NEW YORK—Over 8,000 practitioners of the traditional Chinese spiritual discipline Falun Gong met on Thursday in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. They gave talks about their experiences practicing Falun Gong and heard the founder of their practice lecture.
The founder of Falun Gong, Mr. Li Hongzhi, arrived at around 11 a.m. to speak and answer questions raised by the audience, which had traveled to New York from over 50 countries.
Mr. Li first taught Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, publicly on May 13, 1992, in northeastern China. Since 2000 Falun Dafa practitioners have celebrated May 13 as World Falun Dafa Day, and the conference at the Barclays Center is one of a week of events in New York honoring the day.
In his remarks, Mr. Li advised practitioners on how to become better people through the practice of Falun Dafa. The discipline involves moral teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance and doing slow-moving, meditative exercises.
Mr. Li also encouraged practitioners to seize the moment and improve their efforts at counteracting the ongoing persecution in China and raising awareness worldwide.
Falun Dafa’s teachings encourage practitioners to share their experiences—be they resolving external conflicts or overcoming internal tribulations—with others in the course of cultivation. This forms a key element in the community of Falun Dafa practitioners, from the local to the international.
Before and after Mr. Li spoke, practitioners gave what they call experience-sharing talks.
“These sharings are like a mirror; it helps one to reflect on one’s state of mind,” said 39-year-old Gao Chengnu, a Chinese-Korean practitioner.
The first speaker was Levi Browde, a managing partner at a software development company. He spoke about how he overcame shortcomings in his work by making a fundamental change to become a more genuine person.
Olli Törmä, from Finland, said he was very touched by Browde’s speech, in which he found much common ground. “I see that other people are going through the exact same things as me.”
Peter Sanftmann, a longtime practitioner from Bratislava, Slovakia, was inspired by Browde’s sharing.
“I used to feel forced to take shortcuts without regard to whether or not it was virtuous to do so,” he said. “I realized that I can’t take shortcuts and should always consider virtue in my action.”
Sanftmann and his wife, Veronika, have practiced Falun Dafa for over 10 years. Aside from the conference on May 14, they said they were also looking forward to taking part in a parade that would be held in Manhattan the next day.
“This time is very precious,” Veronika said of the conference and the opportunity to take part in activities with thousands of other practitioners. “We shouldn’t waste it.”
Mind and Body
After Falun Dafa was introduced in China, it spread rapidly—by 1999 Chinese state authoritiees estimated 70 million people had taken up the practice. Falun Dafa sources said the number was over 100 million in China.
One of the factors that led to the massive popularity of Falun Dafa was the benefits that practitioners discovered upon taking up the teachings and meditation. Even the Chinese government and Communist Party recognized the positive impact the millions of practitioners were making on society.
George Lee is an engineer from Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China. Though he has practiced Falun Dafa since 1994, it is his first time attending a New York experience sharing conference, which is held annually.
“I had a very serious heart problem and stomach illness. After I began practicing [Falun Dafa], all these illnesses disappeared,” Lee said. “Also, its principles, truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, are good for human beings; these are universal values. If every person believes in this, society will become wonderful.”
Li Hong, a 50-year-old Singapore woman, started practicing in 1995 and has attended four experience sharing conferences in New York.
“It’s a very good cultivation environment where we can learn from practitioners from other countries, to see the differences in our cultivation states and improve. It’s great to hear Master lecture in person, I feel more positive and enthusiastic. As cultivators, we seek to improve continuously,” Li said. “Master” is a respectful title of address for a teacher or instructor in Chinese.
Sao Mai, the pseudonym of a Vietnamese practitioner, was in New York for a Falun Dafa conference for the first time. A financial commission deputy manager in the Vietnamese government, she came with a group of 50 Vietnamese practitioners.
“[Falun Dafa] makes us more benevolent, more kind, compassionate; all the core values of Dafa are great. So, that’s the kind of message I would like to share with people.”
In 1999, the then-head of the Chinese Communist Party Jiang Zemin launched a campaign to eradicate Falun Dafa, which continues to this day. Jiang feared how many people were engaging in an activity independent of the Communist Party and saw in Falun Dafa’s traditional moral teachings a threat to communist ideology.
A sharing by Lan Lihua, a Chinese practitioner living in Finland, centered on her volunteer work to raise awareness about the persecution. She talked about how Chinese tourists gradually opened up to accepting information about Falun Dafa and the 16-year-long repression.
The Vietnamese practitioner Sao Mai noted that while Falun Dafa was not explicitly repressed in her country, the communist regime there still imposes restrictions on it, owing to pressure from the neighboring People’s Republic of China.
“We cannot distribute fliers, we cannot publicly stand and meet with strangers passing by and talk to them about Falun Dafa. So the best way for us in Vietnam is just to have exercise sites, which are allowed. So when people pass by see us doing these gentle and slow exercises, they will show interest and come to us. Then we can talk.”
Twenty-three-year-old Márton Baranyai, from Hungary, is taking part in Ride 2 Freedom, a cycling campaign run largely by teenage practitioners to support the children of Chinese practitioners victimized by the persecution. A practitioner since 2010, this is his third time participating in the New York conference.
“It’s always an honor to be here,” he said.
“This is the first major Falun Dafa event I’ve taken part in,” said Chunjing, a teenager involved with Ride 2 Freedom. “I’m very excited.”
“I hope both Chinese and Westerners can all come to understand what Falun Gong is, that it is good for your heart and mind and also good for your health. It is something impossible to achieve with any medicine,” George Lee, the engineer from mainland China, said.
Larry Ong and Frank Fang contributed to this report.