NEW YORK—Murder, live organ harvesting, torture, and forced labor—such words fail to convey the depth of the harrowing persecution endured by followers of the spiritual practice of Falun Gong in China over the last 20 years.
A parade was held in Flushing, New York on April 20 to commemorate the first time Falun Gong practitioners peacefully appealed for their right to practice two decades ago on April 25 outside Zhongnanhai, the once royal garden complex in Beijing now used as the central headquarters of the Chinese Communist Regime.
Since that day, the practice has spread outside of China and around the world, with practitioners of all ethnicities and backgrounds participating in annual events like this one, to show their support and raise awareness of the atrocious human rights abuses still being committed in China today.
Olli Törmä, an IT consultant originally from Finland, shared his story and his feelings on participating in the parade.
“It’s important that people understand that Falun Gong practitioners are still active and that the persecution is still going on, and that’s really the main reason for me to attend these kinds of events,” said Törmä.
Törmä said he never felt comfortable assuming the role of a missionary, and for him parades are not about telling people they should join the group or adopt his beliefs.
“It’s much more about making people understand that Falun Gong practitioners are still struggling against what’s going on in China and just raising awareness of all that,” he said.
Reasons for practicing varied among the westerners in attendance, but all said the practice was beneficial for both the mind and body.
“I think that I underwent a pretty big transformation when I started practicing,” said Törmä.
Törmä said he used to be very cynical, and practicing Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, changed his personality overall for the better, giving him a deep appreciation for tradition and spirituality in ways he never thought possible. It also helped him overcome bad habits over time like substance abuse and heavy drinking, giving him a feeling of lightness and renewed energy.
Mind and Body
Along with the teachings laid out in the Falun Dafa books, the practice also involves five slow moving meditation exercises.
“I only had to do them a couple of times and I started noticing a lot of benefits from them,” said Törmä. “And to me it was kind of undeniable after awhile that there was something a lot more to it than at first appeared.”
“It’s based on truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance,” said Babak Baniasadi, a chef. “And the basic idea is that if I’m a good person throughout my day and I want to sit and meditate in the evening, to actually get the benefits and get the energy circulating, that’s the only way it actually works, so it’s a mind and body practice.”
Baniasadi said for him the event is meant to share and inform people about Falun Dafa, how beautiful and wonderful it is, but also to clear up misconceptions in the Chinese community.
“The Chinese Communist Party has done a lot of propaganda demonizing Falun Gong for their own selfish reasons and we’re here to clear up some of those misconceptions, and let people know we’re good people,” said Baniasadi.
Filmmaker Mathias Magnason said he always had an interest in Asian culture, martial arts, acupuncture, and Taoism, and he feels this essence inside the practice.
“I thought this has to be something incredibly good because of the values,” said Magnason. “I actually didn’t read the book on Falun Dafa, Zhuan Falun until like a year into the practice, and then I really liked it, and I wanted to continue cultivating.”
Magnason said he gradually experienced remarkable health benefits after practicing and that it helped him improve his profession.
“I’m just here to support people finding out what Falun Gong is, and getting rid of more misinformation,” said Magnason.
Clarifying the Facts
Writer and food blogger Andrea Hayley-Sankaran said she first found the practice outside a vegetarian restaurant from a handwritten sign that offered the teaching for free.
“When I did the exercises that was when I knew it was something very special and profound,” said Hayley-Sankaran. “It felt very different from other exercises that I had done, very good.”
On April 25, 1999 Falun Gong practitioners gathered to petition the Chinese Communist Regime for legal status and have them stop harassing its adherents, after riot police beat and arrested 45 practitioners in Tianjin.
When around 10,000 practitioners arrived in Beijing to appeal, police there directed practitioners away from the appeals office across the street to Zhongnanhai, encircling the regime headquarters.
The tactic was used to falsely accuse the crowd of besieging the headquarters and validate the persecution campaign that soon followed.
“That appeal was one of the most peaceful appeals in China,” said Hayley-Sankaran. “It was entirely peaceful, but it was mischaracterized around the world, and so today we’re here to remind everyone of that peaceful appeal, and that Falun gong practitioners should have the right to practice. Unfortunately today in China they still don’t.”
Fashion model Pooja Mor said the practice has helped her get grounded and brought her life a lot of peace. Wishing others the same, she recommends the practice to anyone searching for meditation.
Mor also spoke of the importance of events like the parade for letting others know about live organ harvesting in China and other human rights abuses.
“It means for me a lot to be here and stand for, and spread the word,” said Mor.