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FS Fine Points

Conventional Versus Nouveau Feng Shui

In recent years, feng shui has become so widely accepted and popular that on a global basis, we are now seeing a polarization of the practice so that lines are being drawn between what the older Masters term TRADITIONAL FENG SHUI and what the modern practitioners call NOUVEAU FENG SHUI. Just like we have seen fusion cooking transform traditional Chinese food into nouvelle cuisine (with great success in many of the western capital cities of the world) likewise we are seeing this century’s feng shui evolve into a hybrid of old and new.

Ancient principles of the practice are increasingly being merged with modern thinking on energy and other mind, body and spirit configurations. FSW welcomes this development and in this issue LILLIAN TOO explains how conventional feng shui is practiced, summarizing the different traditional methods extracted from China’s ancient texts and in the next issue, she will examine new components that have been successfully added to what is now being termed NOUVEAU FENG SHUI.

Traditional Chinese Feng Shui

Traditional feng shui has long been associated with lineage holders of different ethnicity and specializations, mostly based on Taoist explanations that describe land as being alive and driven by an energy force described as chi. The fundamentals of feng shui always refer to the five elements manifesting as yin or yang, transforming into the six energies and taking form as natural features of the landscape.

Over time, the body of knowledge associated with these explanations came to be collectively referred to as feng shui or wind and water. In old source books, feng shui always referred to the natural environment and treatises on landscape were the major driving force of the practice.

Mountains and rivers were the major defining structures that indicated good or bad feng shui and in interpreting mountains and their energy, symbolism played an interpretative role. Shapes and patterns of landforms were compared to the dragon and other creatures. Whether mountains and rocks brought good or bad luck depended on their appearance. At its most basic, feng shui prescribed that those that looked friendly and resembled benevolent creatures brought good luck, while rocks and mountains that looked hostile or resembled monsters were malevolent.

The natural features of the environment were classified as yin (shadow, female) or yang (light, male). Water is yin, and mountains are yang. Earth is yin, and sky is yang. When water meets mountains, or clouds drop from the sky to embrace the earth, nourishing energy (which brings good luck) gets generated. Mountains that seem to disappear and reappear because of moving clouds contain powerful energy. They cause vitality filled chi to flow to the plains via the rivers and other mountain and hilly ridges.

Lineage Feng Shui

In the old days, feng shui knowledge was studied at the knee of Masters. Students apprenticed themselves to experts for many years, in some cases for an entire lifetime, until their masters passed on and they then in turn became masters. It was a long drawn out process because experience was a key criterion that defined standards. Good judgement and moral ethics were highly respected, and experience of life was said to be a prerequisite for the Master to truly understand the philosophy of living. Working with the powerful energy of the mountain and seeing first hand the effects of good and bad feng shui were also conducive to generating a genuine humility in the Master who would also be adept at mindful meditation.

So by the time one came to be acknowledged as a Master, the honorific really did carry a lifetime of respect from many followers.

There are not too many lineage holders of feng shui schools still living today and even less who call themselves “Master”. Today’s lineage holders continue to be humble in their approach and low key in their practice. But they do acknowledge that they are followers of the Hsüan-k’ung, San-yüan or San-he schools of traditional Chinese feng shui. These are compass-oriented methods that use combinations of landscape and compass formulas. They all use the traditional Luo Pan which contains key combinations of the methods.  

Historical Feng Shui Masters

History books describe the earliest expert in landform feng shui, also known as k’an-yu, to be Huang Shih Kung, who was as much a “magician” as a feng shui master being skilled in the shamanistic arts. He is credited with helping the Emperor Liu Pang found the HAN Dynasty in the period 206CE. Huang selected the burial site of Liu Pang’s father and it was so auspicious it assured Liu Pang’s ascension to the emperor’s throne. Later, in the conflict between Liu Pang and his rival the Ch’in emperor, the latter used a sorcerer to drain the energy from the land surrounding the burial site of Liu Pang’s father hoping to break Liu Pang’s feng shui. Taoist Huang Shih Kung successfully countered his opponent’s efforts and the feng shui battle, thereby assuring Liu Pang’s position and that of the Han

Another master Ch’ing Wu who lived during the early Han dynasty was acknowledged as the father of k’an-yu. He reputedly wrote the earliest treatise on the burial classic titled Chuang-ching. Present day experts on k’an-yu acknowledge that much of today’s feng-shui practices related to the flow of energy in mountains have their roots in Ch’ing Wu’s book.

From the Chin dynasty (265-420 CE) comes another Master whose name lives till today, and this is Master Kuo P’u who was an astronomer, diviner and magician. Acknowledged as a k’an-yu master who was an expert at locating underground springs, he also wrote a treatise on burial grounds.

Then during the Tang Dynasty came Yang Yun-sun, who lived toward the end of the T’ang dynasty (618-906 CE). Yang was a court astronomer and geographer who was also a great philanthropist. Yang’s greatest contribution to k’an-yu was his theory of “pai-lung,” which maintained that valleys are as important as mountains in determining the power of dragon veins. Yang is acknowledged as the founder of the San-yüan and San-he feng shui schools. Many also credit him with being the first to apply k’an-yu to man-made buildings and not just natural landforms.

