Ancient Art In Modern Times

It may seem odd for me to discuss the question of ‘What is Feng Shui’ but I realized that I have been talking about Feng Shui frequently in this column and those who are new to this column may not have read some of my previous thoughts on this subject, judging by the diversity of views that I still receive on what Feng Shui really is. Even more amusing was when someone at a wedding dinner last weekend asked me if I was wearing a Feng Shui watch!

The question ‘What is Feng Shui’ looks on the surface to be a no-brainer question. Surely everyone knows what Feng Shui is? Why is there a need to answer this question?

Honestly, in this day and age, the question ‘What is Feng Shui’ is unlikely to solicit any kind of consistent answer. Everyone has their own interpretation or answer to the question ‘What is Feng Shui’. That is not to say that all those answers are necessarily correct. But at the same time, a definitive answer is not easy in this day and age. Why? Because Feng Shui is no longer the same art it was 2000 years ago, when it was known as Kan Yu and was mostly utilized by the Imperial family to select burial grounds and locate capital cities.

Feng Shui has evolved. Today, if you visit the Feng Shui section of a bookstore (sometimes labeled as ‘alternative’ or ‘Far East Philosophy’), you’ll find books on everything from crystal therapy to interior design to space clearing. So you see, the question ‘What is Feng Shui’ is in fact quite hard to answer.

I prefer to phrase the question in this manner: what is Classical Feng Shui? Classical Feng Shui first and foremost is my term for Feng Shui that is based on and utilises techniques and methods from classical texts on Feng Shui, such as The Green Satchel, Earth Discern Study Truth, Purple White Scripts, Earth Entering Eye, Snow Heart Classics to name a few. Classical Feng Shui is the term I use to encompass both San He and San Yuan Feng Shui, the two original schools of Feng Shui.

Classical Feng Shui is about tapping into the natural energies of the environment or Qi in order to improve your life and achieve your goals. This is achieved through the correct placement of doors and the appropriate location of important areas of your home like the kitchen, bedroom and study, within your house based on the natural external environmental features. Natural environmental features here refer to mountain ranges (long), landform embraces (sha), water formations (shui), meridian spots (xue) and tapping into the correct facing directions (xiang).

Classical Feng Shui is not about objects or decorative items such as lead crystals, resin dragons or toads. It is not about bagua mirrors above your main door, Mandarin Ducks on your desk and Fu Dogs at your main gate. Classical Feng Shui is not about space clearing or aroma therapy or wearing certain colours to ‘enhance your luck’. Classical Feng Shui is not concerned about landscaping your house with certain type of plants, the interior decor of your kitchen, what you put in your handbag or what number your car plate or house number is. And there’s no need to steal soil from your rich neighbour’s garden to make a ‘wealth vase’. Classical Feng Shui makes absolutely no mention of any of these practices.

These practices are more in line with what I call Pop Feng Shui or New-Age Feng Shui. Pop or New-Age Feng Shui is more about the psychological effect of objects than anything else. It has no consistent principles and its practice is not rooted in any classical theories or ancient texts. Most of the time, Pop Feng Shui or New-Age Feng Shui is a commercialised derivative or watered down version of certain aspects of Feng Shui sub-systems or misunderstood sound bites of aspects of the Yi Jing or traditional Chinese culture. The Eight Life Aspiration system is a good example of Pop or New-Age Feng Shui. This ‘system’ designates each corner of the house to an aspiration of life. For example – the North is the Career corner, the Southwest is the Love corner, South the Fame corner and so fourth. This ‘system’ involves the use of oriental-styled products and Chinese folklore objects to ‘enhance’ each aspiration in a house.

The ‘Eight Life Aspirations’ is not a proper Classical Feng Shui system documented in any of the classical texts. It is, like much of Pop or New-Age Feng Shui, a modern and purely commercial invention.

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Making an Identification

If you are uncertain as to whether or not something is Classical Feng Shui or some form, version, itineration or off-shoot of pop Feng Shui, there is an easy way to separate them.

Typically, all forms of Classical Feng Shui will have the following characteristics:

a) utilize a Luo Pan for the purposes of acquiring directions
b) involves the analysis of location and direction (North, South, East, West, Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast)
c) requires the observation of Luan Tou or environmental forms, which include but are not limited to natural mountain shapes, embrace of land by mountains, flow of water and direction of water
d) takes into account time aspects
e) considers the residents of the property
f) Does NOT require the placement of symbolic items or good luck objects.
g) Does NOT involve any spiritual practice or spirituality or any religious or spiritual activities such as chanting, placement of joss sticks or prayers to deities or figurines

If none of these characteristics or features form a part of the technique, method or approach, then it is unlikely to be part of Classical Feng Shui.

Now, it’s tricky these days sometimes to separate the ‘pop’ from the ‘classical’ because some Classical Feng Shui practitioners have resorted to adding ‘New Age’ components to their practice, in order to pad their bottom line a little. So they practice Classical Feng Shui, but are not beyond trying to flog you some trinkets or cures.

If you like the psychological aspects of Pop or New Age Feng Shui, or if you find it uplifting or motivational, that is fine.

Today’s article began with a question: What is Feng Shui. So I would like to end with a question: What is the kind of Feng Shui you would like to utilise? By knowing the answer to this question, you will better be able to seek out the right kind of Feng Shui for you, and your home. There’s a place in this world for all kinds of people, and so by necessity, all kinds of Feng Shui. As long as you know the difference, and you know what you want and what you are getting – that’s what matters.


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Copyright © 2008 by Joey Yap. All rights reserved worldwide.