NEW YORK—The world streams through Times Square, tourists from every corner of the globe squeezing around half a dozen people dressed as Elmo, steering clear of selfie sticks, shouting at each other in an effort to talk over car horns, jackhammers, and other people shouting at each other.
In the middle, stillness. A silent crowd sits row on row in yellow shirts and meditates. While the churning masses whirl by—some pausing to take photos or accept a flyer from a man or woman in a yellow shirt—these meditators sit quietly, legs folded on top of each other, full lotus style.
It’s May 13, World Falun Dafa Day, and this small group of between 100 and 200 people is one of many scattered about the city. They are demonstrating the exercises of Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, introducing themselves to the world of visitors that pours through Times Square.
Baligh Ibraham is visiting from Sudan. He stands for several minutes watching them practice their slow-moving exercises.
“Beautiful,” he says before moving on.
The hours pass. Skyscrapers clad in blazing electric billboards cast shadows that shift across the square like a sun dial.
Normally, these people would practice in a park with gentle music to help time their movements and still their minds.
Today is special though. These meditators have come from around the world. They want to introduce themselves, so to speak, show onlookers who they are, what they do, and what exactly it is that has been banned and persecuted in China since 1999.
People pause to watch and take pictures. Most know little about this brightly dressed crowd of meditators. A few people, also in yellow, hand out fliers.
For many, it’s hard to fathom that people like this could go to jail for doing what they are doing. Sabir Bukhar, who is visiting New York from Singapore, isn’t so surprised though.
“There are so many bad things happening in China,” he said. “I believe in human rights,” he adds.
One of those meditating is Marcus Gullberg, from Sweden. He has practiced Falun Gong for six years. He had tried other practices but something was different about Falun Gong, he said.
“I immediately felt a connection.”
He found Falun Dafa online, learned the exercises from the videos there, and read the books by downloading them.
“It’s available for free and has no formal demands on its practitioners, so you have to practice from your heart,” he said.
Gullberg said after practicing his allergies disappeared and his annual cold hasn’t been a problem. He came to New York to participate in World Falun Dafa Day activities.
“I felt that it is so important to let people know about this wonderful practice,” he said.
Gullberg wants people to take a stance on the persecution Falun Gong practitioners in China are suffering. He said just signing a petition shows that a person can tell what is right and wrong.
Rocio Montes sympathizes with his cause. She’s visiting from Spain and hadn’t seen Falun Dafa practitioners meditating before. But she says she understands what they are trying to do and can’t understand why the Chinese regime was persecuting the practice.
“They are trying to find themselves. It doesn’t hurt anyone to find yourself…It’s really good.” she said.
Montes said it made no sense to repress people who were pursing principles like truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
“I think that they are very important in our life. If you follow truthfulness, compassion and tolerance, you are going the right way,” she said.
In particular, said Montes, tolerance was critical in any country with diverse peoples and perspectives. Even just getting along with family and coworkers is made easier with tolerance, she said.