Falun Gong/Falun Dafa

By Bill Honsberger
History and Development
Ancient Chinese Medicine?  Or bizarre suicidal cult?  Or perhaps a political revolt against an unpopular dictatorship.  Or maybe just a quiet peaceful meditative technique which will heal the world?  One could argue that the Falun Gong could and have been described in all these ways, depending upon whom one talks to.  The question then is, which is the most accurate way of describing this religious movement and how can Christians understand and witness to members of the group?Falun Gong at its inception in 1992 FG was one of thousands of Qi Gong groups in China,  but later it dropped its registration and is at odds with the national organization.  It has made claims that it is the most advanced version of Qi Gong and does not charge a fee to practice, something that also goes against the grain of the traditional Qi Gong groups.  Qi Gong is a meditative technique that emphasizes rhythmic breathing practices and coordinated movements which are believed to bring about harmony and healing in the person and in the universe.The founder and lightning rod of Falun Gong is Li Hongzhi.  A trumpet player by profession, Li says that he was chosen by Masters of Qi gong and Taoism who recognized in him the potential of being a great Master.  Many years later Li founded his own Qi gong school and put some personal twists from Buddhists and Taoist sources.  When the school grew in popularity, Li chose to withdraw from the Qi Gong national association and and started making stronger statements about his particular elite status as a teacher.  More recently he declared that a “supreme being” or the “gods” had selected him as a person of great character and capability to bring about the salvation of humanity and the world.  This reflects some of the difficulty in properly classifying the Falun Gong movement and its leader – chosen by the “gods” with more authority and insight than Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, or common person who just wants to help people.  One can find statements describing both and depending upon the situation the practitioners can represent in either way.After finding tremendous success within the larger QI Gong movement that was immensely popular in China following the communist massacre at Tiananman Square, Li exercises were being followed by millions of people including top communist officials.  This set off a reaction by the Chinese government to persecute the new movement, which caused the Falun Gong followers to protest very publicly, which caused a new wave of imprisonments and beatings and on and on to this day.  Li fled China and moved to New York City where he still directs the movement and gives lectures in the United States and other parts of the world.

Falun Gong practitioners claim that this is not a religion or cult.  They claim that the movement is about self-improvement which comes through the cultivation of Truth-Compassion-Tolerance, which are the fundamental values of the universe.  There are no priests or structure like normal religious movements.  Li Hongzhi is merely an ordinary man who was gifted in certain teaching techniques.  Critics maintain that even though no fees are charged, Li lives the life of a rich man and has gained vast wealth through the copyright to the books and the gifts of the donors.  Li makes claims that he is a divine being with the ability to personally heal through the power of his Qi any of his followers.  He also claims that aliens from outer space are all over the world and that they are disguised as humans and are trying to displace the human race on planet earth.  Other critiques include Li’s prohibition against modern medicine, homosexuality and rock and roll.  One of the more disturbing statements from Li is his claim that the gods have separate heavens for each of the races.  Therefore all mixed race children will have no where to go and all mixed race marriages are wrong.

Scripture

There are two formal documents that are treated as Scriptures by the Falun Gong.  The first is the “Zhuan Falun (Revolving the Law Wheel).  This is a collection of statements, aphorisms and convoluted versions of Buddhist and Taoist statements.  The majority of the texts include his version of the “cultivation practice”, which in the Qi Gong schools amounts to spiritual, moral and physical purity and salvation through the practice of the techniques.  Li says “One literally cultivates their qualities like a garden, planting seeds of goodness and not letting that goodness be damaged by circumstances or events”  (Introduction of Falun Dafa,” http://www.falundafa.org)Published in its third edition in 1995, Li constantly refers people to the text which has all the wisdom from the masters of the ages.

The second text is “China Falun Gong”.  This text contains illustrations and explanations of how to do the meditations and the exercises.  The five main movements are accompanied by Chinese music and involve different lotus postures and hand movements.   Two of the five involve sitting silently in meditative posture.

There have been other books and numerous lectures by Li all of which are revered, but the first two are critical.On a practical level, the followers of Falun Gong take whatever Li says in his different lectures as being on the level of the texts.  In this sense they have a “living prophet” system similar to the Latter Day Saints, which may at differing times overrule earlier understandings or pronouncements.

Jesus

Like other asian religions, Falun Gong has no specific traditional understanding of Jesus.  Li has been known to refer to Jesus as someone who is on the level of Tathagata, which is to say that Jesus is comparable to the Buddha.  Li has placed himself in numerous conversations as saying that the “gods” had chosen him and that his level of “cultivation” was far above the Buddha.  Therefore Li is more important than Jesus in Falun Gong teaching.

