In January 1998, the Buddhist Association of China held a high level symposium on Falun Gong issue. This was a very important meeting, which the Chinese Buddhist circle made a serious response to the aggressive challenge of Falun Gong expansion, and was once again mobilized and prepared to take concerted action against Falun Gong cult. Participants of the symposium were all accomplished and highly respected leaders of the Chinese Buddhist circle. They thoroughly analyzed the various vicious activities of Falun Gong in cheating the public, harming the society and slandering Buddhism with a rational attitude of care and precision, and called on the government to stop the growing of Falun Gong immediately with deep concern. The memorandum of "Symposium on Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong Issue" Held by the Buddhist Association of China published here is virtually the formal call to arms and declaration of the entire Chinese Buddhist circle to be at daggers drawn with Falun Gong.
Falun Gong had always been trying to win popularity by hoodwinking the public in the disguise of "Buddha dharma", and Li Hongzhi had always been cheating and grabbing money in the name of "Master Buddha". Therefore, they both hated and feared the orthodoxy and authoritative Buddhist Association of China, attempting to resisting the exposure and criticism from the Buddhist circle by beguiling words and sophistry as well as by "taking the route of higher level". Li Hongzhi used to instigate his backbone members to jointly writing letters of accusation of the Buddhist Association of China. Apparently, the Chinese Buddhist circle used to be the No. 1 conqueror over Falun Gong.
On the afternoon of January 13, 1998, the Buddhist Association of China summoned its leaders as well as experts and scholars to discuss the question of how to understand and deal with Falun Gong. The participants included You Xiang, vice secretary-general of the Buddhist Association of China; Wu Limin, head of China Research Institute of Buddhist Culture (CRIBC); Master Miao Hua, vice director of the academic department of CRIBC; Xu Yucheng, director of the multi-research department of CRIBC; He Yun, editor-in-chief of Buddhist Culture magazine; Lu Xun, vice director of the Voice of Dharma magazine; and Kulapati Chen Xingqiao, vice secretary-general of the Buddhist Association of Harbin.
The symposium was chaired by the vice secretary-general You Xiang. He said in recent years, the development of Falun Gong has caused the attention of the government and all walks of life, and the local Buddhist circles have responded to it as well. Articles criticizing Falun Gong were published on Guangming Daily, "Research Update" of the Buddhist Association of China, "Taizhou Buddhism" of Zhejiang Province, etc. And our Association used to refer to the problems of Falun Gong specifically to the government departments concerned . Some years ago, several books on Falun Gong were published by regular publishing houses. Later, those books were regarded as "promoting superstition and pseudo-science" by the General Administration of Press and Publication of China and were ordered to be taken over and sealed up. It is said that Falun Gong books are published in other places such as Hong Kong, Sydney, and New York.
Since Falun Gong not only borrows Buddhist terms but also belittles and slanders Buddhism, severely distorting Buddhadharma for its own purposes, it has inevitably aroused the indignation in the Buddhist circle. Therefore, we are here today both to express personal views as well as to discuss the way of making known the position of our Buddhist Association towards Falun Gong.
