WHITE PLAINS, New York—Sunday marked the culmination of events around New York, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Falun Gong’s introduction to the public. Over the weekend, practitioners held events at Times Square, Chinatown, outside the Chinese Consulate, and in parks all over Manhattan. On Sunday, more than 7,000 people attended a conference at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, N.Y., where they shared about their improvements in the practice.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a traditional Chinese spiritual practice with teachings based on the principles of being honest, kind, and tolerant, and that also involves doing gentle exercises and sitting meditation.
The day of the conference, May 13, held special significance, since it’s the birthday of Falun Gong’s founder, Mr. Li Hongzhi. May 13 is also celebrated each year as World Falun Dafa Day.
Mr. Li spoke in the morning for close to 45 minutes about the challenges facing Falun Gong practitioners in their efforts at self-improvement.
Benny Brix, 50, who flew in from Odense, Denmark, said he was moved by what Mr. Li said, noting, “I could feel his immense compassion.” Brix has a master’s degree in philosophy and teaches communication for disabled children.
Having practiced Falun Gong for close to eight years, he said he feels “Totally transformed inside,” adding, “Outside, I try to do things in accordance to my surroundings, my family, [and] society.”
“So I try to be in a state of openness,” he said. “Try to improve myself.”
The practice of Falun Gong is what the Chinese call “xiulian,” or a practice of self-cultivation and refinement. Practitioners make an effort to hold themselves to higher standards—become more honest, think of others before themselves, and try to not be moved during conflicts.
After Mr. Li spoke, the rest of the conference was of practitioners from young to old—the youngest speaker was 11 and the oldest 78—sharing what they’ve learned and how they’ve improved.
One of them was Chris Chappell, from New York. He said he began practicing Falun Gong in 2004, when he was 19. He said after going through a long series of hardships, he came to a fundamental realization: “Every single tribulation I had over the past several years, no matter how external it seemed on the surface, happened because at critical moments I wasn’t putting down self and thinking of others first. The root of all my negativity was nothing more than frustrated personal gains.”
“These days I try to ensure that all my thoughts come from a positive place, instead of a negative one, and put the well being of others before my own,” Chappell said. “Let me emphasize again the trying part. It’s always a test.”
He added, “I’m realizing that when you think of others first, others will want to be around you.”
Peng Yongfeng, now living in the United States but originally from mainland China, described how, after becoming a Falun Gong practitioner, he began defending practitioners in court—something the Chinese regime forbids.
“When I started practicing Falun Gong, I learned about lawyer Gao Zhisheng and other righteous lawyers who suffer severe persecution for defending Falun Gong practitioners. I admired them and felt strongly that this was the path I needed to take,” Peng said.
Peng recounts courtroom battles as he sought to defend Falun Gong practitioners subject to torture and abuse in the Chinese legal system.One lesson he learned from his experiences confronting persecution in China was the importance of giving up selfishness.
“The more we get rid of self-orientedness, the more other-oriented we become, and the more successful our cultivation will be,” Peng said.
He now works for the Human Rights Law Foundation defending the rights of Falun Gong practitioners.
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