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Lian is proud of her only child. "She listened to the lectures of Master Li with me at a very young age," she says. "My daughter is very interested in Falun Gong." Once, when Ella was bullied by other kids at school, she came home and asked her mother to help her remove karma and gain virtue. "And she was only in the first grade," Lian notes.
When Lian speaks of Ella, it is in relation to Falun Gong and the hope that her daughter, too, will become a cultivator of xin-xing. "I put the picture of my daughter here because I miss her and love her very much," Lian says. "But I am not really attached to this sentiment anymore. I know it is very difficult for people to understand."
Falun Gong teaches that attachments to human wants -- things like love, money, sex, even eating meat -- hold one back from being able to journey to paradise. But members are not required to give up everything right away. Master Li writes that some will choose not to have sex or eat meat at all, while others may on occasion. The point is not to be so attached to something that you cannot function without it. That is why Lian says she can still love her daughter, but leave her behind to pursue Falun Gong.
"When I came to the U.S. people may feel I put myself as first priority, but I am not doing what I want to do. I am doing what I am required to do by the universe. And my better understanding of Falun Gong will enable me to teach my daughter what she should do," Lian says. "Normally a good mother is a person who will provide a child's needs and ensure they will have a successful future. But as a Falun Gong practitioner, I have to provide more. I must consider not just her material life now, but her spiritual life to come."
While Falun Gong members believe they will eventually return to the place from which they originated, not everyone is from the same universe. So Lian understands that at some point she will have to separate from her daughter and other loved ones she has met during her temporary stay on Earth. "Both of us feel so fortunate we came to this world and became mother and daughter, so we enjoy such a relationship and love and care for each other," Lian says. "But we also know the goal is to go back to our true homes, which are beyond this physical world. That's why we treasure our time together in this world now."
Lian does note that suicide is forbidden to speed up the journey "home." Falun Gong teaches that while there are many levels of existence, the human body is the only portal to paradise. Animals and trees, for instance, must wait until they are reincarnated as humans for their chances to go home. So to kill oneself would be to destroy the very vehicle required for the trip. "Our time as humans is our chance to go back," Lian says. "We know this time is precious, which is why we would never commit suicide or kill someone."
And Lian may be spending more time with Ella soon. U.S. asylum law allows refugees to petition for their spouses and minor children. Lian's lawyer says Ella (not her real name) and her father could be reunited with Lian by the end of the year. Lian's husband, an artist, does not practice Falun Gong, though he has read some of Master Li's books and supports his wife's beliefs. Lian says she will not insist her husband practice cultivation if he does not want to. "Master Li says to be a good wife, and that living a harmonic life with your family is also a requirement of Falun Gong."
In China, Lian's family doesn't agree on Falun Gong. Her mother practices, and her father doesn't. He has no opinion on it, but Lian's older brother and sister are adamantly opposed. "They say I am so young and naive, and how could I believe in such superstition. They couldn't understand. They just don't believe in anything," Lian says. "Actually, I feel pity for them, because their mind is blocked simply because of their own ignorance."
Lian's father is an old-time Mao atheist. Though he agrees with the principle of Falun Gong's "Truth, Compassion, and Tolerance" mantra, Lian says he finds the supernatural aspect hard to grasp. "He doesn't believe in any God, Buddha, or paradise, because he only believes in what he can see with his eyes." However, as a young adult, Lian wanted to believe in something beyond the Communist Party. In this, she is no different from millions of other Chinese who have felt a spiritual void ever since Mao died. His successors embraced capitalism while keeping the controlling party apparatus in place; the People's Republic lost its purpose and appeal as the Chinese were allowed to worship wealth, but not much of anything else. "To Get Rich Is Glorious" was the new party slogan. It was an empty existence for many, including Lian, who searched for greater meaning in life.