Ancient Chinese religion snubs Falun Gong


Reuters, November 15, 1999
By Nailene Chou Wiest

GUIXI, China, Nov 15, 1999 (Reuters) - The outlawed Falun Gong traces its roots to ancient Taoist doctrines but if you ask the priests at one of the holiest Taoist sites, the spiritual movement has borrowed a bit too loosely.

"Falun Gong purloins some of our terms," said Ni Aixin, a young Taoist priest at the Supreme Purity Palace nestled in the hills of central China.

"It has nothing to do with Taoism," said the priest, clad in a blue robe as he ambled around the vast temple compound.

Falun Gong has been officially branded an "evil cult" and the well-oiled propaganda machine of the ruling Communist Party has been put into high gear to attack the movement.

More than 100 of its leaders have been arrested and four of them have been jailed for up to 12 years.

Falun Gong followers, like Taoists, practice qigong, or the art of breathing and slow motion exercises believed to strengthen and heal.

But Chen Yaoting, a scholar of Taoist canons at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said Falun Gong's vision of a world that would end was fundamentally at odds with Taoism.

"Taoists want to live a happy and healthy life in this world forever," he said. "They seek immortality."

A Thoroughly Indigenous Chinese Religion

Meticulously laid out according to the Taoist cosmology and fraught with symbolism, the vast temple compound was once the ducal palace of the Heavenly Teacher, the "pope" of Taoism, who traced his lineage back to the religion's founder Zhang Daoling in the second century A.D.

Since its opening to the public in 1983, a few years after economic reforms began, the temple has received more than three million visitors and attracted generous benefactors from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

"Wherever there is a Chinese community, you find Taoism," Ni said. "Taoism is a thoroughly indigenous Chinese religion."

Taoists follow the Way (Tao), the source of all being, to lead a completely spontaneous life, free of strife.

While philosophical Taoism, traceable to Lao Tzu in the 6th century, B.C., seeks to attain the ideal through simplicity and enlightenment, religious Taoism searches for immortality through divination, breathing exercises, alchemy and other magic.

The Taoist religion has a very loose structure and no reliable estimates of believers can be made, because many Taoists do not go to the temple, and those who do are not all Taoists, according to the Association of Taoists in Beijing.

Unofficial estimates put Taoist believers at 100 million, which Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong, claims to be also the size of his following.

The Taoist Heavenly Teacher has no bureaucratic control over the 25,000 registered Taoist priests in China and is not looked upon as an arbiter of morals, an Association official said.

Happy Bedfellow Of The State

Throughout Chinese history, the Taoist religion has received imperial patronage and the "Heavenly Teacher" has had the hereditary title of grand duke since the 13th century.

The 63rd, and the last, Heavenly Teacher died in Taiwan in 1963, and his grandson Zhang Jintao now presides over the sprawling five-hectare (12.35-acre) compound as the unofficial "pope."

The Supreme Purity Palace is thickly populated with deities drawn from folk legends, historical personas and figures representing various professions.

A separate hall is dedicated to the god of wealth, whose popularity in the market economy has eclipsed that of the goddess of fertility in a country where one-child policy is the law.

Ni said people came to pray for health and wealth, peace for the family and the country.

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