Founder: Yang Yun-San 1
Date of Birth: 800's AD 2
Birth Place: China 3
Year Founded: 800's AD 4
Sacred or Revered Texts: Han Lung Ching (describes the "Art of Rousing the Dragon"), Ching Nang Ao Chih (offers guidelines for locating the dragons lair, I Lung Ching (explains the technique for finding the dragon when it is hiding).5
Size of Group: Scholars have difficulty pinpointing an exact number of Feng Shui practitioners.6 It is known that Feng Shui is widely practiced throughout the East and Southeast Asia. Although Feng Shui used to be considered a superstition, more and more people are practicing it in the West. Feng Shui is intrinsic to life in the East and growing in the West. A rough estimate would be that over 200 million people practice Feng Shui in their daily lives. Some of these millions may not realize that they are practicing Feng Shui because it is so engrained into their society. In Hong Kong, no one would buy a new home, relocate their business or move around a layout without consulting a Feng Shui expert.7
Feng Shui means "wind and water" and deals with understanding the forces and powers that are continually around us with the hope of harnessing these forces and receiving good fortune.Many of the fundamental texts associated with Feng Shui have been around for over 4000 years. This ancient art was confined to the ruling class until during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) when Master Yang Yun-Sang wrote several books that allowed the general public to have access to the secrets of Feng Shui.8
The art of Feng Shui became classified as a pseudo-science around the twelfth century as people started looking more closely into the location of their houses, temples, graves, etc. to ensure their prosperity.
Feng Shui was used to ensure auspicious grave sites. The location of one's final resting place is extremely important to the Chinese. Feng Shui is said to be first applied to grave sites by Kuo P'o (d. CE 324), and to house building by Wang Ch'i (11th century). Divination to determine favorable building locations goes back to the beginning of the Chou Dynasty (c. 1000 BC). In general, Feng Shui has been fundamental in China since the Sung Dynasty.9 Each year the government of China would release the Imperial almanac giving all the lists, figures, diagrams, etc. needed in Feng Shui. Feng Shui continues to be used by people of all levels of society in urban and rural communities of China.
The first mention of Feng Shui was in the Lun Heng by Wang Ch'ung a first century CE skeptic philosopher. He characterized Feng Shui as a 'superstitious belief in aerial currents and subterranean water-courses which bring good or bad fortune.10
The Form School of Feng Shui is the original school of Master Yang's principles.Master Yang focused heavily on the shape of the hills, mountains, direction of water flow, but primarily on finding the lair of the dragon, China's most revered celestial creature. 11 Everything that happened in China was explained by the dragon and its moods. So it was extremely important for the Chinese to determine how to influence the dragon. The books that Master Yang wrote were all based on the dragon. So the Form School rationalized good and bad land sites in terms of dragon symbolism in hopes that their nation would become powerful through the dragon. Thus Feng Shui was born as the Chinese attempted to discover the dragon and concurrently learned about their surrounding environment.
