What is Authentic Feng Shui?
Recently, Feng Shui has become a highly visible and popular subject all over America. Almost every local paper and national news media has covered the topic. At public libraries there are waiting lists for most Feng Shui books in print. Bookstores have an overwhelming selection of beautiful and enticing books. Workshops and classes for Feng Shui have been proliferating to fill the growing public interest and demand. In this recent popularization, many subjects irrelevant to the authentic tradition are being presented under the blanket of Feng Shui. More often than not, people are left with more misconceptions than true knowledge. What is authentic Feng Shui really all about?
Feng Shui literally means Wind and Water. It represents the two most dynamic forces in the Universe – forces that are continually changing and searching for balance. Hence wind and water is used to represent the nature of the Universe, which is also resilient, always changing and in search of dynamic balance. In a nut-shell, Feng Shui is the knowledge and practice of the human search for balance with the environment, in accord with the natural laws of the Universe. Feng Shui applies to all aspects of living in the environment – where and how to build a city, how to site and plan a house, how to arrange the interiors of that house, even how to run a successful business – all in ways that are in harmony with the Universe.
When we talk about harmony in Feng Shui, we mean the balance of Yin and Yang, the two polarized forces of every entity, being, item or situation. When yin and yang are in balance there is harmony, and that harmony nourishes everything in a healthy way. According to Chinese tradition, yin and yang contain the seeds of each other, nourish each other, curb or limit each other, and change into each other. The dynamic of these yin and yang interactions takes place through five different mechanisms commonly called the Five Elements. Representing the cosmic and natural forces, this Five Element principle is a model in which Wood represents a growing force; Fire represents radiation and dynamic expansion; Earth represents consolidation and coagulation; Water represents spreading and penetration; and Metal represents condensation and concentration of force.
The Yin-Yang and Five Element principles are not man-made hypotheses; they exist in and of themselves. Over many centuries of observation, they were recognized by ancient sages as the Nature of the Universe in its fundamental essence and they became the fundamental philosophy permeating all wisdom and knowledge throughout Chinese culture. So when we talk about being in harmony with nature, we mean following the natural laws of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements.
Feng Shui is the embodiment of these natural laws combined with knowledge of astronomy, geography and other natural sciences. It was developed, refined and recorded over centuries of Chinese history. Feng Shui knowledge guided people in selecting the best spot for building their homes as well as choosing the tomb sites for their ancestors. It guided government officials in selecting the location for the capital city and was considered in every aspect of city planning. Feng Shui was the fundamental building principle for all of China’s magnificent architecture – the Forbidden City is the perfect example of Feng Shui application.
Where there is balance and harmony, there is chi (life force energy). When we say, for instance, that there is good chi in the Seattle and Puget Sound area, we mean that there is a good balance between the mountains and the water as they exist in the landscape. Where there is good chi there is good nourishment. Abundant chi nourishes abundant life, with prosperity, harmony, peace and so on for both the land and the people. Then, in turn, we can say that a place with abundant chi is a place that is in harmony with the yin and yang forces.
According to Feng Shui principles, any building should be constructed in harmony with the site in terms of size, form and style. A structure with good Feng Shui should have a wholesome form, where yin and yang features are in balance. If we squeeze a large building into a relatively small site, it is out of balance. People should be in balance with their houses. For example, a big family living in a large house is appropriate but one or two people living in a mansion would not be balanced. When people are in harmony with the house and the house is in harmony with the land, then we have the most wholesome and abundant ch’i. In this situation, there will be health, prosperity and good relationships.
The concept of Feng Shui is neither a belief system nor some mysterious Oriental magic. It is a universal idea that is embodied in everyone’s consciousness. We all respond to it in similar ways. Good Feng shui does not contradict common sense. Think of how we often prefer one room over another at home, or always pick the same table in a restaurant. In doing so, we are unknowingly responding to our inner ability to read and choose the most balanced situation.
Feng Shui can be studied through written records in the Feng Shui tradition. Nearly one thousand volumes of classic Feng Shui treatises have been written by countless masters over the centuries. Unfortunately, up to now, very few of these books have been translated for the Western reader. In the United States, most news stories and books present Feng Shui as a mixture of astrology, Oriental culture, folklore and fortune-telling. The more superficial and recently improvised aspects of Feng Shui have become mainstream. The true core of authentic Feng Shui is still waiting to be acknowledged in the West.
As we begin the 21st century, environmental issues have become an urgent concern. It has become imperative for us to re-establish a harmonious relationship with Nature. Feng Shui – this ancient Oriental wisdom – can provide the insight and the inspiration as well as the practical means to achieve this harmony.