Humans have asked profound questions for thousands of years: Where do we come from? What is the purpose of life? Why is there suffering? Those who provide answers that others accept have been called Masters, and those who believe them become their disciples. Li's answers to the big questions were accepted by millions before July, 1999 and are still believed by an unknown number of disciples worldwide. By definition he is a Master.
Master Li's teachings consist of two components: The Falun Gong (exercises of the law-wheel) and Falun Dafa (great law of the law-wheel), a set of religious teachings. "Falun" is an ancient image from the Buddhist tradition, said to come from the Buddha himself. A Falun is a wheel, turning and turning and never stopping, symbolizing that the teachings of Buddhism will go on forever.
The Falun Gong exercises are described in Master Li's first books Falun Gong, the Falun Dafa is expounded in Zhuan Falun (Turning Law-Wheel), the movement's Bible. This book is a transcription of Li's nine-day seminar as taken down word for word by his followers and personally edited and approved by Li. Li's many later books - supplements, extensions, and paraphrases of his teachings in Zhuan Falun - were written using the same method of approved transcriptions.
Li calls his teachings a "principle of the universe" that humankind has been too corrupt to understand - or even possess.1 It therefore surpasses all knowledge taught by men. Although Li denigrates knowledge that is merely human, he nevertheless has seen fit to expropriate many popular terms taken from traditional Qigong exercises, Taoism and especially Buddhism. The meaning of these terms, however, has been shifted to accomplish Li's own ends. Terms like "Buddha Fa" and "cultivation" are deeply rooted in Chinese culture and evoke profound feelings of respect. They impart a sense of sacredness to Li's own doctrine and produce an automatic emotional sanction within the hearts of his disciples.
The Falun Gong exercises are comprised of five sets of slow movements. While the first set has twelve movements, the rest have no more than seven. These exercises have been given poetic names the first set of exercises, for example, invokes the names of Maitreya, Tathagata, Bodhisattva, Arhat, and Vajra - all names for different levels of spiritual attainment in Buddhism - besides bringing in the Chinese folklore characters of the Golden Monkey and Two Dragons.
Every morning and night followers of Master Li practice the exercises with a soothing music, a blend of traditional Chinese music with the addition of the sound of Buddhist temple blocks to impart a sacred feeling. The combination is perfect for calming the mind. Soon the voice of Master Li intones instructions over the background music. "The first exercise Buddha Showing a Thousand Hands. Preparation posture feet apart at shoulder width, stand naturally, relax the whole body, relaxed but not floppy…"
Falun Gong practitioners always play the same music when practicing the exercises. With their eyes closed, the very calming music and the Master's instructions could easily put them in a trance. This trance goes deeper when the meditation starts after twenty-five minutes of slow movements. Li's voice stops when the sets are completed, the music goes on for another thirty minutes to accompany the practitioners' meditations, which are performed sitting in the traditional Buddhist lotus position.
Exercising everyday would definitely bring health benefits to the practitioners, however, the health benefits claimed by the Falun Gong are simply unimaginable. Most practitioners have not only reported that they are happier, but also that illnesses which long troubled them have been cured. When the movement conducted a few health surveys among practitioners in China in 1998, the surveys reported stunning mental health benefits in 96.5% of respondents and a disease healing rate of 99.1%.2 Needless to say, this far surpasses the healing rate of medical treatment. Illnesses reported to have been cured include incurable terminal cancer and Parkinson's disease.3
Although the etiology of disease has been systematically studied for generations by scientists, Li believes that they have been looking at the wrong direction. Claiming to be the only one who knows the true cause of sickness, Li has mocked medical professionals as shallow, stating that the cause of sickness is "simply beyond the reach of modern medical technology."4 The real source of sickness is not physical, but moral, Li explains. It is caused by karma (sin).
