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Spiritual CULTivation 

In China, Falun Gong practitioners are beaten and persecuted, so the U.S. is granting them asylum. But is this movement as harmless as it seems?

Wednesday, Mar 15 2000
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She devotes much of her time to Falun Gong, and last month helped organize a Falun Gong conference at Caltech to mark the one-year anniversary of Master Li's rare public appearance at the university. Though Master Li didn't visit Caltech this year, the Chinese government was upset by the event. In fact, adamant that Falun Gong activity anywhere poses a threat to China's welfare, the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles asked Caltech to cancel the "illegal" gathering. The school refused, politely reminding the consulate that in the United States, the right to free speech supersedes Chinese law. Caltech even ended up sending police officers to protect the Falun Gong conference from any Beijing-orchestrated disruptions. Rumors spread that Communist Party sympathizers would be dispatched to protest the event and spies from the consulate were expected, too.

Lian wasn't intimidated. She believes Master Li protects her, which is why she has found safe haven in the U.S. to continue her Falun Gong cultivation. Her mood was happy and carefree at the conference. She joked with her friends, recounting a story she had just read in one of Master Li's books:

A woman who practices Falun Gong in China was in a serious car accident and the doctor said she would never walk again. But the next day, the doctor found the woman gone from her bed. "Impossible!" the doctor said. So the doctor went to the woman's house to investigate. He asked the son if his mother could walk. "No," the son replied. "Ha! I told you she would never walk!" the doctor exclaimed. "That's right," the son said. "She doesn't walk anymore, because she's running all the time -- in her high heel shoes!"

Everyone laughed loudly. But Lian's joke illustrated Falun Gong's deeply held beliefs. "Master Li tells this story to show how most people won't understand the miracle, because it is difficult to break most people's conventional thinking," Lian says.

Li teaches that his followers will avoid disease and misfortune through earnest self-cultivation. Falun Gong is aimed at stripping away human attachments like greed and sentiment in order to purify the body for its ultimate purpose of traveling back to its true home in a distant universe. In the process, people at advanced levels of cultivation will gain supernatural abilities such as levitation and immunity to sickness. But if someone only practices Falun Gong to acquire those powers, that is considered an attachment, and his or her efforts will certainly fail.

The focus on moral betterment and the letting go of attachments -- cultivating one's xin-xing -- is key to Falun Gong's success, Lian explains. Otherwise, the program would be no different than any other version of qigong exercise that promises healing powers. Ordinary qigong cannot deliver true results because it focuses on the body while ignoring the mind and spirit. Likewise, only practicing Falun Gong's arm and body movements is not enough. Attention to xin-xing and the improvement of one's virtue is essential.

"Master Li helps us remove karma we created in our past life, and remove the disease we have, and the dirty thoughts in our mind, to get our soul purified," Lian says. "Master Li came to our world to let people know what the requirements of the universe are, and he is protecting us on our way back to where we came from. We are so thankful to him."

In Lian's home, pictures of Master Li are everywhere. The middle-aged man's pudgy, baby-faced image hangs on every wall. In Lian's bedroom, a shrine to the master sits on her dresser. In fact, there is little décor other than Falun Gong paraphernalia. There is, however, one small photo of Lian's daughter that peeks out from a bookshelf. Ella has turned 11 since her mother has been away.

Lian is proud of her only child. "She listened to the lectures of Master Li with me at a very young age," she says. "My daughter is very interested in Falun Gong." Once, when Ella was bullied by other kids at school, she came home and asked her mother to help her remove karma and gain virtue. "And she was only in the first grade," Lian notes.

When Lian speaks of Ella, it is in relation to Falun Gong and the hope that her daughter, too, will become a cultivator of xin-xing. "I put the picture of my daughter here because I miss her and love her very much," Lian says. "But I am not really attached to this sentiment anymore. I know it is very difficult for people to understand."

Falun Gong teaches that attachments to human wants -- things like love, money, sex, even eating meat -- hold one back from being able to journey to paradise. But members are not required to give up everything right away. Master Li writes that some will choose not to have sex or eat meat at all, while others may on occasion. The point is not to be so attached to something that you cannot function without it. That is why Lian says she can still love her daughter, but leave her behind to pursue Falun Gong.

"When I came to the U.S. people may feel I put myself as first priority, but I am not doing what I want to do. I am doing what I am required to do by the universe. And my better understanding of Falun Gong will enable me to teach my daughter what she should do," Lian says. "Normally a good mother is a person who will provide a child's needs and ensure they will have a successful future. But as a Falun Gong practitioner, I have to provide more. I must consider not just her material life now, but her spiritual life to come."

About The Author

Joel P. Engardio

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