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A meditation for health, and beyond...
Jingduan Yang, MD and John Nania
The art of self-healing and longevity-extension has long been a tradition and treasure in Eastern culture. During the early morning hours in China’s city parks nationwide, one can find middle-aged and elderly people performing various types of exercises based on ancient wisdom. Among these, Falun Dafa, also called Falun Gong, has moved well beyond the elderly Chinese community and has been embraced by the young and vigorous of all races. It has attracted approximately 100 million people in more than 40 countries in nine years. Because of the practice’s explosive rate of growth and popularity, the Chinese totalitarian regime banned it in 1999, which made people even more curious about this practice. This article outlines some unique characteristics of Falun Dafa and explores, from different perspectives and paradigms, the health benefits and anti-aging effects that its practitioners (people who practice Falun Dafa) experience.
Falun Dafa (pronounced “fah-loon dah-fah”) was first taught publicly in 1992 by Mr. Li Hongzhi. Li traveled throughout China presenting ten-day workshops that included lecturing for one and one-half to two hours each day, plus teaching Falun Dafa’s five exercises. He introduced it under the label of qigong, but clarified that Falun Dafa is best understood as a comprehensive self-cultivation practice with ancient roots.
True cultivation practices do aim to improve physical health and vitality, but their overall goal reaches beyond: Transform the whole person, physically, mentally, and spiritually. A genuine cultivation practice is always firmly rooted in ancient culture and passed down from prehistoric times, unadulterated. Falun Dafa meets this criterion, having been carefully passed down in lineage fashion from teacher to disciple for thousands of years.
Falun Dafa understands that three principles form the basis of human living and the universe. The three principles contained in the words Zhen-Shan-Ren translate into Truthfulness-Benevolence-Forbearance or Truth-Compassion-Tolerance. The task of a Falun Dafa practitioner is to act according to these principles at all times.
As a complete system of mind/body cultivation practice, Falun Dafa does indeed include gentle physical exercises and meditation, but the key to this cultivation is for the individual to improve his or her xinxing (mind-nature or moral character) in order to maximally assimilate to Truth-Compassion-Tolerance. Zhuan Falun, the main text of Falun Dafa, defines xinxing thus: “It includes virtue (a type of matter), tolerance, enlightenment quality, making sacrifices, giving up ordinary people’s different desires and attachments, being able to suffer hardships, and so on. It encompasses various things. Every aspect of xinxing must be improved for you to make real progress. This is a crucial factor in raising energy potency...Once you improve your xinxing, your body will undergo a great change. Upon xinxing improvement, the matter in your body is guaranteed to transform.”
One key aspect of cultivating one’s xinxing is the giving up of mental attachments. Mr. Li writes, “To tell you the truth, the entire cultivation process for a practitioner is one of constantly giving up human attachments.” Attachments can be thought of as not only the thought patterns behind such obviously problematic behavior as substance addictions, but also other compulsions and desires that can dominate or distort a person’s thinking. Another aspect is examining oneself to see ways to better conform to Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance. This self-examination enables a person to naturally give up addictions, desires, and selfish emotions. Force is not involved, but comprehension of the principles increases awareness and causes gradual change. The text Zhuan Falun provides instructions and examples that serve as a guide. One learns how to cultivate by reading the book. Cultivation of xinxing is primary; exercises and meditation are essential, but supplementary. Falun Gong has four standing exercises with gentle, slow movements. In one, Falun Standing Stance, the arms are held motionless for several minutes while in wheel-shaped positions. In the three others, the hands trace along the paths of the body’s energy mechanisms, or patterns of external energy flow. While the exercises stretch and strengthen the body according to Western paradigms, a deeper purpose of these exercises is to reinforce these unseen energy mechanisms.
The fifth exercise, a seated meditation, involves initial hand movements, followed by tranquil sitting. In all of the Falun Dafa exercises the mind remains aware (i.e, not in trance state), but empty of thoughts and clear. In no exercises do practitioners use special techniques, such as guided imagery or breathing.
