Volume 1, Issue 3, 2013
Suicide: Why Do People Kill Themselves In The Name Of Religion?
Self-Harm and Falun Gong: Karmic Release, Martyrdom or Suicide
The teachings of Falun Gong explicitly forbid suicide, yet in 2001, five protesters set themselves ablaze in Tiananmen Square resulting in the death of two. Allegedly, their stated aim was to bring the world’s focus onto the repression of the movement by the Chinese government. Falun Gong spokespeople were quick to speak out in defence of founder Li Hongzhi, saying that the movement strictly forbids suicide in line with the traditional Chinese belief that says that suicide is an affront to the ancestors. They further claimed that the Chinese government had staged the suicides in order to stir up public opinion against the movement and
indeed the tide of public opinion did turn against Falun Gong and its founder (Bell and Boas 2003, 285).
Even given Falun Gong’s stated opposition to suicide, the movement does encourage its adherents to refuse to take medicine or accept medical treatment and some consider this refusal of treatment could be considered to be suicidal. Chinese state media seized upon Li's writing in which he expressed that illnesses are caused by karma, and claimed that in excess of 1000 deaths were the direct result of adherents following Li’s teachings. Authorities also maintain that several hundred practitioners had cut their stomachs open looking for the Dharma Wheel that turns in response to the practice of the five meditative exercises characteristic of the movement. Indeed, many of their fellow followers had been arrested in Tianjin, following condemnation of their movement by physicist He Zouxiu of the Chinese Academy of the Sciences. He had claimed that Falun Gong had been responsible for several deaths (Bejsky 2004, 190).
This paper will examine the complex relationship between Falun
Gong and the Chinese government, exploring the reality behind the claims and counterclaims in relation to the former’s stated opposition to suicide. This will be contrasted with other Falun Gong writings which encourage adherents to refuse medical treatment and medication in order to rid themselves of karma.