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Misconceptions: "Intolerant"?

Knowing the democratic West to be a tolerant, pluralistic, and diverse place, Chinese authorities have sought to brand Falun Gong as contrary to these basic values. In a word, they’ve sought to cast it as “intolerant.” Several journalists have taken the bait.

The characterization is patently misleading, and rests solely upon an outsider’s uninformed interpretation of doctrine. It’s found to be at odds with lived practice.

Consider the first of the two major issues Chinese authorities cite: an alleged intolerance of homosexuality. (We can’t help but note the irony of China’s communist rulers having until recently banned homosexuality, labeling it a mental disorder.)

Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are welcomed by the practice just like anyone else, and not accorded any different treatment. Whether they continue to live that lifestyle, or self-identify with that term, is solely a personal choice and not something anyone in Falun Gong would force upon the individual. Central to Falun Gong is the making of one’s own decisions.

Falun Gong’s teachings do suggest that certain behaviors, including homosexuality, generate more karma than others or are not conducive to certain aspirations in the practice. But this it is left at the level of teaching, and not a creed or regulation. How one understands a given teaching, and to what extent he or she applies it, is always a personal matter.

A second, related point that must be emphasized is that Falun Gong’s teachings on this and other matters do not equate to a “position statement” or “stance” on some social issue. They are intended solely for the individual aspirant, and to be applied to his or her own life; they are not meant to be applied to others, much less non-practitioners. Falun Gong does not have any position on what other people should or shouldn’t do with their lives. It simply offers its teachings on personal change to whomever is interested in its path to spiritual growth.

What holds true for homosexuality holds true for interracial marriage and interracial children, if not more so. Falun Gong’s teachings have little to say about the matter. What some journalists have picked up on, prompted by Chinese state media intimations, is the presence of a passage in one book where Falun Gong’s founder mentions the issue in passing.

These teachings can be summarized as a belief that different heavens correspond to different races on earth, and that persons of mixed race lose a direct connection to their corresponding heaven, at least in the corporeal sense; a person's soul in unaffected, just as is their ability to engage in cultivation practice. This in no way amounts to an endorsement of racial purity; in Li Hongzhi's writings, he states in essense that the phenomenon is nobody's fault, and one does not need to be concerned about it.

One most inflamatory result was a New York Times journalist who wrote, without attribution, that Falun Gong believes children of mixed race are the "spawn" of the Dharma-ending period (a time of moral decline referred to in Buddhist scripture.) Needless to say, no such language appears in Falun Gong's teachings. Regrettably, the journalist did not temper his own, outsider’s reading of that passage with investigation or evidence. They failed to check with any living, actual persons who do Falun Gong, preferring, seemingly, to not let a sensational reading of the passage be spoiled by evidence to the contrary.

Had they looked into the matter, they would have found their assumptions to be just that, assumptions. Many who practice Falun Gong have married and had children with individuals of a different race after taking up the practice. Of the 14 individuals who make up the Information Center’s staff, fully 4 fall into this category. If Falun Gong teaches racial segregation, it’s doing a poor job of it.

If the practice does not breed racial intolerance in the life of the individual, one might readily imagine how much less so it translates into a general “stance” on interracial marriage in society.

The two most frequently cited forms of “intolerance” end up suggesting, upon closer examination, just the opposite. Indeed, if anything, it would seem that something in Falun Gong is instead conducive to greater tolerance.