Chen Xingqiao: I will say something first about what I know about Falun Gong and the research I did on it. As early as in 1994, some friends of mine tried to persuade me into practicing Falun Gong. I listened to a speech of Li Hongzhi in Harbin at the time, and found out that though his speech was much welcomed, it sounded ridiculous to anyone clear-minded. So I thought it might be something temporary. As soon as people see through his tricks, the fever over Falun Gong would disappear. That's why I didn't pay much attention to it. Unfortunately, it develops even more rapidly these years, not only distorting and slandering Buddhism, greatly hurting the feelings of the Buddhists, but also wavering the orthodoxy belief of some followers. So I specially bought a number of Falun Gong books in the second half of 1996 for study, and wrote an article entitled Discovering the True Colors of "Falun Gong" - a New Folk Religion, which was published in the 2nd issue of 1997 of Research Update of the Buddhist Association of China. Therefore, I know quite much about Falun Gong, and to this day I still think it is a kind of heathendom or a cult attaching to Buddhism with the characteristics of folk religion. In the recent half year, I've gotten to know some new information about Falun Gong. Firstly, the Research Institute of Qigong Science of China wrote a report on the Falun Gong issue of Li Hongzhi and nullified the registration of "Falun Gong" by the end of 1996 in the annual examination. The report revealed many problems with Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong, many of which related to Buddhism. If we do not make a clear distinction from Falun Gong and state clearly our attitude towards Falun Gong to the pertinent departments, we shall be in a very disadvantageous position. Secondly, I find out that although Falun Gong has been criticized by some newspapers and publications and its books have been banned, its membership with the Research Institute of Qigong Science of China having been cancelled, and Li Hongzhi himself having gone abroad, Falun Gong research societies and local instruction centers are still very active, establishing an underground network. There are also many officials and advanced intellectuals that believe in it. So the problem is rather serious. I'm afraid that it is not to be solved by simple criticism and administrative means. Thirdly, we can hear such news now and then as some Falun Gong practitioners die as a result of refusing to treat their diseases, in which Buddhism is also wrongly accused of. This should also be noted by relevant departments. That's why I think today's symposium is very necessary and timely.
Lu Xun: Li Hongzhi established a "Falun International" organization abroad, and set up a homepage of "Practicing Falun Dafa" on the Internet. Some websites home and abroad propagandize it. Some people sent emails to the Voice of Dharma magazine asking about Falun Gong. Some advanced intellectuals in China even voluntarily translated the books of Li Hongzhi into English and French. The Voice of Dharma magazine has received some articles propagandizing Falun Gong and defending Li Hongzhi. Last year, we once thought of publishing some articles criticizing Falun Gong. On second thought, we think that most of the Falun Gong practitioners are good. They are just taken in and cannot tell Falun Gong from orthodox Buddhism. If we start a large-scale criticism from the very beginning, the effect may not be satisfactory. Therefore, since last year, we published several articles introducing Buddhist meditation and "qigong" in succession in the Voice of Dharma for the purpose of a positive guide. The recent situation shows that Falun Gong has big influence in many places, and the Buddhist circle has always been expecting the Voice of Dharma to make known its position and clarify the mind of the followers. So we are planning to publish some articles commenting on Falun Gong with good arguments and detachment in the Voice of Dharma this year.
He Yun: As editor of Buddhist Culture, I have known something about Falun Gong from telephone calls and articles and letters from the readers as well as from the acquaintance with friends in all walks of life quite long ago. I've also read the article written by Chen Xingqiao, I think it basically acceptable but quite detached and lacking sufficient strength. In my opinion, Falun Gong is a quite advanced god-creating folk movement as well as a kind of modern superstition with some conceptual color in the spiritual field. From the capital to other places in China, quite a number of high-ranking people believed in Falun Gong, clearing the way and cheering for it. These people can be divided into three groups: one is natural science workers; another is university professors; and the third is retired officials. Such a kind of developing modern superstition is rather rare in modern times. Moreover, Master Zhao Puchu once said, "It is important to check on oneself. As for Li Hongzhi, I can summarize in one sentence that the cleverest is the most daring. It is not that the Falun Gong theory of Li Hongzhi is how profound systematically, but is that it is short-cut, powerful, daring to say anything and do anything and tell any lies, so even many well-educated people would believe in it. I once said to Falun Gong practitioners in universities "I hate so much that you are so obsessed with Falun Gong. Do you know how much money has your hierarch grabbed from the followers and got a green card in the United States" However, what I heard was a calm reply "it's alright. There are many lost 'lambs' in the United States waiting for his salvage." What else can I say! All rational discussions and contentions, including the article of Chen Xingqiao, seem so pale and powerless in front of them. So it is my view that Falun Gong is a most advanced modern superstition evolved from folk superstition.