Eventually a second school of Feng Shui emerged and viewed Feng Shui in a different light. This second school, the Compass School, stresses the Pa Kua with its triagrams and hexagrams that help calculate imbalances, and the Lo Shu Grid, which helps describe when to do such actions. There are now several different branches of the Compass School. Some branches focus on numerology while others focus on time dimension. Certain branches of the Compass School also emphasize the influence of the planets on the quality of good landscape locations.12
When the first railway was built in China, the designers did not consult Feng Shui practitioners. The railway ran from Shanghai to Wu-sung. Despite being only nine miles long, the railway was purchased and destroyed by the Chinese "on the plea that the speed of the train destroyed the Feng Shui of the thousands of people on both sides of the line."13
In 1949 General Chiang Kai-shek fled China for Taiwan and his group took with them many valuable old Feng Shui texts. Thus Feng Shui was introduced in Taiwan and spread to more countries. Now Feng Shui is taken for granted in both China and Taiwan. Feng Shui has not been utilized in most buildings in the West, but Feng Shui knowledge is slowly crossing the waters to the West. 14 Many prosperous businesses utilize Feng Shui including Shell, Citibank, Trump Towers in New York, MGM Grand Hotel and Mirage Resorts in Las Vegas and Borders Bookstores.15
The purpose of Feng Shui is to harness the natural forces around one so as to achieve optimum balance and harmony in the location and placement of one's living environment. In practice, Feng Shui seeks to find suitable locations to live, away from harmful energies so the inhabitants would thrive with happy abundant lives.16
The ancient Chinese Masters achieved harmony by observing land forms, energy lines and sought the balance of Yin and Yang. They also tried to ensure that the flow of beneficial Chi was harnessed while the harmful Chi was deflected. Feng Shui is important not only during life, but in one's burial because harmful chi can still affect you once you are dead.17
Chi is believed to be the most important influence on our lives. Chi means "life's breath" or "energy" and is the unifying energy that links everything together. It has been likened symbolically to the cosmic breath of a dragon.18
The concept of Chi originated in the Chinese Zhou dynasty and it literally means "gas."19 Chi is the force that creates mountains, the brushstroke of a calligrapher, the movement of a dancer and is everywhere. Chi is also with us from birth to death and without it, we cannot live. Each person has a different chi and it can influence the destiny of one's life. Chi can be enhanced through meditation, positive human relationships and a healthy environment. Chi constantly changes and no one can escape its powers. Feng Shui helps teach you how to manipulate the chi in your life.20
There are three main forces of Chi that sustain all of life: Cosmic Chi, Human Chi and Earth Chi .
Cosmic Chi is the force of nature. It comes down on us from the planets, sun, moons, etc. This energy is similar to the way the earth is pulled by the sun and the way the tides are affected by the moon. Even stars and planets far away project cosmic chi. The existence of Cosmic Chi helps explain why the weather affects personal moods and feelings. Cosmic Chi is considered the source of abundant wealth, fortune, peace, honor, and good health. Businesses with plentiful chi will prosper and continue to grow.
Human Chi is inside each person. Each person has his or her own unique chi that flows in its own path. It affects your personality, interactions with others, general mood and much more. Feng Shui practitioners try to help adjust your environmental chi to best suit you. Human Chi can be likened to the western concept of bio energies.
Earth Chi is the way the earth affects you. The forces of mountains, streams, valleys, plains, etc all impact and influence you. In the way mountains protect us from harsh elements and also provide psychological support. We tend to feel more stable and grounded when we have mountains around. Those who live in the mountains tend to be more stubborn, loyal and honest. Like a mountain, those people are more steadfast in their values.21
Other earthly forms affect us in their own ways. Our chi is also changed by the earth's magnetic field and its pull.
Chi can be broken into five elements or phases: metal , wood , water , fire and earth . These elements characterize all matter around us. All five elements of Chi are associated with colors , moods , seasons , body organs , times , etc. For example, water is associated with black. The deeper the water, the blacker it is.22 Also, metal is white, sometimes gold and it symbolizes the west and represents fall.
The five elements of chi are combined in different amounts and cause good and bad luck to a person. Sometimes the elements work to cancel one another out and sometimes they enhance one another.23 Feng Shui masters analyze the symbolic elements and categorize everyone under a Chinese system, which looks at the date and hour of one's birth.
One's chi is greatly affected by the year they are born. If a person was born in a fire year, they should not have too much water in the home because water destroys fire. The five elements are constantly interacting with one another in productive and destructive cycles,24 affecting the balance of negative and positive chi in our lives.
The concept of yin and yang is a concept if balance as well. Yin and Yang are two opposite forces that govern the universe. Together they make up all aspects of life around us. Yin is dark, yang is light; yin is feminine, yang is masculine. They need each other, can never be separated and together create harmony.25 If yin and yang are not balanced in your life, then the imbalance can be harmful to the body. Feng Shui aims at striking a balance between the forces of yin and yang.
