See another article on Feng Shui by author published in the Christian Research Journal, Vol 26, No. 1, 2003 at http://www.equip.org/articles/feng-shui-decorating
NOTE: Due to the complexity and varieties of feng shui practice, this article attempts only to give a broad overview of the nature, philosophy, and tools of feng shui without a detailed explanation of all its applications, principles, or technical aspects.
Feng shui (pronounced “fong shwee” in Mandarin) has come to the United States (and other Western countries). In California, New York City, Washington, DC, and other populous areas, businessmen, merchants, real estate brokers, and others are paying high fees for Feng Shui consultants. Donald Trump uses feng shui, as does Merrill Lynch (Ajay Singh, “Luck Be A Stone Lion,” Time Magazine, 3 July 2000, 53). At the Whitney Museum of American Art’s biennial exhibit, the artist behind two stone lions for sale chose the buyer based on applications explaining the applicants’ feng shui problems (Ibid). So just what is feng shui?
Feng shui, which originated within the context of Chinese Taoism, is an intricate process of how to manipulate and harmonize the flow of the invisible universal life force, the chi (also spelled qi or ki), in one’s physical surroundings, in concert with yin and yang energies and the five elements (earth, water, fire, metal, and wood). Chi, also known as the dragon’s breath, is called the “life and breath” of the universe,” (Lillian Too, The Complete Illustrated Guide to Feng Shui [Boston: Element Books Inc., 1996], 51, 68). “Feng” means “wind” and “shui” means “water.”
Various definitions are offered for feng shui:
-“The practice of living harmoniously with the energy of the surrounding environment which naturally leads to the art of placement, not only of buildings, but of everything within them,” (www.fengshuisociety.org.uk).
-Originated by farmers at least 3,000 years ago, feng shui is about how to harness the invisible chi in order to “maximize” the benefits of chi, (www.geomanceronline.com).
-An “ancient and complex Chinese art that combines mysticism, science, and superstition to determine health, luck, and prosperity according to natural landscapes and the placement of dwellings, buildings, and graves…[…]….Its fundamental concept is that in order to be healthy and prosper, one must be in harmony with the earth and receive the benefit of ch’i, the universal life principle, which exists in all things and flows through the earth and nature,” (Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, [Edison, NJ: CASTLE BOOKS/Books Sales, Inc., 1991], 200).
-“Feng Shui is the science of divining Yin and Yang in one’s immediate environment,” (Too, 54).
-Feng Shui is “terrestial divination,” used to “discover how energy flows in the land and to live in harmony with it.” (Eva Wong, The Shambhala Guide to Taoism, [Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1997], 137, 141). Feng shui is the oldest form of Taoist divination, (Ibid, 141).
The Role of Chi or Qi
Chi, qi, or qi (sometimes also spelled as ch’i), a foundational belief of this system, is believed to be a force that permeates the universe and all forms in existence. The concept of Chinese qi was developed by philosophers such as Lao-tzu, Confucius, Mencius, and others between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C., and was considered to be “the source of vitality, harmony, creativity, and moral courage,” (Guiley, 627). Chi/qi has parallels to ki in Japan and to prana (the divine breath in Hindu thinking) in India, an energy “upon which all things depend for health and life,” (Guiley, 626). Known generally as the universal life force, this energy is also known as “bioenergy,” (Ibid, 629-30), “vital energy,” “vital force,” or, most commonly in the United States, the “life force.” Manipulating and balancing the universal life force is the basis of most alternative healing methods [see CANA documents on Alternative Healing and on Reiki]. “Just as acupuncture, chakra balancing or shiatsu massage can adjust the flow of energy in the body, so can feng shui adjust the flow of energy around us,” (Belinda Henwood with Consultant Howard Choy, Feng Shui [Pownal, VT: Storey Books, undated], 6). The chi must flow “not too quickly and not too slowly,” and will stagnate or become destructive if it is blocked (Ibid). Additionally, the yin and yang (female and male) components of chi “must be in balance,” (Guiley, 200, 627). The literal translation of yin and yang is shade and light (Wong, 126). [See CANA document on Yin-Yang].
Just as in the Taoist belief that good health results from the harmonious flow of chi in one’s body, so does feng shui seek to get the chi flowing around and throughout buildings and gardens so that harmony, power, romance, and/or success will result (Wong, 137-8). The tools for determining the flow of chi and what to do about it are tools of divination. Divination is gaining information by reading hidden meanings in ordinary things, through spirit contact, or using tools such as a pendulum. Examples of divination are astrology, tarot cards, palmistry, the I Ching, numerology, and tea leaf reading. [See CANA document on the Occult].