As explained in "Sickness Karma," the sins that one amasses in her original life and in her many reincarnations on earth form layers in the physical body, each layer overlaying the previous one. As a result, "the human body is like the annual rings of a tree, whereby each ring contains sickness-karma."5 When this sickness-karma remains inside the physical body, the person is fine. But "when it returns to the surface of this physical body the person becomes ill."6
Since the cause of sickness is supernatural, its treatment must be supernatural as well. Master Li possesses the power to heal; he treated patients personally and collected fees at the beginning of his career. Since stopping his one-on-one healing in 1994, Li has been healing followers only by remote influence. He performs this even more powerful supernatural healing free of charge. He generously lets followers know that those who sincerely study his teachings on their own will have his Fashen to "cure their illnesses."7
But if Master Li is healing his patients, they must be true cultivators. They must first abandon their attachment to the idea of being sick in order to be cured. "We emphasize one point If you cannot relinquish the attachment or concern for illness, we cannot do anything and will be unable to help you."8 Li's supernatural healing is described as "pushing" - "I push, and push, and push, and push until I completely push the karma out for you."9 While those silly modern scientists have spent endless painstaking effort in developing medications for the sick, Li simply treats sickness as an unwanted object that can be rolled out of the body like a ball.
If the Master completely cures the followers, there will be no complications. But he makes it clear that while he has eliminated a big portion of their illnesses the cultivators must suffer through the remaining portion as a way to repay their sins. The remaining sickness-karma will be pushed out by the Master in the "karma elimination process" every once in a while. When he does, the cultivators will experience sickness-like symptoms and suffer pain.
Since sickness-like symptoms are merely a sign that the Master is continuing to eliminate one's karma from afar, using medicine to treat what appears to be sickness serves no purpose. Moreover, it denies the sufferer the chance to repay for her sins. Li makes this a defining issue, a way to separate the sheep from the goats - a test to find out whether one is a true Falun Dafa cultivator. "You must regard yourself as a cultivator in the midst of the pain. When you don't consider it sickness you truly have a high-level understanding of this matter, rather than an ordinary human way of thinking."10 Those who view their sickness-like symptoms as an actual illness have failed the test and are yet to be enlightened.
Cultivators who constantly fail the test by taking medicine are scolded by the Master; the consequence of such foolish actions is devastating. "You feel that you've recovered because you took the medicine. But let me tell you that it nonetheless accumulates over there. Life after life human beings are accumulating this stuff. When the accumulation reaches a certain extent, the person becomes incurable and when he dies he's totally destroyed. He loses his life - forever loses his life. That's how horrifying it is."11
This is a very important point, and it cannot be emphasized enough in order to stop his followers from seeking medical help and to persuade them to rely exclusively on his supernatural power, Li insists that the devastating result of taking medicine is eternal death - the death of the spirit.
Because of the Master's constant encouragement, cajoling, and threats, most Falun Gong practitioners have abandoned their medications and treatments that were absolutely necessary. Sickness-like symptoms are not a warning from the body that something is wrong and you'd better take care of it. Rather, they are proof that the beneficent Master is at work eliminating sickness-karma. In following their Master's instructions Falun Gong practitioners have created a unique phenomenon they claim to be healthy even when they seem to be sick. This explains the unimaginable healing rate of 99.1% claimed by the group.
Sadly, this belief is also instilled in young children. In one testimonial appearing on the official Falun Gong website, an eight-year-old practitioner named Cathy Ashfield reported a karma elimination experience which she had shared at a Falun Gong conference
During my cultivation, I also had a karma elimination process. Once I had a high fever. Because my father did not cultivate, he forced me to go to hospital and take medication. I had a sister who passed away at one year old due to a high fever. So my parents get very stressed when we have a fever. Mum asked me, "Do you think you are ill" I said, "No it is my karma elimination process. I won't go to hospital."12
Apparently Cathy is a true cultivator who faithfully follows Li's instructions. While her belief might be faith-affirming for her mother who is also a cultivator, she very likely put her non-practitioner father through hell. Li's teachings take a human toll - this type of family heartache must be very common in "mixed" families and has caused much family strife.
Cathy's case is neither unique nor isolated; one of the surveys conducted in 1998 in Beijing reveals alarming information - "418 [polled practitioners] had zero medical expenses after practice." The average annual medical expenses for the total 584 practitioners polled was reduced from roughly 3,500 RMB ($ 437.00) to only 70 RMB ($ 8.75). This survey then categorizes these practitioners according to illness. In the largest group, 225 out of 274 practitioners with cardiovascular system illnesses reported totally stopping their medical treatments. In a smaller group suffering from endocrine disorders (diabetes, hyperthyroidism, etc.) 26 out of 33 practitioners had totally stopped their medical treatment.13
For many practitioners the health benefits are not as important as the wisdom imparted by the Master. Li, a man full of surprises, has developed a unique theology at the end of the twentieth century. The foundation of this theology is a creation myth which first appeared in Zhuan Falun in late 1994 - two and a half years after the Master started his Falun Gong movement. In an apparent attempt to prepare people for this creation myth, he had warned at the start of his movement that "humankind must fundamentally change its conventional thinking."14 As we shall see, requiring his followers to fundamentally change their way of thinking became a constant theme in Li's teachings.