Miao Hua: Some fragments of Falun Gong may be reasonable, but it lacks a systematic framework of thoughts on the whole. I used to discuss this issue with Mr. Wang Leiquan and Mr. Chen Bing, and we might define it as "imitation of Buddhadharma, heathendom attaching to Buddhism". Indeed, defining it as a folk religion is an elevation of it. Actually, Li Hongzhi only borrows some of the Buddhist terms, and his preaching is kind of linear, which is impossible to guide people onto the right way or enlighten them; rather, it can only add to the confusion in people's mind.
Why is Falun Gong developing so quickly And why people don't accept true Buddhadharma but believe in the fake theory of Li Hongzhi? I think the following aspects are to be taken into account:
1. For a long time, the traditional culture of our country has been undergone undue disregard and destruction. People, including many advanced intellectuals, are so ignorant of Buddhadharma that they show a tendency of being willing to accept anything in the spiritual field.
2. The Buddhist circle is rather conservative in the idea, system, as well as means of promoting and upholding the teaching of Buddha, failing to keep up with social development.
3. In the fever for qigong, people are no longer satisfied with simple bodily movements or meditation but are eager to discover the ideas behind them.
Objectively speaking, Falun Gong gives a great shock on the mind of Buddhist followers and makes Buddhism suffering injustice. We should check on ourselves and focus on making a clear distinction from Falun Gong. Some cases are difficult to judge, and some actions may not be helpful to take.
Lu Xun: As for the questions of how to define Falun Gong and how should the Buddhist circle treat Falun Gong, I think that further thinking might be necessary. In modern times, religions in the world have changed a lot, and different countries have different religious policies. For instance, when we talk about the "golden link" of Buddhism among China, Japan, and South Korea, the Rissho-Kosei-kai and Soka Gakkai of Japan which keep a friendly relationship with the Buddhist circle of China are both newly developed religions, and the school of Nichiren in Japanese Buddhism is also a heresy from the viewpoint of traditional Buddhism. The Buddhist Association of China should consider the principles and tactics in dealing with these newly developed religions. For decades, people have paid more attention to the five major religions, but folk religions and beliefs have deep-rooted traditions in China, so we should consider relevant measures as well. It seems not too appropriate to stress beating the evil and guarding the orthodox only. Actually, Falun Gong is rather similar to the situation of the early stage of some newly developed religions, so we should be more prudent in dealing with it. I think that just as what Master Miao Hua said, at present, it is enough to make a clear distinction from it and make sure whether it is Buddhism or not, or define it as heathendom attaching to the Dharma.
He Yun: I think that we cannot simply compare Falun Gong with the Nichiren school of Japan and other newly developed religions, for those new religionists have strong and sincere religious emotions and motives, but Li Hongzhi is only working for his own interests, pursuing the maximum of wealth and power in the disguise of religion. There is little religious feeling in him.
You Xiang: There is still one thing that I want to point out. See if it can give you some illumination. I have read some of the Falun Gong books, and have known some people practicing Falun Gong, including some of my relatives and friends. I think that as Falun Gong belittles and distorts Buddhism, it is natural that the Buddhist circle would criticize it with indignation. The research on Falun Gong remains open to question.
He Yun: I'm inspired by what Miao Hua said. Falun Gong explains many questions that natural scientists and scholars and professors could not answer with simplicity and straightness. Of course, his theory is not tested, and cannot be tested. The most difficult questions to answer in the world are questions about man himself, the psychological and spiritual ones in particular. Falun Gong gives people straightforward advice with regard to the moral problems in the modern society, such as focusing on "truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance", on moral training, saying that morality is a kind of white substance that would increase or decrease as a result of one's good or evil behavior. He utilizes Buddhadharma, distorting and derogating it to elevate himself, posing himself as the highest Buddhadharma and satisfying people's needs with his own ways when people are faced with various problems related to the spiritual field, such as various worries, belief crisis, inner resources, etc. This is an important reason for the quick spread of Falun Gong. Buddhadharma is so profound, but many people don't understand it. Instead, they find answers from Li Hongzhi. People all have surreal pursuits. It is complex. Some people just turn to Li Hongzhi and find some spiritual sustenance. So there will always be Li Hongzhi or Zhang Hongzhi or the like. This is not something to be changed at our kind wishes.
