What is Feng Shui?

Feng Shui - commonly accepted as stemming from the Chinese Feng, the force of the wind, and Shui, the flow of water - is based on the theory that energy from these natural forces can be manipulated to flow beneficially.

In classical texts, however, it is described as "tian ling di li ren he," which translates literally as "auspicious heavenly influence, beneficial topography, harmonious human actions." This description is more apt, as Feng Shui is a complex blend of astronomy, astrology, topography and science combined with the more human - social, societal, and cultural.

Most ancient systems evolved similarly - from an understanding or interpretation of the natural world, where natural phenomena such as lightning, storms, or droughts were thought to be imbued with a spirit or deity. Where these systems became religions, the deities were or shipped. Feng Shui, though, is not about worship; it's about the force of destiny or fate. It uses formulas to determine the rising and falling energy for an individual or a dwelling in a given time span. Other formulas indicate the best location or position for a person's home or office, and suggest the appropriate placement of beds, desks, seating arrangements, design schemes. It helps us determine which colors, layouts, designs, shapes, materials and plants will support and nurture us. Although there are some basic principles to follow in Feng Shui, it is a philosophy which understands our homes are direct extensions of ourselves; they are mirrors reflecting who we are.

The history of Feng Shui

Feng Shui is used today to orient the homes of the living, but in its earliest form it was used to orient the homes of the dead. In early Chinese history, appropriate and auspicious locations were determined by direction, astronomy and geophysical factors. Using the same methods, efficient agricultural systems were also created. The practice is as old as Chinese culture itself, dating back to Neolithic Yangshao villages (6000 BCE). The term "Feng Shui" first appeared in a passage from the Book of Burial, which dates to the 4th century CE.

Until recently, much of the literature on Feng Shui has only been available in Chinese, and its principles were largely unknown in the West. In its heady days during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), Feng Shui was confined to the ruling classes-to the emperor and his ministers. Court advisers had to pass imperial examinations which involved acquiring a profound knowledge of classical Chinese texts, which themselves were submerged in archaic language and symbolic explanations. One of these was the I Ching-known in the West as the Book of Changes. An important component of this book is knowledge of Feng Shui.

The ambitious within the court were required to be skilled in interpreting the divinations and predictions revealed in the I Ching. Those who acquired this knowledge enjoyed privileged positions. They were consulted when palaces and tombs were built, and new cities were planned. They rigorously studied landscapes, calculated compass directions and diagnosed the positioning of buildings within land sites. They worked out appropriate dimensions for new buildings, and even investigated individual birth dates, to ensure that human energy could be harmoniously aligned to the home, residents and environments. This is essentially what Feng Shui masters and practitioners are doing today.

The principles of Feng Shui are evidenced in the position, direction and placement of ancient Chinese temples, buildings, burial sites, landscaping - even cities. The placement of structures within the natural world forms the basis of many of the oldest Feng Shui schools of thought. Here, an ornate detail on concrete stars in a Chinese garden echoes shapes derived from nature, such as the wind, water or undulating hills. While also protecting the garden from the elements, due to it's solid shape, these stairs allow for the free flow of Qi and interconnection within the landscape.
What is Feng Shui?