NEW YORK—What was an anomaly near the UN on Friday morning used to be a daily occurrence throughout China in the mid-90s.
Hundreds of people lined up in neat rows, a sea of peaceful faces with eyes closed—meditating.
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 1st Ave. was filled with people who had traveled from all corners of the word to celebrate 20 years of Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) as part of a weekend-long observance of World Falun Dafa Day.
“[Falun Gong] is…the greatest single spiritual movement in Asia today. There is nothing that begins to compare with it in courage and importance,” Mark Palmer, former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and board member of Freedom House, said a decade ago.
Exactly 20 years ago on Sunday, Mr. Li Hongzhi taught his first public class of Falun Dafa in a schoolhouse in Changchun, northeastern China—introducing a practice with roots extending back thousands of years, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center (FDIC). By early 1999, there were 100 million people practicing Falun Dafa in China alone.
The rest of the world has been catching on, too—Falun Dafa is practiced in over 70 countries around the world, according to the FDIC. Outside the UN practitioners from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, and Asia could easily be found, alongside practitioners from the United States and Canada.
Practitioners of Falun Dafa seek to live by the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. The practice consists of doing five meditative exercises, studying the teachings of Falun Dafa—the main text is “Zhuan Falun,” and applying those teachings to everyday life.
“Although Falun Gong is part of an ancient tradition, tens of millions around the world have found it to be ideal for the modern day,” says Erping Zhang, spokesperson for the FDIC. “In Falun Gong, we have not only found a practice from the Buddha School that brings health, serenity, and wisdom to our lives, but even more so, we have found a way to return to our original, true selves…to get back in touch with our kind, divine side.”
For Mr. Bill Xie, a 42-year old photographer from mainland China who was granted asylum by the United States, being at the plaza in New York on Friday was significant. Xie said Falun Gong has brought him a lot of good things, most notably, “Health in my mind and my soul, and the purification of my body.”
Xie said he took up the practice in 1995 when he was 25. His whole family began to practice, and all benefited—including his father who suffered from chronic illness. China was a very different place to live in during that time, he said. “A lot of bad people became good people—many, many.”
After the persecution began in 1999, China changed, Xie said. Like many others, his twin brother was arrested and tortured by the regime in its endeavor to get practitioners to renounce the practice. His brother was imprisoned for 8 years and, on his release, managed to escape to Thailand, where he now waits for final approval so he can be united with his brother in the United States.