Indeed, Falun Gong is ignorant about Buddhism, and it distorts and derogates Buddhism and takes over many Buddhist followers; however, on the other hand, some people who were ignorant about Buddhadharma before also start to regard Buddhadharma as something great. So from the point of view of Buddhism, while making a clear distinction between Falun Gong and Buddhadharma, we should also be careful not to hurt the feelings of most of the Falun Gong practitioners as a result of improper criticism and disposition which would cause opposing feelings in them toward the Buddhist circle. Of course, if relevant government departments would determine its nature and dispose of it, that would be a different matter, and we should definitely support that. Our responsibility is to make a clear distinction from Falun Gong and uphold the orthodoxy Buddhism with a clear objective, thus enabling the Falun Gong practitioners to tell right from evil in the sense of Buddhadharma.
Miao Hua: The question is, it is not that the Buddhist circle hurts the feelings of Falun Gong practitioners; rather, it is Li Hongzhi who hurts the feelings of our Buddhists in the first place.
Xu Yucheng: I've heard long before that Falun Gong has done great harm to Buddhism. In October 1996, when I was in Harbin, I heard that Kulapati Chen Xingqiao wrote an article commenting on Falun Gong, so I asked him to give me a ready copy. In order to be more careful, I reported this article to Master Zhao Puchu first for his review, who agreed to publish it on the Research Update. Later, when Master Zhao heard that many people of high position practiced Falun Gong, he instructed to give the article to Wu Limin for review. Master Wu also agreed to publish it. So I published Chen's article on the 2nd issue of Research Update in 1997, after which there came in very good feedbacks, and many people came to ask for the article. For example, a lady working at a science research institute in Beijing came and argued with us many times before when she started practicing Falun Gong, giving Falun Gong much praise. Later, I asked her to read the article of Chen Xingqiao in the 2nd issue of Research Update. After that, she changed her views, and never came to argue with us again. So the article has been proved to have remarkable social effect.
In my view, Falun Gong is different from those newly developed religions abroad. In foreign countries, ideas, doctrines, activities, and information of various religions enter social life and mass media directly. People usually have a general idea about the basic knowledge of different religions, so they are able to make a basic judgment about various newly developed religions. Superstitious ideas without religious feelings are hard to popularize. However, in our country, in the Buddhist circle alone, although there are 25 publications, their total circulations are not more than 120,000 copies, overlapping with each other within the scope of temples and part of the Buddhists, exerting little influence on the society. Many people, including some advanced intellectuals, know nothing about the doctrines and basic concepts of Buddhism, thus lacking the immunity or the discriminating ability against the evil theories derogating Buddhism. As soon as pseudo Buddhadharma like Falun Gong appears in a manner of saving people and spreads in public places and through public channels, many people would be easily taken in. So we can say that Falun Gong develops under the circumstance that there are too many "Dharma illiterates" or "religion illiterates", which is a very abnormal phenomenon.
Some people, as a result, were guided onto the wrong way, and the development of superstitions began to lose control. Falun Gong takes advantage of people's ignorance of Dharma and is a superstition with organization and theory, seriously jeopardizing the country and Buddhism. So compromise is not to be tolerated. Falun Gong not only derogates Buddhism, but also slanders all traditional culture. Posing himself higher than Confucius and Laotze, Li Hongzhi appears like an all-mighty god of the modern time. This is entirely modern individual god-creating movement. Isn't it ironic that such a god-creating movement should ever been welcomed and recognized by those who are well educated or with high social ranks? In this sense, Falun Gong is a modern superstition that slandering human culture in the name of qigong. It is no religion, but true superstition. Therefore, considering the relationship between Falun Gong and Buddhism, it is very necessary to write some articles with sound arguments to make a clear distinction. Falun Gong abuses and derogates Buddhism, greatly hurting the religious public. So the problem is very serious.