In Chinese cosmology, the relationship between heaven, earth, and man was paramount. This is reflected in the various categories of qi: Heaven Qi, Earth Qi, and Human Qi, which are each further subdivided. Heaven Qi contains planetary and Weather Qi, which are each also subdivided further (for example, Planetary Qi includes astrology and spiritual guidance). Earth Qi contains Natural and Human Made Qi which are both subdivided (Natural Qi includes vegetation, mountains, etc.). Human Qi includes Social and Personal Qi which are each subdivided (Social Qi includes things such as neighbors and local events while Personal Qi includes ideals and beliefs, sensitivity, health and life force), (Henwood, 6). Another factor to take into account is that feng shui can attract positive energy, sheng qi, which moves along curved lines, or negative energy, sha qi, which “strikes quickly in straight lines,” (Ibid; Guiley, 201). Therefore, straight pathways and other designs that form a straight line are to be avoided.
Universal life energy, chi/qi and prana are also linked in many cultures to supernormal powers and sorcery. Tantra yoga cultivates the flow of prana in order to raise psychic powers, and prana is the source for exploits in Hindu magic (Guiley, 627). In alchemy, this universal force is called spiritus; the occult Kabala (Qabalah) terms it astral light; and hypnotist Franz Mesmer called it “magnetic fluid” (Ibid, 626). The chi is also the source of power for levitation and other occult feats (Ibid, 327). One traveler who chronicled his occult encounters in 19th century Asia wrote that he learned from a Hindu holy man that the vital fluid, the agasa or akasha, was the cause of all phenomena and was the “moving thought of the universal soul, directing all souls,” as well as the “force of which the adepts had learned to control,” (Louis Jacolliot, quoted by Guiley, 327). [The adepts are practitioners of occult powers].
Originally used as a method of “divining” where to build graves, feng shui then developed as a method to discover where to build homes and cities (www.fengshuisociety.org.uk). It is believed that feng shui started around the second century B.C. (Guiley, 201). Buddhism absorbed feng shui after it was introduced into China, and built its temples according to feng shui principles (www.fengshuihelp.com). Guiley gives three roots of feng shui: 1) the religion of Taoism, 2) divination practices “based on patterns in nature,” and 3) astrology, numerology, and other methods used to determine the placement of things, a crucial aspect of Chinese beliefs (Ibid). Early feng shui masters were priests and holy men, and feng shui was passed orally from “man to man,” (Guiley, 201).
Feng shui is used on a regular basis in China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines (Guiley, 201), and increasingly by those from Asian cultures living in the West. In early 2001, Hong Kong billionaire businessman Eric Hotung decided to sell the house he bought for $6 million from Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1997 because he thought that the house “suffer[ed] from bad feng shui,” (Washington Post, 1/13/01, p. C-3).
It seems that feng shui arose from a need for people to relate to the seasons, the weather, the earth and later, to society. It was seen as a study of “the way of heaven and earth in relation to humans” so that one can choose a life and place to live that harmonizes with our ren tao, which is “the way of being human,” (Henwood, 8). This relationship between heaven, earth and human is referred to as “the three gifts,” (Ibid). The trio of heaven, earth, and human is also seen in the trigrams (series of broken and unbroken lines in sets of three) of the divinatory I-Ching (Ibid, 12; Too, 74), a tool based on the Taoist method of reading patterns of change in the universe (Wong, 126).
The yin-yang cosmology of Taoism demands a balance between the yin and yang energies, an intrinsic component of feng shui. The Tao is the state of stillness from which all things originate; from that comes the constant change (called t’ai-chi) and interchange between the yin and yang energies, creation to dissolution (Wong, 124-5). Yin and yang energies, in a complex pattern, generate the pakua or trigrams, which are illustrations of the movement of the yin-yang energies (Wong, 126). This process became the basis for the I Ching, a divinatory tool based on the belief that seeing the changes in the universe provides us with a way to see what is coming through those patterns (Wong, 126, 133). Feng shui seems to have arisen out of a desire for harmony between the elements, nature, and man, in order to prevent disaster and keep evil at bay in a world full of the unexpected.
