Saturday, June 04, 2016

I'll be skipping the Portland Buddhist Festival this year...

Last year I showed up and Falun DaFa was there.  They're there again this year.  I brought this up to the BPF organizer, Heidi, and received some not too kind vitriol in response; something about me not being inclusive or something or other.

I hate to say it but it's times like that which cause me to wonder how so much anti-Chinese weirdness has infected the American psyche.  There's a lot to have against the Chinese government these days, which, among other things means there's a lot to have against the Chinese Communist Party these days.  Like any government party,  made of human beings, they need to acknowledge wrongdoing and change some of their ways.

But the Western  largely-European-descended liberal Buddhist community comprising Boomers, Gen Xers and (to a lesser extent) Millennials seems blind to the issues with some of the PRC's critics.  I've written quite a few times on the Dalai Lama, and frankly, compared to Falun DaFa, the Dalai Lama is the Dalai Lama of said liberal Buddhists.  So I want to take this opportunity, in the spirit of inclusion, to include in the narrative of Falun DaFa that will be presented today some of the other stuff about Falun DaFa.

But, first, I have to get this out of the way: I understand it's a Buddhist festival.  Buddhism is a religion.  So while I have no major beef with the followers of Thich Nhat Hanh (and they have their own issues with the government of Vietnam, naturally), nor do I have any major beefs with the Unitarian Universalist Church,  I do wonder about a group that claims to practice "Mindfulness in a non-religious manner," especially since the eventual place Mindfulness winds up is nothing but religious.  Like I said, I've no major beef with the Vietnamese Zen folks or the UU folks; it's just that it seems "Mindfulness in a non-religious manner" sounds suspiciously like "spiritual not religious," which has been deconstructed by many better than me.

But back to Falun DaFa.  First of all,  I notice that in all the participating Buddhist groups, there are no mainstream Chinese groups participating at all. This is not for lack of the existence of Chinese temples in the area; in fact there are quite a few Chinese temples in the area. For example, not far away is 妙法禪寺 - "Excellent Way Cha'n Temple."  I would hope the  organizers of the Portland Buddhist Festival continue in their efforts to reach out to the Chinese community of Portland.  They might begin to understand that many in the Chinese community view Falun DaFa in the same way that many view Scientology, or Frederick Lenz's cult (the latter which led to the formation of the "Portland Buddhist Festival" as distinct from "Change Your Mind Day.")

Secondly, it's easy to find a lot of websites if you google "Falun DaFa ex-Members."  Some might be put up by the Chinese government, but many are undeniably not, and are either politically neutral or not sympathetic to the Chinese government.  Here's one example:

Over the year, I immersed myself in Falun Gong material – Li’s speeches, videos, books, nd Falun Gong publications. Li’s coercive and inflated style (which Dean Peerman describes as “gaseous-cosmic” [2004, p. 30]) contrasted with the polite and humble nature of the participants. More significantly, Li’s speeches repeatedly contradicted both what Falun Gong members were telling me and what they were telling the media. I had hoped that my research would help Falun Gong, but I became increasingly aware that this would be unlikely.  
…The Western media get most of their information about Falun Gong from press releases disseminated by the Rachlin media group. This group is essentially a Public Relations firm for Falun Gong, managed by Gail Rachlin, who is one of Li’s inner circle.Journalists also get their stories from interviewing participants. However, Li forbids practitioners from talking about what he calls “high level things” to ordinary people, and instructs them to lie to those uninterested in spiritual matters (“tell them that we’re justdoing exercises” [Li, 2002, p. 21]). Therefore spokespeople tend to be evasive about their beliefs, and resort to formulaic principles and repetitions of their slogan ‘truthfulness, compassion, forbearance’. Moreover, Li sets the terms of the debate by directing members to get sympathy by telling listeners about the persecution, with the hidden intention of later turning them into converts (Li cited in Rahn, 2005; see also Li, 2002, 2003a). Members do not see this strategy as deceptive: a Falun Gong spokesperson told me that by focusing on the persecution and not pushing their religion or leader, members were being inoffensive. 
Generally, practitioners do not know if the information in the media is accurate. They themselves get most of their information from reading press releases, and usually if I asked them if something was true they replied, “Yes – I read it in the newspaper”. FalunGong also have their own media (Li, 2005b), and are heavily involved in the  Epoch Times, a free newspaper that is most well known for its polemic  Nine commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party , which Li promotes (Li, 2005c)
As practitioners do not teach Falun Gong beliefs, I found more information from Li’sbooks and speeches. Copies are available on the Internet, but they are not necessarily thesame as the originals. For example, disciples removed a chapter of Li’s improbableautobiographical claims of supernatural exploits from  Zhuan Falun, as well as from theInternet (see Penny, 2003 for a discussion on the content). They also removed Englishtranslations of   Zhuan Falun 11 , a book in which Li makes several scientific slip-ups(such as mistaking a light year for a measurement of time) and offends potentialsupporters by condemning homosexuality and Buddhism. Curiously, when I asked aresearch assistant to translate parts of   Zhuan Falun 11 for me, his car was broken intoafter he left my office, and my instructions on what to translate were stolen. Although Iam sure this event was a coincidence, it helped me to appreciate the wariness Falun Gong and the Chinese government have of each other. 

Further, as Deng and Fang (2000) observe, English translations of Li’s speeches have a
less strident tone, they sometimes differ from the original Chinese in critical parts, and the most anti-gay, racist and anti-human scriptures have never been translated into
English. Also, Li has instructed followers to destroy any unauthorised versions of his
speeches (1998b). While these sources shed some light on Falun Gong beliefs, an equally critical issue in relation to Falun Gong is the torture and persecution of members. The press often quote Amnesty International, but Amnesty’s reports are not independently verified, and mainly come from Falun Gong sources (for example, Amnesty, 2000). 
The Hong Kong Centre for Human Rights is the only independent source of information, although the Centre is actually not an organisation, but one man – Lu Si Qing. However, statistics of arrests from both Amnesty and the Hong Kong Centre are often much higher than those reported by Western journalists who were present in China when the arrests were made (Rahn, 2000), which suggests that other information may be similarly exaggerated.

This is pretty fair and balanced, and comes from someone who took the trouble to spend time with members.  I suggest the organizers of the Portland Buddhist Festival look further into Falun DaFa, and in particular seek out Chinese Buddhists from Chinese Buddhist temples to get their viewpoint on this group.

I first heard Falun DaFa probably 20 years ago, when my future wife and I joined by a Professor of Chinese from Portland State University, Wu Qianzhi, at an event at PSU where Falun DaFa members spoke.   What he said in translating what they were saying pretty much did have "cult of Li Hongzhi" written all over it. 

Like the Lenz cult, I can't say that what Li is propagating has much at all to do with the 4 Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, or anything like that.