Participants range in age from young children to the elderly. While participants come from all walks of life, a large number are medical doctors, PhD scientists, or technical professionals.
Falun Dafa’s emphasis on cultivating xinxing means that newcomers can be in any physical condition, even those who are paralyzed or who have had limb amputations. Participants must absorb the principles of the practice, but those who are illiterate or have reading disabilities can study them via audio-visual media.
Because Falun Dafa cultivates both mind and body, practitioners must remain in full control of their consciousness and free of strong mental attachments to any illness. People with psychosis or in a critical or terminal stage of physical illness are not able to practice.
If an individual can cultivate according to the principles—focusing on xinxing and setting aside physical complaints—significant or even dramatic improvements are apt to emerge. Anecdotes of rapid and extensive changes abound.
As one example, Connie Chipkar, 60, has practiced Falun Dafa for three years. She reported her experiences at the 2000 Great Lakes Falun Dafa Conference. Of the benefits to her health, she said, “I am living proof of cultivation ‘side effects,’ which I would call miracles. I came to Falun Dafa an aging 57 years old and was exhausted with living. I needed an afternoon nap every day. While I have added three years to my age, I have become younger looking, my wrinkles have almost disappeared and my energy is continually growing. I need less sleep than previously and I'm feeling better, stronger, more clear-minded and healthier than I ever have.”
Similar reports of dramatic improvement in health and vitality are common. Some positive effects often reported include peaceful and clearer mental states, stress relief, improved interpersonal relationships, increased self-confidence, release from addictions, increased energy, decreased need for medication, resolved infertility, younger appearance, and disappearing signs and symptoms of chronic illness, among others.
In China, several large-scale surveys were conducted in major cities to help the Chinese government evaluate the practice. In 1998, one survey was conducted at more than 200 exercise practice sites in five Beijing districts. More than 12,700 completed questionnaires were analyzed. The majority of respondents (67.5%) were more than 50 years old and 30.8% were 20 to 49 years old. About half of the respondents (52.6%) had practiced Falun Dafa for 1 to 3 years, and 49.8% reported three types of illness. Only 6.6% reported being healthy prior to taking up the practice. At the time of the survey, 58.5% reported full recovery, 24.9% reported basic recovery, and 15.7% partial recovery. Those who reported feeling energetic increased from 3.5% to 55.3% after taking up the practice, and 80.3% reported significant improvement in overall mental health. It is estimated each practitioner saved the state up to 3,270 Yuan (equivalent to 10 months’ income for the average Chinese at that time) in medical expenses per person per year. This and similar investigations prompted one official from China’s National Sports Commission to proclaim that practicing Falun Dafa “can save each person 1,000 Yuan in annual medical fees. If 100 million people are practicing it, that’s 100 billion Yuan saved per year in medical fees” (US News & World Report, 2/22/99).
U.S.-based researchers in basic sciences have begun to show interest in studying Falun Dafa. Dr. Lili Feng, professor of immunology and molecular biology at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, examined the life span and function of white blood cells, neutrophils in particular. Her preliminary results showed that the in-vitro life span of neutrophils from Falun Dafa practitioners was 30 times longer than that of control groups and they also functioned better.
Dr. Guohua Liu, a biophysicist from UC Davis, reports that the contraction force of cultured cardiac cells was increased to 175% after several minutes’ exposure to the energy field generated by Falun Dafa practitioners while they were practicing the exercises.
While these surveys and studies strongly indicate the existence of the health and anti-aging effects, they shed no light on the mechanism at work.
How do we understand these positive health effects and the underlying mechanism of Falun Dafa practice? From the modern Western medical perspective, we can appreciate that elimination of stress and unhealthful lifestyles and habits would reduce the incidence and severity of serious medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, hypertension, substance-related illnesses and sexually transmitted diseases. But we aren’t able to fully understand why this is so, nor can we identify the mechanism.