Supreme Being

There is both no god and innumerable gods in the teaching of Li Hongzhi.  His Taoist roots would teach him that the Qi or divine energy is in all things flowing through the universe.  His version of Buddhism seems to be in the Mahayana vein, with numerous Buddhas, Bohdisattvas and other “gods” everywhere.  At this point Li’s cosmology is very unclear – there are gods and he is sent by them, yet he also has referred to himself as a divine being. There are other members of the movement who refer to Li as their “creator”.  In other settings he calls himself an “ordinary human being”.

Human Predicament

According to Li, mankind on earth is quite literally the trash of the universe.  All the human beings here have reincarnated here from all over the multiple dimensions.  The human race has been destroyed 81 times before and without the personal intervention of Li Hongzhi, the race will be destroyed again.  Li said ” If you look around, you will find that the human world today is extremely terrible, full of vicious persons…The human race is deteriorating, and there are devils everywhere.  The human race, while developing to the present stage, has become distorted and is full of evil.  Hence, the gods have completely lost confidence in mankind.  This is one of the major reasons why the gods do not care about human beings any more…The earth serves as the rubbish heap of the universe.”  (facts.org.cn) Li also claims that there are aliens who are disguised as humans who are trying to take over the world as well.

Salvation

Given the earth’s predicament and Li’s claim as one sent by the gods, it should not be surprising that only Li and Falun Dafa can save the world.  Hongzhi said that “Falun Dafa has, for the first time in the history of human kind, enlightened human beings to the characteristics of the universe (Law of Buddha), which is tantamount to providing mankind with a ladder to Heaven.  Now I am the only person in the world who is spreading the orthodox Law of Buddha…propagating the fundamental law of the universal, which you cannot read in any book, past or present, Chinese or foreign.”  He also said “I am here to save you from this miserable world.  If I cannot save you , there is no one in the world able to do so…My law bodies (his bodies are in multiple dimensions!) are so numerous that they are beyond calculation.  Therefore, I can look after as many people as I want, maybe the entire human race”.  (facts.org.cn)

While the group may advertise itself to the western world as a non-religious group intending to improve the world, there is no doubt as to the cultic nature of the group and the bizarre arrogant teachings of the leader.

Last Things

As mentioned before, Li has claimed that the earth has been destroyed many times before, with only a few survivors each time.  One example of these statements is “The human race has experienced many destructive catastrophes.  The next destruction – complete destruction – will come soon.  It will be destruction of both the form and the spirit, and will be really horrible…I found that mankind has experienced 81 calamities in the past, and each time there were only a few people who survived”  (facts.org.cn)  According to some of his other speeches the earth was supposed to be destroyed again in 2006 and only his personal intervention put that disaster off for another thirty years.

Summary of Basic Beliefs

  1. Falun Gong is “an ancient self-improvement practice of mind, body and spirit guided by the principle of the universe – Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance.” (Falun Gong Flyer – SOS Urgent Call)  These three literally comprise the fundamental nature of the cosmos.
  2. The Master Li Hongzhi is the only teacher within the movement.  He was selected by the gods for his wisdom and insight into the Cultivation (spiritual and physical and emotional development) into xinxing (a culmination of numerous spiritual behaviors such as patience, making sacrifices, enlightenment, tolerance) which will bring about  a rise in energy (Qi) potency which will cause the matter in the body to transform.  This brings about healing and material success and other benefits.  He is at once an ordinary human being and a divine being able to interact and draw power in from innumerable dimensions and universes.  He can heal, destroy and protect the earth from aliens.  He seems to have a special hatred for mixed race children and condemns them to a separate future from those others who survive the coming destruction.
  3. There are five exercises which are supplemental to the cultivation of xinxing.  These include; “Buddha Showing a Thousand Hands, Falun Standing stance, Penetrating the Cosmic Extremes, Falun Heavenly Circuit and Way of Strengthening Divine Powers.  All of these are intended to develop Qi and draw in the Qi from numerous universes and dimensions.  The cultivation techniques will transform both xinxing and karma.
  4. The center of the power is located in the abdomen of the believers.  Master Li claims that he puts the Falun (law wheel – symbolized by several swastikas and yin-yang symbols in Falun Gong literature) into the practitioners’ abdomen.  There it spins with the Qi energy developed through cultivation and the exercises which are collectively called the Gong.
  5. The group puts out a tremendous amount of information particularly through numerous websites both official and unofficial.  A huge marketing effort for the past fifteen years has gone forward to convince other world governments to pressure the Peoples Republic to soften its position on the group.  Many of the followers wear their persecution as a badge of identity and honor.

