NEW YORK—It took three days of preparation and more than 5,000 people to make it happen, but the result was a feast for the eyes: a 360-foot, colorful spiritual emblem framed by three characters, representing principles observed by millions of Falun Gong practitioners around the world.
Donning coordinated outfits, Falun Gong practitioners formed a massive version of the spiritual practice’s emblem, known as the “falun,” or “law wheel.” The Chinese characters for truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance—the principles of the practice—were also displayed in yellow.
The formation lit up a grassy field on an already bright spring day on Governors Island, just off of Manhattan, on May 18. The event marked the close of three days of activities celebrating World Falun Dafa Day in New York.
First introduced in China in 1992, Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice that consists of five sets of meditation exercises and a set of teachings centered on personal moral improvement.
Falun Gong, which drew tens of millions of adherents through word of mouth, had become one of the largest spiritual communities in the country by the time the Chinese communist regime deemed it a threat to its totalitarian control and banned the practice in 1999.
The nationwide persecution has led to waves of practitioners being thrown into prisons, labor camps, and brainwashing centers, where many have experienced torture and abuse, and have even died from their injuries.
Honoring a Tradition
The spectacle, known as character formation, is a decades-old tradition that started in China in the 1990s, when Falun Gong practitioners could still freely practice the exercises in public parks across the country.
Since the persecution, overseas practitioners have taken up the torch to keep the tradition alive.
Outside of China, Falun Gong is freely practiced in more than 80 countries.
The first overseas homage appeared in Taipei, Taiwan, in 2000, with giant characters for “truth, compassion, tolerance” and “Falun Dafa” arrayed in the square in front of the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
In New York City, character formation has become an annual custom since 2013, and the number of participants keeps growing every year.
Marking the 27th anniversary of the practice’s introduction to the public, this year’s character formation was the largest staged in the United States.
The event organizers said they wanted to use this visual message to both celebrate the benefits of the practice and commemorate the ongoing persecution, with each Falun Gong practitioner involved representing one particle of a larger international community.
The falun emblem, the symbol of Falun Gong, incorporates the srivatsa symbol from Buddhism and the taiji symbol from Taoist teachings. The emblem bears the five standard colors in Chinese culture—blue, black, white, red, and yellow—each corresponding to the five elements of wood, water, metal, fire, and earth.
“What’s meaningful about the character formation is that the grand setting really shows how wide Dafa has spread, and it’s also a chance to form a sense of community,” event organizer Michael Yu told The Epoch Times.
“The aerial view of the imagery can be so powerful, and it can really bring the message home.”
Living With Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance
Although coming from all parts of the world and speaking different languages, practitioners participating in the event said they felt a sense of togetherness due to their shared aspiration to become better people.
Fabio Cotroneo from Rome found Falun Gong in 2012 after searching for a spiritual practice for most of his life.
“When I read ‘Zhuan Falun,’ I felt all the truth of the universe was inside [the book],” he said.
“For the first time, I felt peace in my heart.”
“Zhuan Falun” is the main text of Falun Gong, which contains moral teachings centered around the tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Cotroneo said applying compassion in his life helped him in his role as a staff manager at a museum.
“My job … is more simple now, because I don’t give orders, but speak to people with heart,” he said.
He said he now tries to listen and understand the people he manages, and to speak to them with kindness, even when they have made mistakes.
“The people that work with me always say to me that they are serene, they are peaceful when … [they are] in [my] office, and they can speak with me,” Cotroneo said.
For Joseph Gigliotti, a chiropractor from Ontario, Canada, the practice has helped him form a deeper bond with his family by teaching him to take a step back in conflicts and stand in others’ shoes.
“My family always has to be right, so for me, the hardest part was not fighting back, to have patience and say, ‘Hey, maybe they are right, too,’” he said.
Gigliotti said he used to get upset at his older brother, who always pointed out his faults. But the word “tolerance” reminded him to see the situation differently.
“[My brother is] doing it because he wants me to succeed, even if he didn’t say it in a nice way. At the end of the day, if you can see how people care about you, that’s what matters,” Gigliotti said.
Myriam Orso, a public servant based in Geneva, Switzerland, started practicing Falun Gong 16 years ago. She said reading “Zhuan Falun” revealed to her the meaning of life.
“For everything, I try to first think of these three principles before doing something,” Orso said.
Orso said that these values help her to keep calm and maintain kindness even when the other party is angry or hostile, and in doing so, she’s found that the other person also cools down and begins to work with her to resolve the issues.
She also recently realized that tolerance included having the power to forgive others.
“[There are people] I have not forgiven … for something they did in the past,” Orso said.
But applying the principles made Orso see that those things that happened to her were not all bad, and allowed her to let go of her anger toward those people.
“I feel free. Very quiet and free,” Orso said.
Cathy He contributed to this report.