Tools and Methods
There are different forms of Feng Shui and variations on how to apply them. A feng shui consultant must take many things into account: how the chi is flowing in your house; the shape of the land and house; the directions the rooms face; the location of the rooms; where the rooms are placed; the decor of the home; and the landscaping of the yard/garden (Henwood, 5; www.geomanceronline.com). Additionally, these would be factored in with yin and yang, the “two opposing yet complementary energies” which constitute the Tao (Too, 50), and with the five elements of water, earth, fire, metal, and wood (www.geomanceronline.com). Feng shui can include traditional feng shui, modern interpretations of feng shui, geomancy, dowsing, space clearing, and astrology (www.fengshuisociety.org.uk). [Geomancy, dowsing, and astrology are forms of divination; geomancy uses the earth, dowsing uses a rod or stick, and astrology uses the planets].
There are dangers to avoid, such as the destructive cycle of the five elements and the imbalance of yin and yang. The five elements can be in productive or destructive relationships with each other (Too, 70). The productive cycle is fire, earth, metal, water, and wood, while the destructive cycle is wood, earth, water, fire, and metal (Ibid; Wong, 131; www.geomanceronline.com). If you are born in an earth year, for example, it is not good to have many plants since wood (which corresponds to plants) destroys earth, but having bright or red decor (corresponding to fire) is good since fire produces earth (Too, 70). If the yin and yang are unbalanced, “they can become fierce and threatening,” creating an “obnoxious and poisonous” chi which will bring “misfortune and ill luck” to the residents, (Ibid, 54).
There are remedies and cures for problematic chi. Mirrors are often used to reflect away negative chi, while wind chimes, plants, and hexagrams are used to bring chi through more beneficial channels (Guiley, 201-202). Convex mirrors will “diffuse” negative qi, while a concave mirror will attract and absorb beneficial qi (Henwood, 60). An exorcism ceremony called the Tun Fu supposedly purges a building of spirits left from previous occupations (Ibid, 202).
Around AD 300, feng shui was split into two schools, one based on landscape contours and the other based on the use of a “cosmic compass to chart astrological factors, I Ching hexagrams, the Five Phases, and other elements,” with further “metaphysical” elements added around the eleventh century, (Guiley, 201). The first became the Form School and the latter became the Compass School. The Form School depends on intuitive insight and emphasizes the shape and contours of the landscape (Henwood, 12). The Form School might advocate that a small river should be in front of the house; that there should be an open view of the sky; and that the most used door of the dwelling should have “auspicious decors,” which are Chinese characters containing “auspicious meanings,” ( www.fengshuihelp.com ). [Auspicious means something which bodes good fortune, or luck]. The four mythical animals — the red bird, the black tortoise, the blue dragon, and the white tiger — are to be placed symbolically in the front, back, to the left, and to the right of the desired location (Henwood, 15). This can be done with landscape shapes, colors and/or statues. The black tortoise, for example, is ideally a hill at the back of the building (Ibid).
The Compass School, based on a view of the flow of chi as well as the earth’s magnetic effects and fields, uses the trigrams (unbroken and broken lines placed in various patterns) of the I Ching (also called The Book of Changes), an intricate divinatory philosophy which developed over a long period time, (Henwood, 12). The trigrams represent the trinity of heaven, earth, and man (Too, 74) and are subdivided into 64 hexagrams, the tool of the I Ching, (Wong, 126). The elements of the compass method are “rooted in a form of Chinese numerology that identifies lucky and unlucky corners of a building according to specific numerical calculations, ” (Too, 64). Particular colors are also associated with the compass points (Henwood, 56).
Within the Compass School, one can use a 24 point geomantic compass determing the type of yin and yang flowing in a certain direction (Wong, 139), a bagua (eight basic directions of the compass categorized according to birth time) which can also be called the Nine Palaces [eight directions plus the center] (Wong, 130) , or lucky and unlucky areas of the house can be discerned through birth dates (Henwood, 56). An eight-sided grid, called the Pa Kua, is used symbolizing the eight directions of the compass (Too, 72). The eight directions include four positive (stimulation, success, content, calm) and four negative (depression, lonely, weak, destructive) ( www.fengshuihelp.com ). On one site, if you submit your birth date and time, a chart of your eight gua’s, or directions, will come up, showing you in which each of the eight compass directions (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW) the positive and negative forces abide. Another source identifies these eight areas associated with the directions as water, earth, thunder, wind, sky, lake, mountain, and fire (Wong, 130).
The eight directions, or areas, can be depicted in an octagon form or in a square shape [the Luo-shu or ?magic square’] (Henwood, 12, 13). According to legend, the magic square (also called Lo Shu), appeared on the back of a turtle 4,000 years ago (Too, 84). The square, which is comprised of numbers which add up to 15 in any direction, became part of Taoist magical practice [divination and sorcery] (Ibid, 85; Wong, 130).
