LAWRENCE, Kan. - Cat Rooney sees her spiritual practice, Falun Gong, as one that teaches high moral standards and leads to overall spiritual and physical health.
She's never understood how Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, can be used to justify torture and killings in China.
"This is a great practice; it makes great people," says Rooney, a Lawrence resident. "No torture or genocidal activity is justified, but this one is so appalling."
Rooney and a group of Lawrence Falun Gong practitioners have embarked on a recent tour, going to Kansas towns to teach people both about their self-cultivation practice and the atrocities occurring in China.
The U.S.-based Falun Dafa Information Center says there have been nearly 2,300 detailed accounts of deaths of Falun Gong practitioners in China since 1999, and it estimates the true number of practitioners killed is in the tens of thousands. In addition, the group estimates more than 100,000 practitioners have been detained, and some have been tortured.
"We want to go out and tell the beauty of Falun Dafa to fellow Kansans and give them that perspective," Rooney says. "When they hear about the atrocities, they're just as shocked as we are."
Falun Gong was founded in 1992 in China but now has spread to all areas of the world.
It's a form of qigong, a self-cultivation practice. But unlike most qigong practices, it includes moral principles and studies that go beyond exercises and meditation.
In Lawrence, about 10 people gather three times a week to perform the exercises and study the principles.
The exercises are meditative - both slow-moving and static - and designed to open the body's energy channels and enhance and purify energy levels, among other enhancements.
Meanwhile, the group studies the three basic principles of Falun Gong: truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.
"It's things like thinking of others first and not fighting back, recognizing things that make you sick, not being greedy or competitive or not seeking fame and reputation," Rooney says.
It's a practice that has found fans in Lawrence.
"I like the multiple facets of it," says Teri Leahy, of Lawrence. "I like the spiritual concepts and moral values and the wellness benefits."
Leahy says she thinks Falun Gong will become more popular as it becomes better-known.
"They've just got to hear about it," she says. "They've just got to learn. It's beautiful."
And that's why some of the Lawrence Falun Gong practitioners, along with others from Kansas City, started hitting the road last month, going to 16 cities over a week to teach about the practice. They're planning to go to four other cities a month in Kansas to continue the education tour.
They want to teach both about their use of Falun Gong and the issues in China.
"Human rights violations around the world are wrong, but this is near and dear to us because we practice this," says Joyce Mitchell, of Baldwin, who practices Falun Gong with the Lawrence group. "This is a peaceful practice."
Rooney, who is the local coordinator for Falun Gong, says the practice has helped her health significantly. She says more than five years ago, she was dealing with major adrenal and thyroid gland troubles that caused her to move in with her parents.
Falun Gong, she says, helped her regain her health and has helped in other aspects of her life.
"It's great to be well," she says. "I used to be this type-A person. How I interact with the world has seen a total turnaround."
Rooney says she isn't surprised the practice has developed tens of millions of followers in less than 15 years.
"It has spread like wildfire," she says. "It has high moral values. The benefits are for a combination of mind and body. It's a form of self-improvement that fits very well in Western society."
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