Let's empty our minds now of other creation myths we know and learn the story of creation as told by Master Li
In the beginning, before this physical world we live in took shape, there existed (and still exists today) a secret universe. Humans were not created in human society on earth but in fact emerged "in the space of the universe."15 There is a lot of matter of various kinds in this universe and through its interactions lives are produced. "In other words," Li teaches, "a person's earliest life comes from the universe."16 Li further explains that when all of us were first born in the higher levels of this secret universe, we were perfect! We were the very embodiment of the "characteristic of the universe," meaning Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance.
The secret universe we all emerged from has many levels in a vertical hierarchy, each defined by the quantity of the characteristic of the universe it contains. The higher the level, the purer it is. Beings in the higher levels are called "enlightened beings"; they exist in a form which Westerners might call spirit. They do not have physical bodies and therefore do not feel hunger, cold, or heat, nor do they need food and experience "the problems of birth, old age, illness, and death."17 What is more "they're better looking than us [in our current earthly state]… they don't walk …they float back and forth in the air."18 In short, these enlightened beings all live in a paradise.
This is the life we once had but enjoy no more. How did we lose it
Our way downward from our original life in paradise was the direct result of our own moral corruption. We became corrupt when we developed selfishness in social relations.19 As we no longer fully embodied the characteristic of the universe, we also lost our right to stay in the higher levels and so dropped down to lower levels. The lower our standards, the lower the level we descended to. In the end, we reached the lowest level, the most degenerate. By all rights, we simply should have been destroyed.
But through the compassion of the great enlightened beings whom Li sometimes refers to as gods and Buddha, we were given one more chance.20 A special dimension - the world we live in - was constructed just for our benefit. How this world was constructed is not explained, nor is such an explanation necessary. According to Master Li, these great enlightened beings have the power of creating anything with a mere thought.
Then in June, 2000, Master Li credited the creation of this world and humankind to his great teachings. "Dafa is the Fa of the cosmos, and Dafa has created all beings in the cosmos. Dafa has established living environments and standards for the beings at different levels of the cosmos, and it has created for the beings at different levels different forms of wisdom, including the culture of humankind."21 The modest Master did not claim to be the creator, but he makes clear that the Dafa belongs to him.
In this newly constructed world all of us are given a physical body. However, it is not given to us in order to experience the joys and pleasures of physical existence, but rather so that we can suffer sufficiently to repay our sins
In this dimension people are provided with this kind of body, our physical bodies. With this body, one cannot put up with it if the body is cold, hot, tired, or hungry. In any case, it is suffering. When you are ill, you suffer. One has to go through birth, old age, illness, and death so that one can repay karmic debts through suffering. 22
The term karma, as used in Buddhism and Hinduism, refers to the total effect of a person's conduct during the current life and previous lives. But Li changed its meaning, making "karma" the equivalent of "sin."
This physical world, created specially for us is not a beautiful place like our former abode. Rather, it is a prison. All human beings on earth are sinners - except Master Li - and for that reason we must reincarnate life after life until our sins are paid for through suffering. The Master even takes it to the extreme by stating that the more painful a person's death, the better it is for him "A person's painful death in war can eliminate karma for that being, it can eliminate sins, and in his next incarnation he won't have karma and will enjoy a good life."23 If we follow Li's logic than perhaps a third world war will benefit us all.
Since the entire human race is comprised of the universe's most corrupt denizens locked up in this huge prison called Earth, many of our rights have been stripped from us. We don't deserve to come into contact with or even see the secret universe we came from. We are ignorant, completely incapable of grasping the truth. We are simply "lost in a maze," as the Master puts it.24 But the compassionate Master attempts to free us by revealing the truth, lighting up the dark cave we are trapped in. All we have to do for the truth to prevail is to abandon our conventional thinking.
As the Master reveals, every person has a physical body and a Primordial Spirit which is our original life. When our physical body dies, the "Primordial Spirit does not become extinct."25 At the death of the physical body we reincarnate into another physical body in order to continue paying for our sins until our debt is paid in full.
