A: It has been noticed that many of the local Falun Gong practitioners here in Latvia got involved into it, mainly with such original intentions as building up their body and improving their health. Unfortunately, as they are not aware of the radical differences between Qigong and the Falun Gong cult, they ended up being misled and controlled by the fallacies of Falun Gong.
Qigong is a general term referring to different sets of regulated, controlled breathing exercises. The major premise of Qigong is that all forms of life are animated by an essentially like-force called qi. Qi also means "breath" and "air", similar to the Hindu concept of prana. Invisible, tasteless and odorless, qi nonetheless permeates the entire cosmos. In general, Qigong is a set of gymnastics to promote health and cure diseases by combining physical exercises with self-massaging and regulated, controlled breathing. No wonder it could help in maintaining physical and metal soundness and leading to a long, healthy life.
According to the strength used to conduct the movements, sets of Qigong exercises can be divided into two types, the dynamic and static types. There are different schools of Qigong exercises--medical Qigong, martial art Qigong, etc. On the basis of Chinese Qigong that found its way into the West in the 20th century, European and American doctors have developed a variety of new therapies--the auto-breathing therapy of Germany, the relaxation and meditation therapy of the United States, etc.
Qigong is subject to diverse interpretations, but it is generally believed that it lets the body and mind to regulate their functions in a completely natural state of relaxation and ease. Wu shu, or Kong fu, which is better known in the West, is closely linked to Qigong. A typical example of their combination is the Chinese shadow boxing known as tai ji quan, which features high concentration of the mind and slow, regulated breathing that accompanies the rhythmical motions of the arms, legs and body.
Let nature take its course--that is the principle that has been guiding the Chinese in doing different kinds of exercises to keep fit. That means doing everything with the limit of one's physical strength. In addition, it is believed that one must never indulge in sensual pleasure. Not a few Chinese emperors died of poison which they had believed would make them immortal. This made people believe that to keep fit whether through medication or exercising, one must never do anything without proper guidance.
However, what Falun Gong has been advocating is anything but the fundamental principles of Qigong. Falun Gong's premise is that through a set of five exercises a practitioner cultivates an golden-colored entity called the falun, which resides in one's gut and spins continuously, absorbing energy from parallel universes, thereby making the body invincible to disease. As Li Hongzhi has always boasted, he has some serious falun that allows him to walk through walls and perform magic.
Yet seekers of the falun may not realize that the exercises are very different from other forms of Qigong, which have been honed over centuries of practice. First, there's qi (pronounced as "chee") inside people's body, loosely defined as vital energy. That is the core concept of Qigong. Through controlled breathing, practitioners of Qigong direct vital energy within the body to locations that need it the most. While in Falun Gong there is no breath work. Second, Qigong movements are precise, in order to maximize the flow of qi. While Falun Gong asks its practitioners to worry less about the precision of their movements and indeed many practitioners render the poses very differently. Falun Gong practitioners think that their moves are watered-down versions of Qigong exercises, but in fact, the two have nothing in common. Further, Qigong is practiced in different forms to address different ailments and goals. However, Falun Gong is supposed to be a single set of exercises billed as a "cure-all" practice.
Stephen Barrett, a retired American psychiatrist and editor of the Web site Quackwatch, said that Falun Gong practices "can be mentally dangerous, though, when they instill false beliefs. False beliefs lead to bad decisions". He points out the possibility that a belief in the absolute power of Falun Gong could lead sick people to refuse standard medical treatments. According to Barrett, movements like Falun Gong enter into the realm of quackery, as they consistently make health claims that cannot be verified scientifically. This includes healing by touch, raising the paralyzed, curing cancer at far higher success rates than conventional medicines, sending vibes across the sea to heal at a distance or living for several hundred years -- all claims that have been made for Falun Gong.
Lastly, I'd like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation of the Latvian people's interest in the Chinese traditional culture. It will be the great pleasure of the Chinese Embassy in Latvia if we could be of some help to facilitate your efforts in reaching a better understanding about the Chinese culture and in stepping up your self-cultivation or self-perfection.