Magazine article New Internationalist

Enemy of the State

Magazine article New Internationalist

Enemy of the State

Article excerpt

Shane Leavy enters the world of Falun Gong

- China's spiritual alter-ego.

On Dublin's O'Connell Street, just under the Millennium Spire, a small group of Chinese people are gathered, attracting hurried glances from the shoppers pouring past them. Some hold a large white banner; others are sitting on the ground in the lotus position, meditating on the cold concrete. The rest hand out pamphlets which claim that an innocent spiritual movement, something akin to yoga, is being brutally persecuted in China.

All over the globe practitioners of the Chinese religious movement Falun Gong are holding such protests. Since its banning as an 'evil cult' by the Chinese Government in 1999, foreign politicians have also been jumping on the 'Free Falun Gong' bandwagon - happy to have another reason to chastise the CCP. They have a lot to say about religious freedom, but less about what Falun Gong actually is. Not too many of these politicians mention that practitioners view the founder, Li Hongzhi, as a god. Neither do they seem aware of Li's other odd claims about demonic possessions, immortality and superpowers.

For a religion that professes to uphold 'Truthfulness', there is something slightly duplicitous about the claims of those pamphlets that Falun Gong is like yoga and helps to improve health. Actually practitioners view sickness in an individual as karmic - the inevitable result of that person having done something evil in the past - and their holy book the Zhuan Falun is adamant that the practice is absolutely not for improving health. Falun Gong is about something altogether more ambitious - the salvation of every living being in the universe.

It all started back in 1992, when trumpet player Li Hongzhi began to preach Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, in the north Chinese city of Changchun. Li argued that at the beginning of time the only beings in existence were the gods, who were perfectly in tune with the three fundamental characteristics of the universe: Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance. However, as they reproduced, some became corrupted by the social relationships they developed, and were forced out of paradise into a lower dimension. Here they again multiplied, became further corrupted, and had to fall down to ever lower dimensions, with each fall becoming more selfish and wicked, drifting away from their original nature until they became so vile that by all rights they should have been utterly destroyed. The remaining good gods, however, felt compassion for these evil creatures, and decided to give them one last chance.

You are sitting in that 'last chance' saloon right now. Our material world, according to Li, was created to allow us wicked beings to save ourselves and return to paradise. The purpose of every single living organism, right down to the most primordial cell of pond scum, is to cultivate ourselves physically and mentally until we become pure and good again, so that we may return to our rightful position as gods in paradise. Not exactly yoga, then.

The Zhuan Falun also propounds a hugely confusing mishmash of Buddhism, Taoism, Qi Gong exercises and bizarre Western pseudoscientific claims about dimensions, aliens and superpowers. Taken from live lectures by 'Teacher Li', who apparently never used notes and admitted that it was 'not elegant in terms of language', it seems to me to be bafflingly dense, disorganized and riddled with factual errors. Yet that's not how others see it.

'Strangely enough I find it easier to read this book than anything else,' says Irish practitioner Steve Duffy. 'I had a really bad stutter when I was a kid, especially when I was reading out in front of people. But I found that when I was doing the reading in the class with the practitioners after we did the exercises, it's 110 times better than it ever was.

'I'm a musician, and the whole sex, drugs and rock n' roll thing I've lived to the hilt. I mean there's not a drug I haven't taken. …

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