Feng shui is an ancient art and science that was formalized over 3,000 years ago in China. In literal translation feng means “wind” and shui means “water.” In Chinese culture, wind and water are associated with good health, thus good feng shui came to mean good fortune. Conversely, bad feng shui means bad luck or misfortune.
Some elements of Feng shui practice date back at least 6,000 years, and it contains elements of various branches of scholarly study, including physics, philosophy, astronomy, and astrology. It is related closely to closely to the Taoist vision and understanding of nature, particularly the idea that the land is alive and filled with Chi, or energy. Other concepts shared between feng shui and Taoism include the polarities of yin and yang—the polar opposites that cannot exist without the other—and the theory of five elements.
Feng shui is sometimes thought to be the art of placement—understanding how the placement of yourself and objects within a space affects your life in various areas of experience. It is a complex body of knowledge that teaches us how to balance and harmonize with the energies in any given space—be it a home, office, or garden. Its aim is to assure good fortune for the people inhabiting a space. Although regarded by some in the scientific community as a pseudo-science, feng shui has had an impact on the aesthetics of interior design and the architectural layout of living and working spaces, both in its native eastern and, more recently, western cultures.
Since good fortune comes in many forms, including better health, a successful career, or a fulfilling love life, feng shui practice includes detailed tips for almost every area of your life. The main tools used in analyzing the feng shui of any space are the feng shui compass and the bagua.
Two Basic Feng Shui Principles
The principle of yin and yang. The Taoist theory of yin and yang is essential to feng shui. At the core of this principle lies a belief that a balance of the feminine (Yin) and the masculine (Yang) in our lives is necessary to maintain a good flow of Chi and a content, happy, successful life.
In Taoist and Feng shui theory, yin and yang are opposites that are dependent upon one another and which must always be in balance. The principle of duality—the idea that all things are balanced blends of two things—is at the root of yin/yang theory. While most other spiritual philosophies believe in opposing dualities, such as good vs. evil, the Chinese Taoist system believes that balance and equilibrium between opposites is the desirable state. Discord occurs when one principle outweighs the other.
The principle of five elements. Also central to Taoism and feng shui is the theory of five elements. By tradition, feng shui practice holds that all things consist of varying degrees of five elements. In the feng shui system, wood, fire, earth, metal, and water are the five elements, and each is represented by certain colors that can help us bring harmony to a particular space.
The five elements can interact in any number of ways, some constructive and some destructive. In the constructive cycle, for example, water provides moisture for trees (wood) to grow; wood then becomes a fuel for fire; the residue of fire is ash or soil; the ash/soil is the essence of earth minerals that form metals; and as metal cool, they allow water to condense, completing the cycle. In a destructive cycle, on the other hand, metal can cut wood; and wood can grow over and consume soil.
The Feng Shui Bagua
The feng shui energy map, or bagua, is an octagonal grid containing the symbols of the I Ching, the ancient oracle on which feng shui is based. Knowing the bagua (pronounced “bag-wha”) of your home and of the rooms within it will help you understand the connection between different areas and specific aspects of your life experience. The bagua is essentially a mapping chart by which you can assess and improve how different parts of the home affect specific areas of your life, such as love, health, or wealth. You can use it to determine how to position furniture and other objects within the room for the maximum positive benefit.
The bagua map is used by first orienting yourself to the main entrance to the house, or the entry to an individual room, then using the map to identify the different key areas of the space. Then, specific items can be positioned in those key areas to enhance their feng shui. For example, the place defined as the wisdom area is a good place for a small stack of books, while the love/relationship space is a good place for a wedding photo.
Feng Shui Compass (Luo Pan)
A feng shui compass is a specialized form of an ordinary magnetic compass. In fact, the magnetic compass was originally invented for use in feng shui, as a tool for positioning buildings and objects within buildings in accordance with cardinal directions for specific feng shui purposes. Before the invention of the compass, directions were determined by astronomical instruments, such as the astrolabe. Also called a Luo-Pan, the feng shui compass is used to access deeper information about a site or a building. It consists of bands of concentric rings arranged around the magnetic needle. In Chinese, luo means “everything” and pan means “bowl.” This can be interpreted to mean that the feng shui compass contains all the mysteries of the universe.
The feng shui compass is used to determine the proper orientation when using the bagua energy map. In order to take an accurate reading for your feng shui work, you do not necessarily need a traditional feng shui compass, just an accurate magnetic one. If you decide to go deeper, owning a traditional feng shui compass can bring more complex insights to your work.
Feng Shui “Cures”
Feng shui offers a variety of cures to improve your life. From the use of aquariums to attract prosperity to the use of crystals, fountains, or clocks for other personal goals, there are many ways you can improve the energy in your home or office with solid, good feng shui practices.
Feng shui focuses on colors, as well. It is amazing how effectively carefully chosen colors of wall paint, furniture, or accessories can affect the energy flow in your home. If you love to decorate anyway, you might as well choose color palettes that are beneficial to your life. Feng shui can guide you through this.
Different Schools of Feng Shui
There are several different schools of feng shui. Among the traditional schools are those that use the feng shui compass. Others, such as the Black Hat Sect Tantric Buddhist Feng Shui (BTB, for short), incorporate Buddhist teachings into the practice. There is also a modern feng shui school that has been adapted to the Western lifestyle.
You will also encounter a strong culturally-specific symbolic aspect of feng shui that should be used intelligently. Once you master the basic level of feng shui, you will start seeing powerful results and will come to understand why feng shui is used extensively in homes and offices all over the world.
Although some levels of feng shui are easy to understand and apply, the core knowledge takes years of study. Just like traditional Chinese medicine, feng shui knowledge is deep and complex. The more you learn about it, the more there is to explore.