Books on feng shui sometimes seem to contradict each other. This is because, over the years, feng shui has developed in various different directions, which has resulted in a variety of ‘schools’. And even when the underlying principles remain similar, each situation requires selective individual analysis, with the result that different consultants may offer different suggestions. It doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is wrong. There is usually more than one way to achieve a desired result.
The origins of feng shui
Feng shui originated in ancient China and all the classical feng shui schools and methods were developed there. The observation and analysis of landforms, waterways and structural placement are basic to traditional feng shui. So are the formulae for calculating things such as the distribution and quality of chi, elemental balance, auspicious and inauspicious directions and locations, etc, which determine the measures to be taken in order to achieve the desired outcome.
The main approaches are summarised below:
• Form school
The form school is the oldest documented form of feng shui. It was originally concerned with the placement and orientation of tombs for the dead, and later its principals were transferred to the buildings used by the living. It examines and assesses the ‘form’ of physical objects and shapes in the natural and built environment, along with transformational elements, chi flow and the manifestations of yin and yang.
• Compass school
The compass school involves numerical calculations based on the direction in which a building faces, which is determined using a western compass or a Chinese ‘luo pan’. Analysis is then based on the eight compass sectors and the trigrams of the Ba Gua (which identifies nine key areas which influence different aspects of life), and the Luo Shu or ‘magic square’ is used for ‘flying stars’ analysis (to do with auspicious dates based on the observation of celestial bodies). Birth dates are sometimes taken into account in certain calculations that help to identify the relationship between individual people and the energy pattern of the environment.
• Modern feng shui
A modern western interpretation of feng shui has gained popularity, particularly in America, since its introduction in the 1970-80s. This approach is based on the psychology of how to achieve goals through a targeted focus on the different aspects of life. Modern feng shui has various names including ‘Three Gates’ or ‘Black Hat’. Instead of taking a compass reading, it aligns the Ba Gua with the front door according to the aspirational influences of each trigram. The door, or either side of it, is taken as being the career section (bottom centre section of the Ba Gua). Although different words are sometimes used to express the different concepts, the nine sections of the Ba Gua are:
• (top row, left to right) Wealth, Prosperity, Self Worth • Fame, Reputation, Social Life • Marriage, Relationships, Partnerships
• (middle row left to right) Health, Family, Community • Good Fortune, Well-being • Children, Creativity, Entertainment
• (bottom row left to right) Wisdom, Self-Knowledge, Rest • Career, Life Mission, Individuality • Helpful People, Compassion, Travel
Although the various forms of feng shui can be confusing initially, whichever approach most appeals to you is probably a good place to start. All types of feng shui (and related disciplines) have certain basic similarities, and even the traditionalists welcome the many books using non-traditional methodology which have appeared in recent years, since they have doubtless helped stimulate the current growth of feng shui.
What feng shui is and isn’t
Feng shui has been called the art of placement. In the west, feng shui is not a science, as its principles haven’t been tested by scientific method but this is changing (read more about feng shui research). There is movement towards scientific validation of feng shui. There is now an Academic Journal of Feng Shui, and feng shui has been examined from a scientific perspective at several International Conferences on Scientific Feng Shui and the Built Environment.
Nor is feng shui a religion, and although some of its advocates may consider it part of their religious practice, it is not necessary to follow any religion to understand or practise feng shui. It’s not a philosophy as it encompasses many practical tools and techniques. It is not a belief system. Asking someone if they believe in feng shui is like asking them if they believe in the weather. It’s not a question of faith, but a fact of life.
The Chinese have always considered that success in life is dependent upon five influences
1. fate, destiny or karma
2. lucky and unlucky areas
3. feng shui
5. personal factors such as our background, inheritance and family, tempered by our actions, education and experience
The important point to take from this is that the first two of these influences – fate and luck – are beyond our control. Therefore, feng shui is only one of the three influences on our lives that can be controlled. Although it can be very effective, feng shui is not magic or the ultimate power tool, and because there are other factors at work, it cannot guarantee wealth, health and happiness. Beware of people who claim otherwise.
- History of feng shui
- What feng shui is and isn't
- Types of feng shui
- Related disciplines
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