively and peacefully raising awareness about the persecution and combatting the disinformation. In China, practitioners stick pamphlets under doors, poster on city walls in the dead of night, and even valiantly unfurl banners in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to appeal, knowing that they will be arrested, tortured, and possibly even killed. Outside China, practitioners have been holding frequent rallies, parades, demonstrations, and vigils to raise awareness about the persecution.
The effect of their collective efforts has been tremendous: some Chinese police and local authorities now choose not to arrest and persecute Falun Gong adherents, risking their careers to defy official orders and stand by their consciences. Millions in China now recognize what is going on in their country for what it truly is—an authoritarian regime cloaking its abuses with propaganda and brutalizing its own citizens. Many western governments and human rights organizations have condemned the persecution in China and shown sympathy for the plight of Falun Gong practitioners. Through all of this, the world is sending a message: it will not tolerate the Chinese regime’s persecution of a peaceful spiritual practice.
On a more quotidian note, Falun Gong’s teachings and practice have been integrated into the daily lives of not only many people living in China, but also of many more living all around the globe. Group exercise sessions are not uncommon sights in many cities, parks, and university campuses across the world.