The compass method may result in the north being “calm”‘ and the southeast “destructive,” while the south is “weak” and the west is “content.” Each of these forces has a name and description: for example, “content” is the ?heavenly doctor” and represents an area of stability and health, where the chi communication is positive; “lonely” is “five ghosts” and represents “violently upward chi,” bringing irritability ( www.fengshuihelp.com ). Another source classifies the eight directions as prosperity, fame, relationships, creative energy, travel and helpful people, career, knowledge, and family and health (Henwood, 62). In fact, these eight areas are illustrated in bright, cheerful colors as the cover design for Henwood’s book.
Henwood gives a formula for calculating one’s mingua (destiny) number which determines which direction and which of the five elements are lucky for you (64-66), information which can then be applied in the 8 directional formula (67). What if more than one person lives in the home? Traditionally, the number of the “breadwinner” is used, although each person or breadwinner can use different areas of the house, (Ibid, 67). Conflicts can be modified with the use of “colors and objects associated with the appropriate elements,” (Ibid). However, another source indicated that mathematical calculations based on birth times were in order for more than one person in a residence, stating that there is a total of 64 combinations with just 2 people (www.fengshuihelp.com).
New Age ideas blend into some feng shui recommendations. One author gives instructions for meeting “the Spirit of your home,” which could be a person, animal, a voice, or a mere presence (Denise Linn, Feng Shui for the Soul [Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 1999], 74). One can also chant the Hindu sacred sound of “Om” and visualize its symbol in order to implant the symbol’s energy into the atmosphere (Ibid, 142).
One must also consider the feng shui of ancestors’ gravesites as crucial, since such feng shui determines the luck for the descendants (Henry B. Lin, The Art and Science of Feng Shui [St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2000], Ch. 3, “Burial Feng Shui;” Too, 73; Wong, 138).
A Complex Task
Some of the advice seems to be mere common sense, such as dining chairs needing to be comfortable, having a friendly fire in a cold room, and balancing the shapes and sizes of plants (Henwood, 31, 42, 45). However, it can be difficult to find much based on aesthetic principles; virtually all of the advice is based on the flow of chi/qi, the balance of yin and yang, or the directions and elements. Here are some examples (from Henwood):
-Use an even number of chairs in the dining room since even numbers are lucky (31)
-The stove should be positioned towards the east and southeast of the kitchen because that is direction for the wood element (33)
-Flushing the toilet with the lid open increases the chances that “your money will go too” (35)
-Cover your computer screen at night if it is in a bedroom so it won’t “act as a mirror and disturb your spirit” in sleep (36)
-Hang curtains at the bottom of stairs, or put a mirror on the landing to draw qi up, so that qi does not flow down and out the door (41)
-To help qi up the stairs, put plants under the stairs or hang art that is “light and bright” to help the qi rise (41)
-Make curved pavements outside or make them appear curved to attract the positive sheng qi (46)
-Place statues of the four animal spirits — the black tortoise, the azure dragon, the white tiger, and a crane or heron — in the garden to “help channel beneficial qi into your home” (49)
-Use crystals to draw in qi (57)
-A home’s front door should be simple and practical and face the sun so that it will attract “fame, fortune, and longevity” (22)
-Don’t have the foot of your bed in line with the door; the bed head should be on the north/south axis to be “in line with the magnetic energy of the earth” (27)
-A pointed roof (associated with fire) against a curved roof shape (associated with metal) is destructive since fire melts metal (72)
Lillian Too suggests that one should use both Form and Compass methods because, no matter how good the Compass method might work out, if there are “harmful configurations” in the landscape, good Feng Shui cannot be achieved (63). Other dangers lurk. The practice of feng shui requires “constant adaptation,” because of the continual changes of “the intangible forces,” whether man-made or caused by nature (Too, 53).
Undoubtedly, some advice, especially for the outdoor landscaping and gardens, offers ideas which can result in beautiful surroundings (such as balancing the yin of flowers with the yang of a rock garden). But one can design a pleasing environment without using feng shui at all, simply by relying on common sense, personal likes and dislikes, and artistic sensibilities.
Conclusions and Questions
Following feng shui to any extended degree appears to be a tedious process resulting in restrictions on how to landscape, build and decorate. The rules and techniques vary from school to school and from source to source. Using feng shui is complex, especially if one wishes to calculate for more than one person living in the same home. It would be tempting to pay money for an expert, much as it is in astrology, whose degree of difficulty leads the layperson to consult a professional astrologer. In the systems of both astrology and feng shui, there are so many factors and options to include and consider that one can easily feel overwhelmed.
