Upon returning from a business trip in March 1997, Alan Adler went to visit his tai chi teacher, who was eager to see him.
“I have found it,” his teacher said.
“It” was a spiritual practice that Adler and his teacher, Da Liu, had been seeking together for years. The “it” turned out to be Falun Gong, and that conversation with his tai chi teacher changed Adler’s life.
Adler had studied tai chi for 25 years with Liu, who was a grandmaster. Liu had fled for his life from China in the 1950s after the communists took over, and is believed to be the first person to bring tai chi to the United States.
Although Liu had spent a lifetime practicing tai chi at a very high level, he was not content. In his later years, when qigong masters would visit New York City, he and Adler would go together to hear the master talk, seeking a practice that could answer some of the questions they shared.
Liu, then in his nineties, had gone to hear Mr. Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong and that led to his excited conversation with Adler.
The next week, Adler and Liu attended a nine-day lecture series in New York City. Over a period of nine days, a group of New Yorkers who wanted to learn more about Falun Gong crammed into a studio apartment and watched videotapes of Mr. Li giving lectures, most of which lasted two hours or more.
“The nine-day seminar was a little bit tough,” Adler said. “There were 50 of us crammed into a New York studio apartment. And there was simultaneous translation, in which someone tried to talk over the Chinese videotape. It was not easy to concentrate for two hours. But I got the idea from it.”
Adler began going to a park near his home in New Jersey, where together with others he practiced the Falun Gong exercises and read the book Zhuan Falun,which contains the comprehensive teachings of Falun Gong.
Adler was one of the first Westerners to begin practicing Falun Gong and the first in New Jersey. With a small business he owned and operated and a wife and three children, Adler lived a hectic life, full of pressure. He found this new practice calmed him in a way that his practice of tai chi never had.
“I liked the exercises. They were calm and gentle and they were free. I was having trouble crossing my legs, but the standing exercises were quite calming. The reading of the book was also quite calming. And without the intensity of the seminar I was able to digest it slowly.”
He soon realized that Falun Gong was very different than the tai chi he had practiced for so long. “Tai chi was like elementary school and Falun Gong was like college,” he said.
“With tai chi there was never a moral code—a book that went along with it. There were books, but those books were about how to do tai chi. But here with Zhuan Falun was a book that was more important than the exercise. Reading that book sort of put human life and everything else into perspective.”
“In the way I was brought up, I think I was taught much the same things as Falun Gong teaches, but the way Zhuan Falun explains things, the context it gives, it gave me a lot of confidence in the moral teachings. It also taught me that being truthful, compassionate, and tolerant has tangible results. I think the Chinese say, ‘Good begets good, and evil begets evil,’ something along those lines,” Adler said.
This practice became part of his daily life. Adler was not prepared for the disruption of the practice by the Chinese Communist Party’s attack on Falun Gong in its homeland of China.
“When the persecution actually began in July 1999 I was taken aback. I was quite surprised by it all, that these things didn’t happen. I thought that it was just a mistake, as soon as the Chinese government understood us it would probably all be resolved,” Adler said.
Looking back, Adler now realizes, “I didn’t understand the nature of the Chinese Communist Party, and I didn’t understand the potential duration of the persecution.”
Adler began going regularly to Washington, D.C. “I was one of the few Westerners practicing at the time. I understood it was a benign spiritual practice, and I knew that what the Chinese government was calling it was inaccurate. I just felt a responsibility to help the people in China without a voice,” he said.
Among those in D.C. whom Adler worked with was Ambassador Mark Palmer, the former U.S. ambassador to Hungary who has been a long-time advocate of democracy.
“Palmer told me that there were other people who wanted to support Falun Gong, but there was no vehicle through which to do it. These were not Falun Gong practitioners—they were human rights activists, lawyers, and politicians. He suggested we form an organization to serve as a spokesperson for Falun Gong,” Adler said.
Out of that conversation was born in November 2000 the organization, Friends of Falun Gong, for which Adler serves as executive director. The organization presents the facts about Falun Gong and its persecution to the public and supports efforts by others to do the same. It supports legal efforts to defend practitioners or to hold accountable those who have persecuted them, and advocates for practitioners who escape China.
The work of Friends of Falun Gong faces challenges. “On a global level we find a lot of the government officials speak very highly of human rights, but as a matter of policy they don’t seem to care, if there are economic benefits on the other side,” Adler said.
“The Chinese regime learned an important lesson from the Tiananmen Square Massacre: Don’t let the cameras in. Without media exposure and impactful visuals, it is easy to lie and easy to keep global opinion calm. They have a very insidious persecution going on. They can persecute their people viciously and, on a visceral level, few care about it. And even though millions and millions of people are suffering in China, we can’t get the public condemnation that a genocide like this deserves,” Adler said.
When Adler began his practice of Falun Gong, he sought a deeper understanding of life and some relief from a too-hectic pace. The pace of his life is still hectic. “I have a full time job, a wife, children, and a busy social schedule, and Friends of Falun Gong takes a lot of time, plus I spend time reading Zhuan Falun and practicing the exercises,” Adler said.
Although Adler’s work for Friends of Falun Gong sometimes takes him away from his family, they support his practice of Falun Gong. He says they tell him of the positive changes they have seen in him.
While Adler is busier than ever, he stays calm. “It is a question of balance. I find that through practicing Falun Gong. The practice itself is a constant challenge. Every time I read Zhuan Falun I always pick up new things on different levels. I am constantly amazed that I am able to read this book over and over again and still come away with new understandings. What I think of as compassionate one day, the next day may not seem to be so compassionate. Each day brings a chance to learn and improve,” Adler said.
With reporting by New Tang Dynasty TV.
Stephen Gregory, Epoch Times