Question: "What is Falun Gong?"
Answer: Falun Gong (also called Falun Dafa) is a blend of Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese Qigong that focuses heavily on meditation and moral thinking. When it first arose in the early 1990s, Falun Gong was given virtually no attention by Chinese authorities. As the practice became more popular, the Communist state came to view it as a threat. Since then, Falun Gong has become another heavily persecuted spiritual system within China.
The term qigong is somewhat generic, as the basic principles are used by several different Eastern spiritual disciplines. Typical approaches to qigong focus on meditation, breath control, and relaxed motion. These practices have been incorporated into Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Falun Gong or Falun Dafa is set apart from other forms of qigong by its greater emphasis on morality, rather than mere “life energy.”
Spiritually, Falun Gong is most similar to Buddhism, and ultimately falls short for the same reasons. It teaches that human desires are the source of suffering and that “attachments” are a spiritual hindrance to be discarded. Practitioners of Falun Gong believe that they accumulate two opposing forces: karma and virtue, the balance of which determines their fortune and eventual reincarnation. The three highest virtues of Falun Gong are Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. By practicing these virtues, along with maintaining certain physical exercises, the Falun Gong adherent hopes to improve his health and luck and eventually to attain an end to the cycle of reincarnation.
Unlike classical Buddhism, however, Falun Gong specifically claims certain physical and even preternatural benefits. While classical Buddhism is purely philosophical, Falun Gong is heavily spiritual, treating “life energy,” also known as chi or qi, as something subject to manipulation through these exercises. That development of qi supposedly allows for the many benefits claimed under the religion’s teachings. Some of the benefits of Falun Gong, supposedly, are only accessible for those who have read the books of the practice’s founder, Li Hongzhi.
One distinctive tenet of Falun Gong is total pacifism. Practitioners are instructed to never respond to physical violence in kind. They are also taught not to return aggressive or angry words. While vegetarianism is implied in many of Falun Gong’s teachings, adherents do not need to be vegetarians themselves, though they cannot personally kill any animals.
As is common with Eastern faiths, the actual beliefs and practices of any particular Falun Gong enthusiast will vary. This approach to qigong is particularly self-reliant and does not place any particular importance on connections to other people or regulating those who claim to follow it. Nor does it make any particular efforts toward orthodoxy. Therefore, in certain cultures, it can be difficult to even classify Falun Gong as a “religion,” though the emphasis on spirituality makes it, in practice, exactly that.
Falun Gong has been the recipient of unusually brutal persecution from the Chinese government. This is partly explained by the more “religious” flavor of Falun Gong compared to other styles of qigong. Specific motivation for this aggression is unclear. And yet the ruling government likely considers an emphasis on personal action, rather than group loyalty, combined with a focus on morality, to be politically dangerous. Pacifism, in the same way, is often a trait reviled by oppressive governments, since it implies an unwillingness to fight for the government’s cause. It could be argued, as well, that the three core concepts of Falun Gong or Falun Dafa (Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance) are detrimental, in practice, to the Communist ideal. Practitioners of Falun Gong in China have been imprisoned, tortured, and even killed.
The symbol for Falun Gong is often confusing to Westerners. The most commonly used logo includes several Yin-Yang symbols as well as multiple swastikas. For modern Westerners, the swastika is typically associated with the Nazi Party and white supremacism. And yet the symbol has been a part of Eastern religions for many centuries, denoting various benign spiritual ideals. Neither Falun Gong nor its logo has any association whatsoever with European fascism or Nazism.