Another famous master Hsü Jen-wang, who lived during the Sung dynasty (960-1279 CE) is acknowledged as the founder of the Hsüan-k’ung school of feng shui. He is said to have predicted the collapse of the Sung Dynasty after examining the burial site of one of the emperor’s ancestors. Indifferent to money or power himself, he used k’an-yu to increase the fortunes of honest and virtuous people. Hsü transmitted his teachings orally, leaving no written texts and it was only during the early Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1911 CE) that the secrets of Hsüan-k’ung resurfaced when student Chiang Ta-hsiung published a book on this method of feng shui. It was also during the middle of the Ching that Pa-chai feng shui was introduced. This occurred when Pa-chai Ming-ching (a concise treatise on the Eight Mansions) was published by Jo-kuan Tao-jen.

Well known feng shui writer Eva Wong who is herself an acknowledged lineage holder of the traditional feng shui schools has also written a comprehensive background to these and other great feng shui masters of old China in her book, Tales of the Taoist Immortals.

Traditonal Schools Of Feng Shui

San-yüan feng shui

This is the Three Periods School of Feng Shui considered the oldest and founded by Tang scholar Yang Yun-sun (618-906 CE). The San-yüan school has existed for at least 1,100 years and is a classical method that focuses on landform configurations. It pays a lot of attention to the feng shui of burial grounds, relying heavily on the compass to align burial sites auspiciously in accordance with the special features of the land to benefit the descendants.

During the Sung dynasty (960-1279 CE), San-yüan feng shui practitioners began including manmade buildings into their investigation using what we refer to today as flying star charts to measure the flow of energy inside man made buildings. During the Republic years, San-yüan feng shui broadened its application of landform principles to buildings and other manmade structures such as highways, buildings, bridges and towers. Today, San-yüan feng shui is used as a complete system of feng shui incorporating landscape and building analysis, although greater emphasis continues to be placed on natural landforms. 

San-he feng shui 
The San-he or Three Combinations method of feng shui is directly traced back to Yang Yun-sun, so its history goes back at least 1,000 years. Focusing not so much on buildings but more on the relationship between mountains and rivers, San-he uses the compass (the luo pan) and there is a special luo pan that contains only the San-he formulas on waterways. This method is generally regarded to be especially useful for designing complex arrangements that involve analyses of mountains, valleys and water. Here, water refers to both waterways (rivers) and pools of water such as flooded valleys and lakes.

Hsüan-k’ung feng shui
Hsüan-k’ung feng shui is translated as Mysterious Subtleties feng shui and was founded by Hsü Jen-wang during the Sung dynasty (960-1279 CE). This method has been around for at least 800 years. Originally intended to complement San-yüan feng shui practice, it requires the use of the compass. It uses the luo pan in conjunction with the Flying Star system to chart the flow of energy in buildings. However, the two methods offer different interpretations of the numbers in the flying star charts. In the Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1911 CE), Hsüan-k’ung feng shui expanded to incorporate consideration of natural and manmade structures into the interpretation of the flying star numbers. That method has lasted till today so that Hsüan-k’ung is now regarded as a complete system of feng shui.

Pa-chai feng shui
The Pa-chai or Eight Mansions school of feng shui is the newest school of traditional Chinese feng shui, with only a 300-year old history. Designed exclusively for use with buildings, it matches a person’s KUA number (based on his/her year of birth) with the facing direction of a house. According to original Pa-chai, people are ruled by a “west” or an “east” type KUA number.

When the main entrance of a house faces an auspicious direction that favours the personal KUA number of the person, it brings good fortune. In traditional China, the main entrance and direction of the house with the most expansive views are usually located on the same side.

Modern houses do not necessarily have the entrance and house face the same direction. Pa-chai feng shui uses the simple eight-point compass (the four cardinal and four secondary directions) to locate areas of positive and negative energy in a house. Pa-chai shouldn’t be confused with the contemporary school of Eight Aspirations feng shui that divides the house into eight areas of life corresponding to wealth, fame, relationships, children, mentors, career, education, and health.

Traditional Feng Shui In Use Today

All the lineage formulas mentioned are freely available today. They can be learnt through books or at professional courses. My Master Practitioner’s Course in feng shui for instance encompasses all the different methods of traditional feng shui so that anyone interested to do so can learn how to use them. Practitioners of feng shui today learn how to apply the principles of not any single method but depending on the place being analyzed, usually incorporate a combination of all the different methods.

Students thus get cross training in the traditional methods and supplement the learning of formulas with practical work that focuses on the reality of modern environments.

For example, I use and I teach branches of Hsüan-k’ung - usually Flying Star and Pa Chai for residences and commercial buildings - and I incorporate San-yüan into my Hsüan-k’ung analyses for evaluating complex projects. For water feng shui, I use the formulas that are part of the San-he group of methods.

When evaluating houses and advising on personalized feng shui, I’ve found that Pa-chai works really well, especially when the floor plan and architectural features are simple and also when nearby buildings and mountains do not exert significant influence on the house. Hence Pa Chai or Eight Mansions is especially suitable for interior and apartment feng shui.

San-yüan, on the other hand, works best when landforms dominate, so when you are assessing the feng shui of a large country-style estate and need to select a site on a large piece of property, surrounding plains and mountains definitely have to be assessed.

San-he works best for houses on properties where waterways dominate the landscape, in low lying areas where there are plenty of water features, or for properties built near a river or large lake.

Hsüan-k’ung or flying star systems and charts work well for residences that have complicated shapes, levels and floor plans and where modern architectural features become challenging. Here a great deal of judgement is called for and experience becomes very important. 

The following article is taken from the "Feng Shui World (September/October 2007)". To subscribe, please click here.