NEW YORK—A time for renewal and reflection emerged as a key theme for adherents of the spiritual practice Falun Gong who participated in the Lunar New Year parade to usher in the year of the rabbit in Queens, New York, on Jan. 21.
Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners formed several segments of a thousands-strong parade that marched through the heart of New York’s largest Chinese community. Thousands lined the parade route to watch the festivities.
Brightly costumed dragon and lion dancers wowed crowds, ladies dressed as Chinese heavenly maidens handed out lotus flowers to passersby, a Chinese American marching band played tunes inspired by divine melodies, and adherents held banners and flags with messages and words such as “Falun Dafa is good” and “Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance.”
Those three words represent the core values of Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, a spiritual discipline rooted in traditional Chinese culture that incorporates a set of moral teachings and meditative exercises. The practice was made public more than three decades ago in northeast China and is now practiced in more than 100 countries around the world.
Wang Lirong, a New York resident originally from Shanghai, walked alongside the parade route from Union Street to Main Street in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens. Holding a clipboard and handing out lotus flower ornaments, she spoke to spectators, particularly those from China, and explained to them the nature of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), urging them to cut any ties they may have with the regime.
“The CCP is just like a virus that’s contaminated the entire world,” Wang told The Epoch Times.
“The evil deeds perpetrated by the communist regime are so great that they will not be tolerated by the divine, [and thus] heaven will eliminate the CCP.”
She cited the regime’s ongoing cover-up and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to millions of deaths globally, and its 23-year-long persecution of Falun Gong.
In 1999, the CCP, which perceived the booming popularity of Falun Gong as a threat to its rule after estimating that there were up to 100 million practitioners in China, launched an aggressive campaign to eliminate the practice. Since then, millions of practitioners have been thrown into detention, where they’re abused, tortured, or killed for their organs.
Although many Chinese people may not have personally experienced this persecution over the past three years, almost everyone in China suffered through the horrors of the regime’s “zero-COVID” lockdowns, Wang said. This should give them pause and prompt a reevaluation of their association with the Party, she said.
The only way to protect oneself, according to Wang, is to renounce one’s affiliation with the CCP and its two junior organizations, the Youth League and the Young Pioneers, which virtually all Chinese people are made to join when they are children.
Finding Her True Self
Parade participant Yulia Nova, an entrepreneur from upstate New York, wanted to show Chinese people who were watching the parade how wonderful Falun Dafa is, she said, noting that the spiritual discipline has helped her in profound ways.
After taking up the practice 14 years ago, Nova saw her thyroid problems disappear within a month. But it was her character that underwent the greatest change over the past decade and a half.
By reading the teachings of Falun Gong and applying the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, Nova was gradually able to become “a better person, kinder to other people, caring, and really tolerant” of other people, “because everybody’s different, and nobody’s perfect,” she said.
Most of all, Falun Gong helped her to discover what it means to be “true to yourself.”
“A lot of times, I find we have these little white lies that we follow ourselves, and [that] our society tells us, and we begin to believe these things. And in the end, it’s really not true,” Nova said.
For Nova, the biggest lies that she had to overcome were the communist ideologies and notions that were instilled in her while growing up in the former Soviet Union.
In that communist society, there was no belief in God and morality, and every human relationship was made subordinate to the interests of the Soviet regime, she said. She recounted that when she was 15, her mother told her that the KGB had tried to recruit her to spy on her father, a communist party member, but her mother had refused.
It wasn’t until years later, after Nova left for the United States at the age of 24, that she realized that her mother may not have been telling the truth. The idea of an ordinary woman saying no to the KGB was “unheard of,” she said.
“This was the family that raised me,” she said. “That just tells you how evil communist ideology is. It was just so awful.”
Three years ago, Nova made a big breakthrough on her journey to finding her true self.
“All of a sudden, I realized that what I am is not what I am, like the whole thing just collapsed,” she said.
“I realized I created all these avatars to protect myself from being hurt. I’ve created avatars that reacted at work, I’ll be a certain way, then I go home, I’m a certain way—so all these personas. The inside of me was never really revealed to anyone.
“And to finally uncover that inner, true, authentic self that I am, it’s just such a revelation because then you don’t have to pretend anymore—you are a true, authentic person, no matter where you go.”
What It Means to Be Human
Parade participant Juan Larn from Manhattan took up Falun Gong in the summer of 2020 after seeing adherents performing the practice’s meditative exercises at Central Park.
Larn was always interested in meditation and Eastern philosophy.
“But all of it seemed more theoretical,” he said. “It made sense and all sounded good, but it didn’t really create a fundamental change in my mind.”
But after reading “Zhuan Falun,” the main text of Falun Gong, things changed for Larn.
“It automatically shifted how I was thinking,” he said.
“I was like, ‘Maybe I found something like a genuine teaching.’ I wanted to continue to pursue it, and I’m still on that path.”
Larn cited one line in the book: “Some people may say that you are good, but you may not really be good.”
“It made me see that I wasn’t up to a standard that I thought,” he said. “It made me want to raise my standards [by following the three principles].”
The Lunar New Year, which fell on Jan. 22, is a good time for people to do a bit of reflection and introspection, Larn said. He pointed to a new article released by the founder of Falun Dafa, Mr. Li Hongzhi, titled “How Humankind Came to Be” on Jan. 20.
In that article, Mr. Li addresses the purpose of being human and describes that human beings exist in a place made by the Creator called the “realm of desire.”
Juan’s understanding of this is that “a lot of things that you think you might want, that [you think] are good for you, might [actually] be desires and attachments.”
He suggested that people assess whether the things they pursue are genuinely good for them.
“I would say don’t just automatically react to all sorts of things you might want,” he said. “Focus on more righteous principles and really look inside yourself before going outside for satisfaction.”
Nova echoed this sentiment, suggesting that people take the time to “really think about what it means to be human to them.”
Many people, particularly after being stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years, have had a chance to reevaluate how they were living their lives.
“A lot of people realized that what they thought was important to them was not important to them anymore,” Nova said.
“And they don’t want to work 70 hours a week, and their families are more important to them, and their relationship with their children [is] important to them.
“And they take time to take care of their spouses or their parents and so forth.”
Being human, Nova believes, is about returning to kindness and integrity.
This means to be “dignified, compassionate, and very tolerant of the world and the things that come about” in our daily lives, she said.
Cathy He is a New York-based editor focusing on U.S. China-related topics. She previously worked as a government lawyer in Australia. She joined The Epoch Times in February 2018.