Feng Shui is the Westernized term for the word ‘Fung Soy’, which is the correct pronunciation in Cantonese (Si, 2011). In other Chinese dialects the pronunciation of feng shui is quite different as it was originally, ‘Fung Shway’ (Levitt, 2000 p.1). Although there are varied pronunciations for feng shui, the characters remain the same in all dialects. Feng Shui means ‘wind’ and ‘water’ (Levitt, 2000 p.1; Feng, 2014). The field of feng shui was considered the ancient art and science of locating a sacred place on earth (Levitt, 2000 p.1). Originally, feng shui was used by the Chinese emperors in building Imperial palaces, public buildings and tombs. Although feng shui does not have an exact scientific basis for its teachings and beliefs, it can be also considered as a religion itself. The origins of feng shui were considered mystical and highly influenced by the principles of Taoism (Levitt, 2000; p.2). In this paper, I would like to draw the attention on how the principles of Taoism created and established the modern beliefs of feng shui we know today. Also, the increasing numbers of Sinologists who study the ancient Chinese culture, the knowledge of feng shui has been passed down from China to the Western cultures where it continues to influence the fields of business, architecture and even the psychological aspect of the human life (Si, 2011). According to the lecture provided by Feng Shui Master Wan Bao Lang, Feng shui was directly related with the Western Astrology due to the incorporation of religious and philosophical beliefs as its prime foundation. The ‘chi’ is the heart of feng shui which is the energy that flows from all the surroundings and even in homes. Chi embodies two different forms namely: good chi, which is very beneficial in promoting longevity, good fortune and good health whilst bad chi is the negative energy that leads to the bad luck, poor health and pessimism (personal communication, January 16, 2012).
Taoism: A Brief Background
Taoism is one of the major religions of China that is primarily based on the Tao Te Ching, an ancient philosophical works which means ‘Classics of Tao and its Virtue’ in English (Brunner, 2005). Historically, the book was originally written by the Chinese philosopher named Lao-Tzu in the 6th century B.C. However, some scholars of the Chinese culture believe that the book is written on the 3rd century B.C. in China. Furthermore, another Taoist philosopher named Chuang-Tzu added other ideas to the Taoist religion (Brunner, 2005). Oldstone-Moore (2003) also researched that the way of Taoism, as indicated in the introduction of her book entitled, ‘Taoism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places’ refers to the nameless, formless, all pervasive power which gives everything life whilst reverting them back into non-beings in an eternal cycle (p.6). Brunner (2005) argues that Taoism is the ultimate reality of the universe (p.366). In addition, the whole philosophical ideologies of this religion aim to contribute a positive outlook wherein people can live in harmony in nature and themselves whilst removing all the negative forces out of the mind.
In Taoism, wu-wei is needed to be cultivated to allow a person to absorb the teachings of Taoism. Primarily, wu-wei is an inaction characterized by humility and prudence (Brunner, 2005 p. 366). At first, the Taoist teachings were a philosophy; however the pilgrims and believers regarded this as a sacred religion similar to the Confucianism. Its religious practices have been extended to other fields of learning such as: alchemy, exorcism, faith healings, meditation and worshipping of the Taoist deities (Brunner, 2005 p.366). Nowadays, other practices was influenced by the Taoist beliefs such as tai-chi (Chinese martial art that is beneficial in defense and health), acupuncture and feng shui (Chinese astrology), which is the general application of all Taoist beliefs and is mainly used in architecture and accounting (Oldstone-Moore, 2003 p.11). The principle of yin-yang indicates that everything should be in harmony, in order for the people to live in peace and prosperity.
Taoist Feng Shui Practices
The ancient practice of feng shui started first as a religious belief that stemmed from the Taoist and Confucian philosophy. The yin-yang is a circle and composed of only two colors that are light and dark. Both Confucians and Taoists believe that one cannot achieve the right path to harmony without the natural balance of all things. Yin-yang is considered as mystical emblem of both Confucianism and Taoism religions. As figure, it was illustrated as a circle divided into two halves comprising of light and dark variations. The circle of yin-yang indicates the eternal or infinite recycling of these forces existent in the world. The light portion called the yang signifies enlightenment and warmth, whilst the other variation called the yin symbolizes the gloomy and recessive nature. These two forces combine to produce a harmonious universal force that enables things to become balanced in a way that their energy or chi is not distorted. The cycle of feng shui energy is eternal; similar to the postulate of Newton that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only recycled for it to be used again. The alternating forces of the yin and yang cannot be created because it was already existent in the earth since its creation. The law of feng shui believes that these energies should be respected, studied in order to achieve the harmony of well-balanced life. The human body also experiences the endless cycle of the yin and yang. The breathing process is a best example of the yin and yang forces in action. Upon inhaling, the expansion of lungs to absorb the fresh air is the yang. It allows the body to gain mostly positive energy to be used in daily activities. On the other hand, exhaling is regarded as the yin, because the lungs contract, thus expelling the used air outside the body. Furthermore, the yin within the body diminishes the active energy produced by the yang, thus allowing the body to rest. Mostly, the harmony between the yin and yang can be also found in the every surrounding. For example, in a house, the yang value which consists of a positive and warm chi (life-force) dominates the living room wherein the lively conversation is held and other lively activities for the living. In the perspective of the yin, which is mostly the dark side has a negative energy rather than a positive one. The yin reflects the bedroom since this is the only part of the house wherein all members of the household retire during the night. The bedroom signifies rest and inactivity and here, a person lowers down their chi to have a peaceful rest (Levitt 2000 p. 6).