But there is a deeper reason to question applying feng shui to your life: feng shui is based on a worldview steeped in beliefs of luck, destiny, the chi or qi force, and in divinatory systems such as the I-Ching. For some people, such a system would be rejected as superstition or nonsense, for others, it might be appealing. At the very least, however, it must be burdensome to be limited by the idea that one area of the house is your “lucky” spot. It seems oppressive to follow a myriad of rules on where to put mirrors, how many chairs to have, or how to fix areas where the chi is supposedly blocked or stagnant. If one were to believe a certain area was the place of smooth flowing chi, for example, would not one interpret good things in the good areas as a result of the good chi? Do you really want to believe that a tank with goldfish will bring in money (Henwood, 50)? What will you do if your parents’ graves end up in locations with bad feng shui? The mind is very suggestible, and feng shui seems a perfect method to put one in psychological bondage to the design of the home.
There is the question of the chi or qi. Exactly what is it? Yes, it’s called the life force, but where did it come from and who is directing it? How does it have such a hold on our life that having a straight sidewalk to your front door could attract negative chi and bring in possible disaster? Henwood advises that since the back door represents “indirect opportunities,” it would be good to have large glass doors there which will “invite the qi to bring peace and harmony into your home — and then allow it to leave as it pleases,” (40). How can a force bring peace and harmony? How can a force “leave as it pleases?” This implies a mind and will and choice. Does chi think? How does a force choose to leave? Chi would have to have a mind if it can prefer to leave rather than stay, but then it wouldn’t be a force. So what is chi/qi if it’s not a force? It is either a figment of legend and imagination, or a force with unknown attributes that can’t choose anything, or a living entity that can bring you luck or disaster. One should ponder whether he/she can be comfortable with any of these options.
For a Christian, these views are at odds with the belief in a sovereign God. Luck is irrelevant in the Christian worldview. To believe in luck is to believe that one is favored or not favored by benevolent and/or malevolent forces or gods, rather than trusting the Father who adopted us as children through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:15; Galatians 3:26, 4:4-7; Ephesians 1:5).
Principles of the I Ching, a divinatory tool, are used in feng shui. Feng shui itself is a form of divination based on Taoist philosophy used to determine which area of a home is positive/negative and/or how decor and furniture should be arranged. Divination is strongly forbidden in Deuteronomy 18: 10-12 and other passages such as 2 Kings 17:17, 21:6, and Acts 16:16-18 (some translations may use the term ?soothsaying’ instead of ?divination’).
Feng shui operates entirely on the belief in balancing yin and yang and in the belief of chi/qi. To seek harmony through a balance of yin and yang energies is at odds with trusting Christ, and with the peace we have through Christ. To accept chi, one must discard the Christian God who is a personal God, not an impersonal force. There is no Biblical evidence for a force permeating the universe. It is entirely inconsistent with Christianity to believe that harmony and balance result through the manipulation and channeling of a force based on the placement of objects, or through any other method. In fact, techniques to manipulate or channel such a force belong to the world of sorcery.
The Power of Christ
Whatever benefit one may believe lies in feng shui, ultimately it will not solve your serious hurts, problems, nor satisfy your spiritual longings. It cannot cleanse you nor introduce you to a living God. The power of feng shui, or any other system dealing with chi energy, pales in comparison to the power of Christ, who was given authority and power over all authorities, powers and dominions, both of heaven and of earth (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:20, 21; Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Peter 3:22).
If you don’t know that Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11, 14), the Living Bread (John 6:33, 51), the Messiah (John 4:25-26), the Door to pastures of eternal life (John 10:9), and the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 6:9), consider these words about and from Jesus:
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. John 1:17
For this is the will My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. John 6:40
And Jesus came up and spoke to them saying, ?All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.? Matthew 28:18
Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, ?Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?? And Jesus said, ?I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.? Mark 14: 61, 62
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. Edison, NJ: CASTLE BOOKS/Books Sales, Inc., 1991.
Henwood, Belinda with Consultant Howard Choy. Feng Shui. Pownal, VT: Storey Books, undated.
Lin, Henry B. The Art and Science of Feng Shui. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2000.
Linn, Denise. Feng Shui for the Soul. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 1999.
Singh, Ajay. “Luck Be A Stone Lion.” Time Magazine, 3 July, 2000, 53.
Too, Lillian. The Complete Illustrated Guide to Feng Shui. Boston: Element Books Inc., 1996.
Washington Post, 1/13/01.
Wong, Eva. The Shambhala Guide to Taoism. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1997.