Another premise associated with Feng Shui is the premise of the Eight Triagrams, or "Pa Kua." The Pa Kua comes from the I Ching and is used by the Compass School approach to Feng Shui. It is used to interpret good and bad Feng Shui according to the placement of the symbolic hexagrams and triagrams in a compass shape.26 For each compass directional, there are corresponding attributes, symbols, colors, etc. One would throw wooden blocks, yarrow stalks, and later coins. Based on where these objects landed one could interpret divine omens and gain wisdom.27
Chinese history books describe how around 2005 BC, a turtle emerged from the River Lo with nine numbers arranged in a grid upon his back. The numbers were arranged in such a way that when they were added vertically, horizontally or diagonally, they always added up to fifteen. Fifteen is the number of days it takes for a new moon to become a full moon.28
The grid pattern corresponded with the Eight Triagrams of the Pa Kua around a ninth critical point. This group of numbers became known as the Lo Shu square or grid. The Lo Shu square is another important foundation in the Compass School of Feng Shui because of its relation to the Pa Kua. The Lo Shu grid is said to unlock the meanings of the Pa Kua with its added numerology. Each day, month and year has its own Lo Shu number and Masters within the Compass School look to the Lo Shu grid to decipher good and bad days for activities.
Examples of Applied Feng Shui:
A large part of understanding Feng Shui is understanding how your surroundings affect you. Practitioners have explained these effects of Feng Shui in our daily lives so people will be able to make the chi around them flow as smoothly as possible. Illustrations of Feng Shui help to show its practicality.
The foot of your bed should not face the door. The Chi's flow will disrupt your sleep.29
Living next to a place of worship, school, hospital, or fire station can cause health risks.30
Pools with rounded corners are believed to create beneficial chi for the residents of the house.31
The ideal situation for a business is to be located on a street corner with the entrance on a diagonal, drawing in chi, customers, and money from two directions.32
Windows should not slide up and down because they only let in half as much chi as their size and occupants tend to give people a false impression.33
The closer the bedroom is to the front door, the less peace residents will feel.34
Dining Chairs should be even in number because even numbers represent luck and single chairs represent loneliness.35
Colored ribbons and wind chimes near artificial ventilation devices will flutter and make music and enliven chi.36
But is Feng Shui a Religion?
It is hard to classify Feng Shui. Some might classify Feng Shui as a religion, while others note that no worshipping happens within it. There are no elixirs or potions to solve one's problems and it is not magic either. Rather Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese art of placement aimed at understanding and harnessing the energies for one's prosperity. Feng Shui has characteristics of religious groups interwoven into it, especially Taoism.
Taoism is based on the Tao Teh Ching and is concerned with being one with nature through intuitive knowledge and harmony. This knowledge can be attained through meditation on the Tao. The Tao is incomprehensible, and indescribable with words, through balance one can understand it.37 Taoism focuses heavily on balance and harmony seen through the yin and yang which constitute the Tao, or "the Way."38 In fact, all Chinese beliefs, traditions and lifestyles are based upon the principle of opposites seen in the yin and yang.39 One aspires to not go to extremes, but find harmonious balance with nature. Along with Feng Shui, Taoism recognizes the idea of chi and how everything is interrelated through it. Another concept within Feng Shui that is shared with Taoism is the Lo Shu square. This square is the basis of Taoist magical practices and rituals.40
On top of Feng Shui and Taoism exhibiting many similarities, in general, the religions of the far east share many similar premises. The religions of the far east are different than the typically monotheistic religions of the west. Religions in the east tend to be more holistic by looking at how everything around a person affects their life. These religions tend to be tied to nature and the serenity that it brings. On the contrary, religions in the west are typically monotheistic and more structured. These religions are based on a collective experience that is less related to nature and balance than religions in the east.
Considering that religions of the east are considerably different than religions of the west, it becomes increasingly difficult to classify Feng Shui using western ideas, but one classification available for Feng Shui would be as a quasi-religion. Arthur Greil discusses quasi-religions and includes in the category groups that "are deliberately ambiguous with regard to the issue of whether they are sacred or secular in nature."41 Feng Shui is often categorized in book stores in the 'home improvement' category, but Feng Shui is a lot more than merely a type of home improvement plan. Quasi-religions emphasize their secular or spiritual sides, depending which is needed in any given situation. This is done within Feng Shui. One can look at it and see the religious ideas of the energy flows and their effect on all aspects of life. But Feng Shui can also be seen purely as a way to evaluate one's environment without looking at the religious aspect of it. Therefore we could classify Feng Shui as a quasi-religion.
