Any attempt to synthesize or summarize a body of teachings as vast and nuanced as those of Falun Gong is bound to come up short. Nor could it begin to account for the varied, and rich, interpretations of those teachings in the lives of its adherents.
For this reason readers are referred to the website www.falundafa.org, where books containing the teachings of Falun Gong proper, namely Falun Gong and Zhuan Falun, can be read online or downloaded. Readers are also encouraged to explore the Living Falun Gong section of this website.
However, with that caveat in mind, it is possible to give a general sense for the prominent features of Falun Gong’s teachings and beliefs.
The practice is based on the premise that the universe, or its spirit, is fundamentally good. Its most basic elements, or qualities, are summarized as zhen shan ren, which roughly translate as trueness, goodness, and forbearance. The properties are said to inhere in all matter and life. As such, the Falun Gong universe is a moral one—shaped and undergirded thus by certain indelible virtues.
Offered in this worldview is the possibility of profound personal transformation. Through the study of Falun Gong’s teachings, or fa, their application in one’s life, and the practice of Falun Gong’s physical discipline, the individual can progress to a state of ever greater self-realization and awakening that reflects his or her degree of attunement to zhen shan ren.
Central to this process is a belief that misfortune, suffering, and adversity—among other negative phenomena—are the result of karma in the life of the individual. Karma, in this view, is understood to be a material substance. Its presence can be, and must be, reduced and ultimately displaced altogether through one’s practice. With this comes a condition of physical purity otherwise unavailable to the average person.
A corollary of karma is thought to be attachments, a sort of mental defilement that burdens the mind and insulates and/or alienates one, as does karma, from the deeper qualities of the cosmos. Attachments are removed through a process of self-cultivation in Falun Gong; the adherent develops, in light of the teachings, an ever-greater self-awareness that allows for discernment between what are his or her true and pure thoughts and those that are instead attachments, notions, or problematic desires. Thus one ceases to produce karma as before, as such, and gradually reduces its presence from before in the body.
One hallmark of this process specific to Falun Gong is the importance granted to “looking within.” The individual is called to look inside him or herself when met with adversity or conflict, peering into the recesses of the mind for impure motivations, attachments, etc. that might be the underlying source of what is externally manifested. In more familiar terms, you learn not to blame others. The universe, insofar as its workings mirror our own inner state, is ultimately a just and ordered place.
If the universe is ordered, it is not the product of entropy or happenstance in the Falun Gong view. Rather, the existence of higher, beneficent life forms is basic to its teachings, and it is their presence and workings that are believed to inform and shape the world around us.
The body itself, in keeping with traditional Chinese thought, is understood to be a receptacle of subtle energies. Such energies, when harnessed or refined, can be stored on a cellular level and utilized under certain, specific circumstances. Physical change, as in the case of the body, is predicated upon or moral and cognitive change. Without an elevation of the latter, the former is necessarily limited. If ordinarily “you are what you eat,” in the psycho-physical realm of self-cultivation, you are what you think.
Evil is very much a presence, or possibility, in this cosmology. If there is good in the universe, so too is their its opposite, evil.
Ultimately the Falun Gong universe might be described as one that is remarkably coherent, if not intelligible, and all the while ripe with the promise and potential of personal transformation.