From the traditional Chinese medical (TCM) perspective, we are able to understand a little bit more about the mechanism. First, emotional stress is the fundamental cause of health problems; it makes the body vulnerable to external pathogens. In Falun Dafa, cultivating xinxing and practicing Truth-Compassion-Tolerance help people to have happy and peaceful minds, which eliminates the primary causes of illness.
Second, TCM holds that qi is a living energetic force, and its sufficient, smooth, and properly directed flow is the key to health. Third, in the view of TCM, blockage of energy channels, also called meridians, is the direct cause of pain, tumors, and many other health conditions. To keep meridians open through such means as acupuncture, massage, or tai chi is the essential element of successful TCM treatment.
Falun Dafa exercises address the second and third points by
TCM holds that qi is bound to diminish as aging occurs, therefore dysfunction happens. But how can this process be slowed, stopped, or even reversed? And how can blockages be eliminated? In answer to the Yellow Emperor’s question about the secrets of longevity, his wise minister Qi Bo replied that the key is to have a “clean heart and few desires.” However modern TCM explains little about why this is so and how to achieve a “clean heart and few desires.”
Western analysts require a paradigm shift to comprehend TCM. Similarly, to understand the effects of Falun Dafa, one must approach it from a new perspective and understand it from within its own paradigm. The forms of energy and the substances involved in Falun Dafa are deeper; they are composed of smaller particles than the energy and substances recognized in the Western and TCM paradigms.
Typical qigong practices increase and purify qi. Falun Dafa, meanwhile, works on a different type of energy: gong, or “cultivation energy.” Qi is ubiquitous and is found in all living things. People have qi, but over the course of an individual’s life it inevitably diminishes with aging. Gong, in contrast, is developed only in the bodies of those who practice xinxing cultivation. The higher one’s xinxing, the greater the quantity and the density of one’s gong.
Practitioners who cultivate their xinxing are actually changing the energy and substances in the body. Over time, as xinxing is cultivated, gong continues to increase regardless of chronological age. Gong is the energy that exerts powerful anti-aging effects and repairs the dysfunction of cells and tissues in the body. To clarify: It is not the five exercises, but the cultivation of xinxing that increases and refines gong. Only xinxing cultivation can achieve the state of “a clean heart and few desires.”
Different paradigms involve different approaches, different modes of thinking and different lexicons. To understand Falun Dafa’s paradigm from within the paradigm, healthcare practitioners are strongly advised to read one or more of the Falun Dafa books in their entirety. The introductory book is Falun Gong. The complete system is in Zhuan Falun, which is a self-edited transcript of the actual workshop lectures that Li Hongzhi gave in China in the early ‘90s. The optimal method is to read either of these books steadily and daily straight through until the end. Reading isolated sections, stopping to re-read passages, or pausing a few days to digest the contents will disrupt the continuity of the book and drastically diminish or eliminate your chances of comprehending this paradigm. Do not expect to understand everything the first time through, but do read straight through with an open mind – this is the only way to give the new paradigm a fair chance.
An integral component of this paradigm is its method of dissemination. All the books and audiovisual materials needed to learn Falun Dafa are available for purchase, but they are also available for free on the Internet. Experienced practitioners willingly help beginners with the exercises and answer questions. The principles of Falun Dafa require that practitioners may not accept a fee or compensation in any form for assisting others in learning the practice.
Falun Dafa is a practice of self-cultivation; cultivating xinxing is primary, and it stands to reason that one could not improve the xinxing of another person by external means. It must be a self-motivated, individual, and free practice. Practitioners search within themselves, but also gather in groups to verbally share their experiences, insights, and understandings of the writings. Locations of regular exercise and study groups, with contact information, can be found on the Internet.
John Nania is a writer and technology consultant based in Minneapolis. He has presented numerous workshops and speeches at universities, schools, and community organizations on the practice of Falun Dafa and on the unfortunate persecution campaign against Falun Dafa in China. He has practiced Falun Dafa since April 1999. E-mail him at JohnNania@aol.com.
For more information on Falun Dafa, visit http://www.falundafa.org and www.faluninfo.net.
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