Another potential classification of Feng Shui is as a client cult. A client cult tends to provide specific tangible compensators for life's problems.42 Some examples of rewards that Feng Shui offers would be: harmony with the people around you, a job, improved health, and more motivation.
In general, client cults solve people's problems and provide solutions for a fee. The prevalence of Feng Shui "Masters" might suggest that either Feng Shui is easy to master or many people are conning people with their supposed expertise. There are thousands of people who claim to be Feng Shui "Masters" but true masters are rare. There are perhaps a half-dozen practitioners in the world who can claim mastery of the subject and none have much contact with the general public.43 One could argue that a master is a person who has studied under a master for several years and studied ancient Chinese philosophy and religion. True Masters are concerned primarily with new temple construction, consultation with builders and architectural firms, and city planning.44 There is no real way to decipher whether these "Masters" truly are masters or creating a client cult for their own personal gain.
Using the terms "quasi-religion" and "client cult" to classify Feng Shui is purely to understand Feng Shui better. These conceptualizations in no way are right or wrong, but rather they are more or less useful to someone not familiar with the practices associated with Feng Shui. Unfortunately, there are no scholarly books about Feng Shui in English so we are forced to rely upon the advice and teachings of the numerous "Masters."45 Regardless of where the information comes from, there is something about Feng Shui that draws people and seems to provide the answers people are looking for.46
Feng Shui is spreading to the west rapidly. As more Asians move to the west, their traditions move along with them. Along with sushi, martial arts, and organic remedies, Feng Shui has crept into western society. One can go into a bookstore and find a dozen books on Feng Shui, not to mention the thousands of websites dedicated to Feng Shui. Eastern ideas have penetrated western society in the same way that western society has penetrated eastern cultures. This is evident by McDonald's in Japan and skyscrapers in Hong Kong. This cultural exchange will continue to help people all over the world understand each other and understand each other's beliefs. Feng Shui could lose its cultural identity and become a worldwide tradition.47
Bainbridge, William Sims and Rodney Stark. 1979. "Cult Formation: Three Compatible Models." Sociological Analysis. 40, 4: 283-295.
Brandon , S.G.F. ed. 1970. "Feng Shui." A Dictionary of Comparative Religion. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 282, 283.
Doniger, Wendy. 1999. "Feng Shui." Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions . Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster. 350.
Field, Stephen L., PhD. 1999. "The Numerology of Nine Star Feng shui: A Hetu, Luoshu Resolution of the Mystery of Directional Auspice." Journal of Chinese Religions . 27: 13-33.
Greil, Arthur L. 1993. "Explorations Along the Sacred Frontier: Notes on Para-Religions, Quasi-Religions, and Other Boundary Phenomena." Religion and the Social Order. Vol 3A. JAI Press Inc. 153-172.
Hastings, James. 1908. "Feng Shui." Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. Vol 5. New York: Scribner 13 vols. 833-835.
Henwood, Belinda. 1999. Feng Shui: How to Create Harmony and Balance in Your Living and Working Environment Pownal, Vermont: Storey Books.
Moran, Elizabeth and Val Biktashev. 1999. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feng Shui. New York: Alpha Books.
Rossbach, Sarah. 2000. Interior Design With Feng Shui . New York: Penguin Group.
Too, Lillian. 1996 The Complete Illustrated Guide to Feng Shui: How to Apply the Secrets of Chinese Wisdom for Health, Wealth and Happiness. Great Britain: Lillian Too.
Too, Lillian. 1999. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Feng Shui. Boston: Element Books.
Created by Elizabeth Hagerty
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
University of Virginia
Spring Term, 2000
Last modified: 04/20/01