Miao Hua: The premise of Falun Gong in abusing and derogating Buddhism is "utilizing Buddhism".
You Xiang: We should handle with care in the following two questions. First, the reason why we would focus on clarifying and criticizing is that Falun Gong abuses, distorts, slanders, and even defames Buddhism and Buddhadharma. We should not criticize ideas, opinions, and assertions that do not comply with Buddhadharma in Buddhist publications or criticize "heathendom" as against Buddhism. We clarify and draw a clear distinction only because it terribly contaminates Buddhism.
Second, on the question of defining its nature, personal ideas may be expressed freely, but the Buddhist Association of China should be cautious in showing its attitude. Neither in declaring the position of the Buddhist Association of China nor in the articles published on the association journal should we first define it as a "cult", for the power of determining a "cult" is with government departments, not Buddhist organizations. "Cult" is not only a concept used in criticism, but is also a political as well as legal term. Of course, Buddhists should uphold and safeguard orthodox, but we cannot judge a "cult" by the standard of orthodox and evil in Buddhism. According to opinions of certain government departments, at least the following three characteristics are common in cults 1. appearing in the disguise of religious group, or in a religious name; 2. establishing secret organization; 3. having reactionary political plots and carrying out tremendous illegal and criminal activities. So whether Falun Gong is a "cult" should be determined by government departments after investigation. To summarize, we should have a great sense of responsibility in making a clear distinction between Buddhism and Falun Gong, daring to take the lead and showing no ambiguity. When it comes to the question of defining its nature, however, we should not stand out or do anything beyond our power.
Wu Limin: Today's discussion is great. Last year, Kulapati Zheng Songying wrote to me and sent me Falun Gong books on which he put comments, asking for criticism on Falun Gong. I turned them to the editors of the Voice of Dharma. Xu Yucheng and some other people used to discuss the question of Falun Gong with me too. This is really a big issue. Falun Gong distorts and utilizes Buddhism. Of course it is a cult. It takes advantage of the confusion in the qigong circle and develops itself. Folk religions like the White Lotus in the history all had one characteristic in common posing itself on a higher place than others and derogating others, the same as "conceit" in "desire, anger, ignorance, conceit, and doubt". That's really top conceit. It seems to be "Buddha conceit", but not true "Buddha conceit". Li Hongzhi utilizes the "arrogant Zen" in the Zen school and talks about breaking attachment, coinciding with some people's state of mind. That's why its development can be so nasty. The peak of "conceit" is inevitably affirming oneself and negating others, derogating and rejecting other religions. If these folk religions or newly developed religions are not given enough attention, or if no proper measures are taken, the results could be very serious. On the other hand, the "Cultural Revolution" terribly devastated the traditional culture. People's understanding and state of mind are quite in a mess, but orthodoxy religions are not propagandized effectively. That's why Falun Gong could succeed in distorting Buddhism with his seemingly right nonsense and take the place of truth with lies.
The Buddhist circle should be responsible for the lacking of effort in upholding the orthodoxy Buddhism, while some administrative departments are responsible too. If the field of belief were dominated by the evil power, its development would be a potential risk for the country.
We have much contact with the followers and are very clear about the eagerness of them to solve the problem of religious beliefs. We have studied the Report of the 15th National Congress of the CPC, so how can we uphold high the banner of building socialism with Chinese characteristics? Serious study and satisfactory solution of the question of religion is a very important aspect. I think that for the question of Falun Gong, not only the Buddhist circle should check on itself, but the relevant government departments should also check on themselves too. For the purpose of effective recollection, when we think back to the history, we should all think back to ourselves.
(Facts.org.cn, January 1998)