In another dimension, every person also has a corresponding field formed by the substance of De (virtue) and karma (sin). Li does not believe in intellectual abstraction; everything, even what most people would term concepts, actually exists in the form of substances, unseen here, but existing in a secret universe. For instance, virtue is a "white substance"26 and sin is a "black substance."27 When our physical bodies perform a moral act or suffer a hardship, we are rewarded with a piece of virtue while simultaneously shedding a piece of sin. Conversely, when we perform bad deeds, a bit of the black substance is added to the field, while a bit of the white substance flies away. Presenting intellectual abstractions like virtue and sin as substances evokes easy-to-remember-and-understand images in the brain. It is one of the techniques that helped Master Li spread his teachings to the masses so successively.
Li's creation myth reveals that the true purpose of life is to "return to one's original, true self."28 His focus is completely otherworldly. When followers of Master Li obtain virtue and eliminate sin, they move up the levels of the secret universe and eventually will get back to the higher levels. In contrast, the consequence of losing all virtue is fatal it will result in the total extinction of both physical body and Primordial Spirit.
Our complex and mysterious world becomes so simple and easy to understand after Master Li's revelation. The many tragedies and pains of life are all working for our eventual salvation. Isn't it comforting to know that all the pain we have suffered serves a vast, eternal purpose and brings rewards that will be denied to those who wrong us Suffering through the symptoms of a painful illness is no longer to be avoided, death is no longer frightful; it's merely the physical body that suffers and dies, but we live on forever. Such an idea is so comforting, especially to those who are in pain.
1. Li Hongzhi, "Broad and Immense ," Essential for Further Advancement I, 2061995.
2. Falun Gong organization, "Falun Gong Health Effect Survey of Ten-thousand Cases in Beijing, 10231998.
3. Falun Gong organization, "A Survey among Practitioners from Beijing Zizhuyuan Assistance Center," 10181998.
4. 5. 6. Li Hongzhi, "Sickness Karma," Essential for Further Advancement I, 3101996.
7. Li Hongzhi, "What Has Teacher Given to Practitioners" Zhuan Falun, Paragraph 1.
8. Li Hongzhi, "Genuinely Guiding People Toward High Levels," Zhuan Falun, paragraph 5.
9. 10. Li Hongzhi, "Teaching the Fa in New York City," paragraph 10, 3231997.
11. Li Hongzhi, "Teaching the Fa in New York City," paragraph 9, 3231997.
12. Cathy Ashfield, "Never Too Young To Practice Falun Dafa," Falun Dafa clearwisdom.net, last paragraph, 7101999.
13. Falun Gong organization, "A Survey among Practitioners from Beijing Zizhuyuan Assistance Center," 10181998.
14. Li Hongzhi, "Lunyu," Zhuan Falun, 6021992, paragraph 1.
15. 16 . Li Hongzhi, "Genuinely Guiding People Toward High Levels," Zhuan Falun, paragraph 7.
17. Li Hongzhi, "People with Great Inborn Quality," Zhuan Falun, paragraph 2.
18. Li Hongzhi, "Explaining the Fa for Falun Dafa Assistants in Changchun," 9181994.
19. Li Hongzhi, Genuinely Guiding People Toward High Levels, Zhuan Falun, paragraph 6.
20. Li Hongzhi, Genuinely Guiding People Toward High Levels, Zhuan Falun, paragraph 7.
21. Li Hongzhi, Using at Will,Essentials for Further Advancement II, 6282000, paragraph 3.
22. Li Hongzhi, "Reverse Cultivation and Gong Borrowing," Zhuan Falun, paragraph 4.
23. Li Hongzhi, "Dafa Is All-Encompassing," Essentials for Further Advancement II, 7302001, Paragraph 2.
24. Li Hongzhi, "Genuinely Guiding People Toward High Levels," Zhuan Falun, paragraph 7.
25. Li Hongzhi, "Why Doesn't Your Gong Increase with Your Practice ," Zhuan Falun, paragraph 7.
26. Li Hongzhi, "Why Doesn't Your Gong Increase with Your Practice ," Zhuan Falun, paragraph 8.
27. Li Hongzhi, "Why Doesn't Your Gong Increase with Your Practice ," Zhuan Falun, paragraph 9.
28. Li Hongzhi, "Genuinely Guiding People Toward High Levels," Zhuan Falun, paragraph 7.