However, the Taoists believe that although the yin and yang are beneficial to its life, it is not thoroughly recommended having an unequal portion of the two separate energies. The yang symbolizes the positive aura and warmth. It was characterized by a light color wherein the greater amount of energy flows within it. Feng Shui experts believe that too much yang in a home can cause restlessness and its physical appearance can be too bright which will eventually lead to anxiety. Furthermore, excessive yin in home can create an atmosphere of gloominess and sadness because this is the darker variation of the negative energy and signifies death as much as it does to the tombstones of the dead. The harmony of yin and yang in homes can lead to happiness, fruitfulness and less stressful life. The Taoist principle for the yin and yang is that in order to attain something that is beneficial to mind, body and soul, a person’s yin and yang should be in harmony with each other to bring out their fullest potential. The endless cycle of the yin and yang was written in the teachings of Tao Te Ching, an eighty-one verse book wherein Lao-Tzu explained the dualistic nature of the Taoist philosophy:
“Thirty spokes joined together in a single wheel, but it is the center hole, that makes the wagon move. We shape the lump of clay into a vessel, but it is the emptiness of the vessel that makes it useful. We hammer doors and windows of wood for a house, but it is the empty inner space that makes the rooms livable. We build with the tangible, but the intangible is what we use” (cited from Levitt, 2000 pp. 7-8).
The Taoist philosophy aims to educate people about the eternal wisdom on how to live life simply. Feng shui had adopted the teachings of Taoism long ago, and this astrology allowed the teachings of Taoists to be applied in everyday life in order to create a refuge wherein the people can live in harmony. The driving force of both Taoism and feng shui is the existence of the universal forces that created the earth. These forces are mostly present in almost every surroundings like trees, mountains, bodies of water, fire and wind. Chi is the energy by which all things are created and destroyed. In addition, feng shui practice is patterned according to the four regions of the land. These four regions were guarded by the ‘Si Xiang’ or beast gods, existent in Chinese mythology each symbolizing different life forces under the yin and yang principle (Feng, 2014). The ruler of the southern region was called the ‘Zhu Que’ or the red phoenix. The warmth of the summer season and fire is represented by the red phoenix. The azure dragon of the east was known as the ‘Qing Long’, which represents the spring season. In the west, the white tiger or ‘Bai Hu’ dominates the entire land under the Chinese compass and represents the autumn season and mountains. ‘Xuan Wu’ or the black tortoise represents the season of winter which means coldness and the state of being distant.
The Chinese compass is the opposite of the regular compass because the principle of yin-yang was followed. The compass was made out of the tortoise shell and indicated within are the markings representing the four different regions of the earth, which was governed by the mystical creatures. The arrangement of the directions of the compass follows the yin-yang pattern, the red phoenix of the south will be placed on the topmost part of it, since it embodies all the positive energy of life, whilst the black tortoise of the north will be at the least priority and located on the bottom part of the compass. Similarly, the azure dragon of the east will be accompanying the red phoenix since the dragon represents the spring season, containing another positive chi, and therefore it will be located in the left part of the compass. Meanwhile, the white tiger of the east embodies half of the negative chi and therefore it should be placed on the right side of the compass to accompany the black tortoise .
Life-force can be detected in the environment by means of incorporating the Taoist philosophy of yin and yang; however, aside from that, a special compass is used. The compass used in feng shui is called ‘Ba Gua’. This compass is used to determine the appropriate places of the good chi and the bad chi so that the passageway of these energies will not be hindered by anything. The feng shui is considered an art, but not as a science per se, because of the vague scientific explanations of the presence of chi in the human body and the environment. Although, feng shui practice can raise many eyebrows due to its mysterious origins, millions of people from both west and eastern countries practice this ancient Chinese astrology. The Ba Gua is a compass which is a combination of two words. Ba means ‘eight’ in Chinese and the Gua means ‘trigram’ (Levitt, 2000). Hence, the meaning of Ba Gua is ‘eight trigrams’ and each trigram is essential to the application of feng shui and Taoism in everyday life. Legend says that the trigrams created by the Chinese ruler named Fu Xi (Pinyin: Fu Hsih). The ba-gua compass was made out of tortoise shell, making each tortoiseshell markings became the trigrams. The eight trigrams symbolize the real world physically such as the Qian (Heaven), Kun (Earth), Li (Fire), Xun (Wind), Kan (Water), Gen (Mountain), Dui (Lake) and Zhen (Thunder). Fu Xi laid these ideas in order to understand the divisions of the energy that is present in the real world (Levitt, 2000 p. 9). Scholars of the ancient Chinese culture and feng shui experts believe that Fu Xi’s trigrams characterized the ‘early heaven’ sequence. Moreover, the prominence of the ba-gua as a tool for feng shui was ordered by King Wen of the Zhou Dynasty. Additionally, King Wen who was a devout believer of Lao-Tzu’s teachings also created another variation from the original work of Fu Xi and is poetically referred to as the ‘Later Heaven’ sequence (Levitt, 2000 p. 10). Collectively, other forms of the chi energy are distinguished into five types such as metal, wood, fire, water and earth; often these items were sometimes called the ‘Five Elements of Transformation’ or Wu Xing (Feng, 2014).