Witnessing Tips

As we would witness to anyone in any religion or nonbeliever, we should speak the truth in love to them.  Members of Falun Gong are just regular people who have turned to this group to solve the their problems, give them meaning and purpose and identity and sometimes seek out physical and emotional healing.  The overwhelming number of people involved with the group are Chinese, which is belied by so much of their literature which always has pictures of western people prominently figured. The group’s identity has been formed by the combination of spiritual teachings and political persecution in its native country.  The followers tend to look at the world through what I call “Li Hongzhi” eyeglasses, much like the LDS look at the world through Joseph Smith eyeglasses and so on.  It is critical then to talk about Li and  his many of his bizarre teachings so that one can get the FG practitioner to look at the Bible and understand their need for Jesus.

If the follower is not Chinese, I would start with Li’s more bizarre statements about space aliens, Earth as a garbage dump and especially his views on race and mixed race children.  All of these ideas are not featured prominently in their literature and it is possible that the follower has not even heard the teachings.  All of these ideas are generally repulsive to most people today.  As a father of many Asian children, and the grandfather of two mixed race grandchildren, I know how offensive this idea is to most people one might talk to.  The fact that God is no respecter persons and that the Bible teaches that all races from one couple, lines up well with how most people in the world think, especially in the western world.  Li’s views on race might have sold better a few generations ago, but are repugnant today.  Racism has always been repugnant in God’s eye.

There are many people who do believe in space aliens, but I would ask the follower to give you one piece of actual evidence that doesn’t seem like it was dreamed up in an episode of “X Files”.  The follower also has been trained to think that the idea of the Qi and QI healing are all scientifically proven now, but actual evidence outside of true believers is non-existent.  The Qi is a matter of faith; no actual evidence backs this up.  But with both space aliens and the Qi the lack of evidence seems not to disturb the individual believer.  I think this is what spiritual blindness truly looks like.  When you meet smart people who believe virtually any insane and/or contradictory notion, then you know it is not about mere rationality.  Therefore always remember that this is a spiritual battle and that we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will reach through the hard heart and the foolish teachings to reach the follower of Falun Gong.

If the person is Chinese than I will emphasize a different approach.  The FG movement claims to embody the wisdom of both Taoism and Buddhism, but it seems that most of its beliefs have nothing to do with the Four Fold noble path of Buddhism, but is more in line with traditional Taoism and its pagan underpinnings.  But I have used Buddhist teachings to interact with people in the group.  Especially since the group is so passionate about its political situation with the Chinese Government.  I have told them that I agree that the Chinese government has treated the FG movement badly and that no person should be physically or emotionally or politically mistreated for their beliefs or non-beliefs.  This  always gets them to warm up to the conversation as they sense a fellow traveler on something they are driven by.  Then I ask them what they think of the Buddha’s teachings on annatta or non self.  If there is no self then there really is no reason to be upset about Chinese government brutality.  I ask them about the Buddha’s acceptance of the Hindu teaching of maya – that the physical world is merely a dream and unreal.  If this is so, then the FG person should understand that there is no Chinese government, no Li Hongzhi, no persecuted members and so on.  The FG follower seeks to develop Truth, Compassion, and Tolerance, but none of these are meaningful in any way if the world is not real.  This will send the follower into a frenzy of frustration.  Usually they end up denying the teaching of the Buddha as explained by you.  So we affirm the opposite: if the world is real and the persecutions are real, then the teaching of Karma tells us that the practitioner must have deserved their terrible fate, as karma dictates all outcomes in the world.  If this is denied then we are in good shape because the average follower still has the conscience the Lord gave them (Romans 2) and knows that it is wrong to torture and brutalize prisoners of conscience.  If this is the case then there are some behaviors which are absolutely right and their contraries must be absolutely wrong.  (e.g. It is always wrong to imprison, beat and persecute prisoners of religious conscience!) They will agree with this, but their combination of Buddhism and Taoism gives them no foundation or reasons for this belief.  The Tao (way of the river) flows through all things and one must practice wu wei (non active non thought) and merely go with the flow.  If that is the case then Taoism precludes the FG protests and makes the complaints merely swimming against the flow, which is discouraged in Taoist thought.  Yet they still know that it is wrong to beat and torture people.  Yes it is – but not based on Buddhism or Taoist thought.  It is wrong on Biblical grounds however.  We can show them that the Bible says that all of us are created in God’s image (Genesis 1-3) and as such we are commanded not to kill or beat or treat anyone in a manner which takes away their status given by God.  In the US we refer to “unalienable” rights.  These are rights that are given by the Creator and cannot be taken away by any government or people.  Jesus taught that it is wrong to attack even ones enemies.  One must forgive them instead.  Real Buddhism and real Taoism deny that there is any ultimate good or evil.  The divine is either not real, or embodied in the universe which means that the Chinese government is also filled with the Qi and this is just the divine torturing the divine!  None of this makes any sense.

