The Mystery Of Falun Dafa -
China's Newly-Banned Religion
By Nicholas Keung
Toronto Star Staff Reporter
Mime-Version: 1.0 Date: Sun, 25 Jul 1999 00:57:22 -0800 To: From: Subject: News Story: The mystery of Falun Dafa, China sect that's sweeping world - July 23, 1999 Cc:
The Mystery Of Falun Dafa - China's Newly-Banned Religion 7-24-99
By Nicholas Keung Toronto Star Staff Reporter 7-24-99
Susan Mitchell could feel the ground shifting under her feet and her body levitating while waiting for a traffic light at Jarvis and Shuter Sts.
Wang Gongshi has seen, through his celestial eyes, a gang of monstrous gargoyles emerging from his bedroom wall, giggling at him.
The vivid visions of these Falun Dafa practitioners can't help but fuel myths about the unstructured quasi-religious group, whose doctrines draw on martial arts, Buddhism and Taoism. Devotees, of whom there are reportedly 100 million worldwide, say its teachings improve their health and make them more moral.
``The purpose of the practice is to return to one's true self, so one can see through his or her celestial eyes into objects in other spaces and dimensions,'' Wang says.
Falun Dafa's growing influence in China has angered its government, which officially banned it yesterday, just days after arresting 30,000 followers. Beijing says the group, which held protests across China this week, is an illegal organization that cheats people, spreads ``superstitious, evil thinking'' and threatens the social order.
Little is known about Falun Dafa, which is also referred to as Falun Gong, but the movement is drawing more and more adherents, including Mitchell, 56, and Wang, 44, both from Toronto. Practice groups have sprung up in every part of Canada.
In Toronto, more than 1,700 people gathered at Nathan Phillips Square in May for a Falun Dafa celebration.
In an endorsement of the event, Mayor Mel Lastman praised Falun Dafa as a ``cultivation system of mind, body and spirit that helps people lead more peaceful, happy and healthy lives.''
Founded in China in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, a soldier-cum-spiritual leader who left for the United States in a self-imposed exile in 1996, Falun Dafa is a blend of mind and body work. Zhen-Shan-Ren (Truth-Compassion-Forbearance) are the core values in Li's 191-page bible China Falun Gong.
Li, 48, now lives in Florida and New York city with his wife and teenage daughter.
The practice's five sets of exercises, similar to Tai Chi, are said to help improve health, which then assists personal enhancement of the mind and spirit.
Followers, who connect through Web sites, come together to practise and to share what they have learned from reading Li's teachings. There are no places of worship and Li says practitioners should follow Falun's laws, not him.
Followers do not actively recruit other members, although videotaped copies of Li's lectures circulate among the group.
Unlike other Eastern spiritual philosophies, Li's borrows liberally from North American concepts and popular culture, incorporating such things as UFOs and aliens.
After reading a book about Falun Dafa, Zhang Zhaojin, a Chinese Canadian weekly news reporter, attended Li's nine-day video lecture in Toronto and now spends up to two hours a day on exercises and teachings.
``The lecture is free and even the books can be downloaded from the Internet. We don't ask people to pay for anything. We don't worship anyone. All it takes is the desire to be a better person,'' he said.
Followers insist the group is not a cult, an accusation made by China's Communist party.
``A cult restricts people, but whether you cultivate Falun Dafa is up to you,'' says Mitchell, who quit her 19-year fellowship with an Indian meditation guru in 1994. She took up Falun Dafa early this year.
Falun Dafa is not a cult or sect at this point because it lacks structure, says theologist David Reed of Wycliff College at the University of Toronto.
``A cult is considered as a highly authoritarian and isolated religious group . . . I can only call (this) a large spiritual movement.''
Reed says that, like North Americans, more and more people in China are turning to a ``seeker culture'' that emphasizes individualism.
Allen Chong, a researcher at York University's Centre for International and Security Study, agrees.
``China is now in some kind of uneasy mix of communism and capitalism. When people no longer have the same philosophical and ideological anchor to help them order their lives mentally, what should they believe in then?''
The ban on a spiritual group with millions of members highlights official unease in China that such movements could become rallying points for public anger at rising unemployment and rampant corruption.
Beijing is especially eager to stifle dissent before the 50th anniversary of Communist rule on Oct. 1.
Zhang, who came to Canada in 1994, was skeptical when first introduced to Falun Dafa by friends in China.
``In Marxism, we don't believe in God and the Communist party teaches people to follow materialism, not religion,'' says the 35-year-old man.
But in Canada Zhang felt ``miserable and distressful after the variety store he owned collapsed.
``My friend gave me this book on Falun Dafa and its loose structure simply fits me more.''
Mitchell, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in October, 1997, said the benefit of Falun Dafa on her physical health is phenomenal.
Against her physicians' and friends' recommendations, the OnTV program announcer opted to treat the disease by following Falun Dafa.
``After two days of exercise and reading, my cancer was totally gone and my whole body returned to normal.''