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Science or Superstition

Feng Shui has gained widespread popularity in the United States and around the world. Originating in China more than 2,000 years ago, it has quickly become a favoured living skill that has been incorporated seamlessly into architecture, interior decor, building development and home living. 

Much has been written about feng shui recently and daily newspapers in several countries now carry regular columns on feng shui, in the same way that astrology and zodiac updates have been featured for past decades.

So truly, what is this practice that recommends the avoidance of sharp angles and open shelves; that suggest that water features must be placed correctly and advise using metal objects in your home as symbolic cures for specially identified afflictions?

Feng shui recommendations can sometimes sound strange and can often appear contradictory. In the confusion created by many practitioners’ opinions, the amateur enthusiast new to the subject can be forgiven for feeling bemused, even bewildered by upstart definitions. Is feng shui a carry over of centuries old superstition? Or can we practice it as a science – on the basis that its serious practice requires accurate readings of directions and dimensions?

Feng shui is a body of knowledge that has developed over a period of some thousand years. Originally, it was the exclusive preserve of the court meteorologists of Imperial China. The meteorologist studied medicine, geomancy, astrology and other esoteric arts and they protected their knowledge so people of the time knew little about it.

Many heard about feng shui, but knowledge outside the Emperor’s palace was mainly hearsay. Eventually the knowledge spread, but only to selected families. Early feng shui masters used their expertise to help common people and many passed their skills to worthy sons and disciples. Over the past thousand years, this tradition has continued. With each succeeding generation, however, feng shui knowledge evolved and permutated and today, popularized versions of feng shui have developed and found their way to countries outside China.

Today’s feng shui practice is coloured by inputs from many traditions and cultures, and while the purists adamantly refuse to accept any kind of western or New Age inputs into the practice, there are many very successful practitioners, like Lillian Too, who bow to the evolution theory of knowledge and accept that, in the spirit of the I Ching, all knowledge evolves with the times.

Thus when cultural inputs get seamlessly absorbed into the practice of feng shui, we should not be stubborn about dogma but instead adopt a practical approach.

In the end, whether it is science of superstition, cultural or theoretical, it is what works and what makes you feel good that should be the final arbiter of right or wrong practice.Feng Shui is not directly based on any religion or mysticism. For those who use the formula schools of feng shui, it even seems like a mathematical science.

There are nine basic fundamentals that make up the foundation of feng shui practice – the landscape of locations, the shape of buildings, capturing cosmic chi, deflecting
killing energy, applying the concept of five elements, balancing yin and yang, understanding symbolism, using compass directions to define space and updating time changes.

Some practitioners tend to use a rather incomplete approach to the practice, so they leave out some important inputs. Some ignore the complicated calculations of formula type feng shui. Others dismiss symbolism, while still others disregard time changes. There is no denying that there are also some arrogant upstarts who refuse to acknowledge the efficacy of other people’s knowledge.

Those new to feng shui should be ever mindful of knowledge that lacks the wisdom of experience. Those who have practised feng shui for several decades know how vast is the science of feng shui – as vast as the skies – and even a lifetime is insufficient to learn it all. The best practitioners are thus the most humble.

And just as the Earth is constantly moving and changing, so also does the chi energy of feng shui continue to evolve & transform. Modern science has shown that geomagnetics are in constant flux. Feng shui calculations show changing results based on the variables of buildings, weather, people, time and environment. There is no fixed place to activate for money, love or knowledge luck, for their “chi” (energy) are found in different places at different times. It takes a practitioner who has learnt how to apply the different feng shui formulas to identify the right locations from time to time.

Much has been said about the “cures” used in Feng Shui. Traditional feng shui written and preserved in the classical texts does not prescribe flutes, windchimes, mirrors, charms, chants or other mystical objects as remedies. No, the language of the ancients is far more complex and usually written in codes. So a practitioner must understand and interpret the recommendations that ARE contained in the ancient texts and these always refer to the chinese view of the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water, to bring a place into an energetic balance. These elements take the form of different objects such as a windchime, a five element pagoda, brass pot or an aquarium, OR it can take the form of creatures such as the Pi Xie or the Pi Yao. But the actual essence of these remedies remain rooted in the elements and the symbolism they signify.

As an example, the mirror has become very popular as a cure and an enhancer. Mirrors in the old days were made of polished brass (a metal remedy) so in those days, it worked as a cure. Today’s modern mirrors may not have enough metal element to be prescribed as a remedy and that is why there are modern-day brass mirrors used as cures.

The important thing to understand is that the objective of feng shui remedies is to return a natural balance of chi (or life energy) to a building. So feng shui remedies are based on the natural elements as well as on the objects themselves. When we add in the symbolism of shapes, colours and dimensions, the elements are also being engaged because at a deeper level of understanding, according to the Chinese, everything in the Universe comprise the five elements.

As for avoidance of sharp angles, feng shui always contends that rounded edges are more beautiful and pleasing than sharp angles. This is part of the environmental and aesthetic aspects of feng shui. Environmental Feng Shui can be as simple as correcting a room from being too bright or too dark. Once more, we are aiming to achieve a balanced environment.

Turning on a heater to warm a cold house can be considered a form of feng shui taken from an environmental aspect. Although these are basic examples of feng shui practice, they do illustrate the point that we should never get too uptight about defining what is or is not feng shui.

There are many benefits to having proper feng shui analysis performed on your home or office. People have reported increases in wealth and love, and significant improvements in health. Feng shui can be shown to be both a science and an art. The Science of Feng Shui is the detailed analysis of the 24 orientations. The Art of Feng Shui is the requirement of judgment when deciding between options. This requires experience. For instance, on deciding on the kind of remedies – how much, exactly where, and for how long – these reflect the skills of a practiced Feng Shui Master.

Feng Shui is not just about having the knowledge and the skill. It is also about understanding the nuances and having the experience,
which can only come with many years of practice.

Today, for good or bad, there is much hearsay, guesswork and nonsense being propagated about feng shui. But this surely is to be expected. It is something that afflicts ALL knowledge and it should not faze us. 

In reality, feng shui makes complete sense. Practised responsibly, it is based on awareness, a good eye, sound logic, and taking a scientific approach helps. In finding a suitable qualified practitioner what should one look for then? Ultimately, it boils down to whether what is presented to you makes sense. Remember that the ultimate objective of feng shui is to create a balanced and harmonious place that is supportive to the people who live there, bringing them luck and happiness.

It is to ensure that you feel good in your “built-up” environment. When the energies harmonize, you are living in harmony with nature. (And really… you don’t need to live in the jungle to harmonize with nature; you can do it in your own backyard). Here, harmonizing with nature means staying in sync with the cosmic chi.

The following article is taken from the "Feng Shui World (September/October 2005)". To subscribe, please click here.