The Falun Gong follower knows that there is a spiritual side of humanity.  They know that there really is a moral side to the universe.  They not must realize the if Li’s teachings are based upon the Buddhist and Taoist religion, then everything their conscience is telling them – is not real.  They should just do the exercises and go with the flow.  But they cannot and this is where we tell them about the real reason for the problems with the world  – that the Chinese government is made up of sinners.  And that all of us are sinners just the same.  It is not space aliens or inter-dimensional beings who destroy us – it is us.  We ran over the protestors with tanks in Tiananman Square.  We brutalized each other during the Nanking slaughter by the Japanese.  And not only governments, but each of us as persons have turned away from the true Creator of the universe, Jehovah, and has turned on each other, raping, lying, stealing, dishonoring our parents, adultery, murder and the rest.

Since all of us stand guilty of these things, and the FG follower knows that they want to be different from what they are (their interest in self-improvement is what they thought they were getting in FG in the first place!) then we tell them about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus died for their sins and desires to change them both physically and spiritually.  Their own efforts have not stopped the persecutions.  The Qi power was ineffectual in stopping the deaths of their fellow practitioners.  But the Christian can tell them that a day is coming when the Lord will make right all the injustice and sins, and that all of His children, regardless of race or caste or sex, can live with the Lord eternally.  This takes their sinful version of right desires and casts them in the only light that makes sense.

Falun Gong Bibliography

Bach, Marcus.  Major Religions of the World.  Abingdon Press.  New York, NY 1959

Chang, Maria Hsia.  Falun Gong: The End of Days.  Yale University Press.  New Haven CN. 2004

Chen, Nancy. Breathing spaces: qigong, psychiatry, and healing in China.  Columbia University Press.  New York, NY 2003

Cunningham, Lawrence S., Kelsay, John.  The Sacred Quest – An Invitation to the Study of Religion. 3rd Edition.  Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ 2002

Falun Dafa Practioners.  Falun Dafa: Peaceful Journey of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance.  Falun Dafa Books 1st Ed.  2000

Gaskell, G. A. Dictionary Of Scripture And Myth. Dorset Press. New York, NY 1988

Harpur, James.  The Atlas Of Sacred Places – Meeting Points of Heaven and Earth.  Henry Holt and Company.  New York, NY.  1994

Hexham, Irving.  Concise Dictionary of Religion. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL1993

Hongzhi, Li.  Zhuan Falun. Falun Dafa Books.  1996

Hongzhi, Li.  Falun Gong. Falun Dafa Books 4th ed. 2001

Jordan, Michael.  Encyclopedia of GODS – Over 2,500 Deities of the World.  Facts on File Publications.  New York, NY 1993

Life Editorial Staff.ed. The World’s Great Religions.  Time Incorporated. New York, NY 1963

Mather, George A., Nichols, Larry A.  Dictionary Of Cults, Sects, Religions And The Occult.  Zondervan Publishing House.  Grand Rapids, MI 1993

Novak, Philip.  The World’s Wisdom – Sacred Texts of the World’s Religions.  Harper/SanFrancisco.  New York, NY 1994

Ownby David. Falun Gong and the Future of China. Oxford University Press U.K. 2008

Palmer, David.  Qigong Fever: Body, Science and Utopia in China.  Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY 2007

Parrinder, Geoffrey. ed.  World Religions – From Ancient History to the Present.  Facts on File Publications.  New York, NY.  1971

Pelikan, Jaroslav. ed.  The World Treasury of Modern Religious Thought.  Little, Brown and Company.  Boston, MA 1990

Hom, Sharon.  and Mosher, Stacy.  Challenging China: Struggle and Hope in an Era of Change.  The New Press. New York, NY.  2007

Schechter.  Falun Gong’s Challenge to China: Spiritual Practice or Evil Cult. Akashic Books. New York, NY.  2001

Smith, Huston.  The Illustrated World’s Religions – A Guide To Our Wisdom Traditions.  Harper/San Francisco. New York, NY 1994

Tong, James.  Revenge of the Forbidden City.  Oxford University Press.  U.K. 2009

Wong, John, Liu, William.  The Mystery of China’s Falun Gong: Its rise and its sociological implications.  World Scientific Publications.  1999

Love at the end of the rainbow