Curious Indonesian Muslims join peaceful but controversial Falun Gong

Nyoman Suryanata must have greeted at least 100 people at the National Monument complex in Jakarta last Sunday, trying to persuade passersby to sit down with him and try the controversial practice of Falun Gong.

“Please, Ma’am! Try out our meditation. It only takes a couple of minutes. Sir, have a go at meditation! Free of charge,” the 59-year-old businessman called out, offering brochures he had made himself.

Surya, as he prefers to be called, had prepared 100 brochures — at the end of the day there were none left.

From a distance, a young couple observed the practice carefully.

They were intrigued by the group’s slow-motion movements, designed to help members “cultivate” their mind and soul.

However, the couple remained skeptical and hesitant to approach the group.

“Look, some of them are wearing headscarves,” the woman pointed out to her husband.

“That’s interesting. I was wondering whether these people are part of a religion or something,” her husband said.

Falun Gong is a spiritual movement founded by Li Hongzi in 1992.

The practice aims to focus the mind and body through a series of movements and meditative exercises based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.

Its teachings include ideas from Buddhism, Taoism, Qigong and other traditions that date back to Chinese antiquity.

The major difference between Li Hongzi’s spiritual movement and other religions is that Falun Gong does not involve prayer or worship of the divine.

This has been part of the movement’s broad appeal, attracting followers from many different backgrounds, including Indonesian Muslims.

“The main focus is to enhance your own spiritual consciousness. You can pray according to your religion as much as you want, but if you’re not spiritually conscious, all of your prayers will amount to nothing,” Suryanata said.

Falun Gong has been banned by the Chinese government since July 20, 1999, denounced by government propaganda as a cult “that poisons people’s minds.”

Members of the movement have since been arrested, tried without the presence of legal counsel, sent to labor camps and inflicted with physical and psychological torture.

“There is well-documented evidence of the persecution and ill treatment suffered by Falun Gong members,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Philem Kien.

Over the course of just seven years, he said the movement grew to an estimated 70 million people in China.

“The Falun Gong is seen as a threat to the Communist regime, who wish to maintain monopolistic control over Chinese society,” he added.

The persecution of Falun Gong members in China has forced its members to flee abroad and seek refuge in countries across Asia, including Indonesia, as well as in western countries such as Europe and North America.

However, the persecution of the movement has only served to increase curiosity in it among those living outside China.

Sixty-year-old Hertati, who has been practicing Falun Gong for more than 10 years now, was one of its early members in Indonesia.

“I remember it was the year 2000 and Gramedia had just launched a book about Falun Gong,” Hertati recounted.

“I had heard about Falun Gong before on the news. I was intrigued and attended the book’s discussion session. I thought to myself: how can a movement that teaches truthfulness, virtue and patience be dubbed as a dangerous and heretical cult in China? If it was really a cult then they would have drained our pockets dry by now. But no, members are not even allowed to accept payment for teaching others Falun Gong.”

“I have been a member for 10 years and have never been asked for a single cent,” she added.

There are now more than 100 Falun Gong communities spread over fifteen provinces in Indonesia.

In Jakarta, there are about 20 places where Falun Gong members practice, attracting up to 50 people in a single session.

One man at the National Monument on Sunday joined in the movements of the Falun Gong members, but wanted to maintain a good distance from the pack.

“Okay, but promise you’ll join us next week,” Surya said to the man.

“If it is faith, then he’ll come back. I’m sure of it. He took my brochure, we’ll see if he is destined to join us,” Surya said with a smile.

[via Jakarta Globe]
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