LOS ANGELES—One of the largest international gatherings of practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline was held in the Los Angeles Convention Center on Oct. 16, drawing roughly 4,000 adherents from around the world. The morning session featured the appearance of Mr. Li Hongzhi, the founder of the discipline.
Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is a self-cultivation practice from China, where it was first publicly taught in 1992 and then rapidly became popular throughout the 1990s. Adherence to the practice consists of living by the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, and performing the five exercises, one of which is a meditation exercise.
Mr. Li often speaks to practitioners at these large-scale conferences, which are typically held annually on the East and West coasts of the United States. On Friday Mr. Li encouraged practitioners to do better in their cultivation, and to continue making efforts to expose the brutal persecution waged by the Chinese Communist Party against the practice in China.
Joey Gigliotti, a 23-year-old student from Canada who began practicing a year ago, said, Falun Gong was something he’d looked for his whole life.
“It’s a way to be a good person,” Gigliotti said. “Once I found it, it was clear to me that this was what I needed.”
Peter Lin, a 15-year-old from Fort McMurray, an oil town in Alberta, Canada, attended the conference with his father. He said he was excited to see Mr. Li speak, and that it made him want to live more diligently by Falun Gong’s moral principles.
Andrei Aioanei, a Falun Gong practitioner from Rome, said he learned a lot, both from Mr. Li’s lecture and the experiences that were shared by his fellow practitioners. “What Master said made me reflect a lot,” he said, using a common term of address for teachers in Chinese spiritual traditions.
“When Master speaks it’s very powerful. I’m all ears. I feel the urgency to do better,” he added.
Aioanei said he benefitted from hearing his peers discuss how they lived by the principles and standards for thought and conduct that Falun Gong practitioners aspire to. Hearing them speak, he said, helped him compare his own conduct with theirs and improve himself.
The experience sharing reports from his fellow practitioners also helped Alexander Nimenko, from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, upgrade his understanding.
“I can see my own gaps, and I can see how people improve themselves, and I can see the difference and improve myself.”
This improvement, Nimenko said, could be elevating understanding of different issues, being more compassionate in one situation, or more tolerant in another situation, as examples.
“It was excellent. I’m full of energy, and saw many friends, and found new friends in cultivation, which helps us to be more diligent.”
Nimenko travelled across thousands of miles and two continents with his wife Armina to attend the conference, but he says the event was definitely worth the long trip.
Jay Brauneisen came to the conference with his wife Lu Hongyan from Edmonton, Canada. A few themes stood out for him from the experience sharing reports.
“What was emphasized for me today was to be diligent and the importance of righteous thoughts in how practitioners go about doing things,” he said.
Also equally important, he said, was the point about always looking internally rather than externally when encountering problems.
“People talked about their own attachments in terms of their ego, their showing off mentality, or other things that get in their way of their relationship with other people,” he cited as examples from the reports. In all cases, the cultivators were able to resolve the issues by looking internally.
Resisting Persecution in China
Present at the conference were many practitioners who had made the trip from mainland China. Using pseudonyms to protect their identities, they told Epoch Times about the communist persecution while noting the freedom of expression and belief enjoyed in the free world.
Facing the danger of arrest, torture, or even murder, millions of Falun Gong practitioners in China take part in what is known as “clarifying the truth,” or raising awareness about Falun Gong and the persecution against it.
Shen Chen, a 25-year-old student of business from Harbin in northeastern China, became a practitioner as a child in the mid-1990s. After 16 years of living through the persecution, Shen said that in recent years, the repression had weakened due to the political infighting in the Communist Party.
Another northeasterner, Lily, said that great changes have taken place in China as millions of people have renounced their ties to the Communist Party and its affiliated youth organizations.
“Now there are many people who use their real names to quit the Party,” said Lily. “Other practitioners and I clarify the truth at a tourist site and even the police, who have quit the Party, do not interfere with us.”
“I hope people in in the west can learn about the truth and practice Falun Gong,” said Lily, who added how she achieved better health by practicing Falun Gong.
Jiang Lizhi, a 24-year-old clothing designer from Beijing, became a practitioner in 2013 and has never encountered direct persecution, but her father, who first began practicing in 1993, was forced to give up Falun Gong after torture in a brainwashing center.
“You enjoy such freedom, this is something that mainland Chinese have sought for years,” Jiang said of people in the United States. “Learn more about the persecution and treasure the freedom that you have.”
The environment in China has improved, Jiang says, but arrests still take place. In September, she filed a legal complaint with the Chinese judiciary against Jiang Zemin (no relation), the former Communist Party head who launched the persecution against Falun Gong and set the policies that have kept it in place to this day.
Lu Hongyan, wife of Jay Brauneisen, says many of those responsible for the persecution in China are already meeting with retribution, referring to the high-ranking officials who played major roles in carrying out the anti-Falun Gong campaign but are now being purged in the Communist Party’s anti-corruption movement.
“The persecution will end soon, and the CCP will end soon,” Lu said. “I think we are seeing that now.”
“Falun Gong will be rehabilitated,” Jiang Lizhi said. “Jiang Zemin will be put on trial, and Chinese people will learn the truth.”
Raising Awareness Around the World
Marton Baranyai, a Falun Gong practitioner from Hungary, spoke about the ups and downs he experienced while directing the Ride2Freedom cycling campaign, in which a group of teenagers biked from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in order to try to rescue children left orphaned by the 16-year-long persecution in China. They ran into a range of issues that were solved by explaining to police and park officials the purpose of their bike ride and the practice of Falun Gong they shared.
“It’s very important for Dafa practitioners to understand the importance of clarifying the truth,” said Maru Ruano, a practitioner of Mexican descent who works as an insurance agent. “It’s very important for us to look inside and improve our hearts.”
Ruano also commented that while Falun Gong is rooted in traditional Chinese culture, that culture is in fact something that can be shared by people of all races and nations in the search for identity and cultural enrichment.
“With Falun Dafa we are trying to recover this, recover the values, to recover the culture, the traditional Chinese culture,” Ruano said. “It belongs to all of humanity. Because in the past the Chinese culture they give a lot of importance to improving these values from the inside, and they are purifying themselves.”
With additional reporting by Cindy Drukier, Frank Fang, Omid Ghoreishi, and Jonathan Zhou.