Feng Shui is the application of the Taoist philosophical teachings. The feng shui practice is the art of calculating the points in which the chi energy can affect the building and its inhabitants. Feng shui masters who knowledgeable on the various forms and passages of the chi energies benefit most from it, because the good chi enhances the way of living both psychologically and physically. In addition, one of the main purposes of feng shui is to control, modify and alter the presence of the negative energy in the human body and in the surroundings so that it may not affect the person’s well-being. The similarities between feng shui and the Taoist principles is the belief in the presence of chi in almost any environment, whether it is a building, road, houses and public places (Feng, 2014). The endless cycle of these energies contribute to the development of one’s life and personality and mostly affects the state of the mind. The techniques used in practicing feng shui reveal how the chi affects a person’s personality and his environment. Another purpose of studying feng shui aside from improving the life is the belief of the good luck and the way it affects the monetary aspects. Chinese businessmen rely on the good chi and feng shui readings before they attempt to erect their establishments in order to regulate the flow of good and bad life-forces. The perseverance is another teaching from the book of Tao Te Ching, and this is usually incorporated with the monetary applications to avoid overspending whilst allowing the influx of positive chi on the business establishment. Moreover, the philosophy of natural harmony is the driving force of both feng shui and Taoism. Taoist priests who were both male and female discovered that feng shui enables them to learn the appropriate time in harvesting crops, predict and study the patterns made by the planets and the stars, animal behavior and weather conditions. The ancient Taoists philosophers also observed the movement of the river being similar to the flow of the chi in the environment. Good chi is describes as the natural slow movement similar to the river flow in a lush quiet forest (Rossbach, 2000).
Good chi removes unnecessary thoughts and allows an individual to focus more on their goals ahead. The good chi is symbolizes the dragon’s magnificence and the warmth of the phoenix. Its gentle yet powerful life force allows all people to have a positive outlook in life, whilst preserving one’s health. In Chinese medicine, feng shui practice was also important because the human body also contains various openings that allow the flow of chi from the outside. The natural balance of the good and bad chi in the body can promote wellness and longevity whilst excessive portion of one of these life forces can be fatal to the body. As such, the acupuncture that uses thin sharp needles in curing the patient allows the body to heal on its own using the qualities of the positive chi and diminishing the effect of the bad chi to avoid further complications. Likewise, the good chi is an essential part of the Taoism and Feng shui.
Only one note, although Taoism and Feng shui share the same roots and origins, there still lays a different premise between the two. Taoism is only a philosophy created by Lao-Tzu in order to educate people on how to improve their way of life; on the other hand, feng shui is more of an application of these principles to the people’s everyday life, whether it is for building infrastructures and business. Primarily, feng shui deals in creating environments that would nourish people in preserving the balance between the positive and negative energy, in accordance with the governing universal energy of the world (Si, 2011).
Negative chi is also essential in regulating the fire of the yang or the positive chi. Too much positive chi can lead to other problems such as tiredness, stress and anxiety and thus the balance of these life forces within the body are not balance. The negative chi or the yin is the force that regulates excessive flow of the yang into the body.
Feng Shui and Taoism are related to the beliefs and its foundations; however, these are still two separate premises that aim to achieve a common goal and that is to nurture the body, mind and the soul to gain a perfect accord on everything. If properly analyzed, the nature of feng shui is not a religion but more of a philosophical application of the Taoism. The teachings of the Taoism are priceless as it encourages man to live simply in harmony whilst still continuing to seek wisdom in all the things. Furthermore, the nature of feng shui is similar to a double-edged sword, wherein if it is used properly, it can bring luck and positivity to the user while if used in harm, the flow of energy throughout the world can eventually lead to chaos and turmoil.
Furthermore, the Chinese culture is indeed based on the philosophy of the man in which the desire to live in harmony is greater than the life itself. Feng shui has been existent for more than centuries since the time of its creation and until now, the ideas and the practices are still influencing the wide aspects of the Chinese community and culture. Apart from feng shui, Taoism also influenced other fields such as martial arts. The Tai-Chi is Chinese martial arts that combine the smooth movements derived from the environment as to follow the universal energy. As I end this paper, feng shui is a reflection of the teachings of Taoism and serves as an application of its teachings to recreate the modern society according to the laws of universal energy. Furthermore, learning the true objective of feng shui can be useful in attaining self-preservation and enlightenment in gaining true wisdom.
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