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What is Feng Shui?

Aug 17, 2007
Most of us foreigners living in China have heard of Feng Shui, yet the mystery and magic associated with it has convinced the majority of us that it's primarily a dogma of ancient superstitions. Feng Shui is not a religion, although it has roots in both Buddhism and Hinduism (as well as in cosmology and other forms of metaphysics). It is said that it takes a Feng Shui apprentice thirty years to master the art. This being said, I'd like to say that the intention of this article is to simply describe what Feng Shui is; it's not a how-to on channeling its power.

The name Feng Shui originates from China and can be translated to 'Wind and Water.' At its essence, Feng Shui is about living consciously in harmony with Earth and enjoying the highest quality of life possible while residing here. It's the art of balancing and enhancing the flow of natural energies, or Chi, that make up the essence of every person, place and object. Feng Shui has evolved over thousands of years from a folk art to a highly sophisticated system of philosophy and science, often blending the old with the more new age trends and fads of the west. But its ancient form is still practiced by professional consultants throughout China, and is based on the principles of the classic Chinese book, I Ching.

Feng Shui was first used in ancient China about 3000 years ago to determine the most auspicious sites for the tombs of ancestors in order to give them the best vantage to help their living descendants. Later, it started to be used in selecting sites for palaces, important government buildings and monuments, until finally whole cities were designated and built according to Feng Shui principles.

Hong Kong is one such example, and its prosperity is often cited as a prime example of Feng Shui effectiveness. About 90% of all the properties there are built according to Feng Shui protocols. An example of trying to manipulate chi energies, the Hong Kong Bank of China was sued by neighboring businesses because of its construction of a seventy story building of sharp angles. There's no doubt that the architect of the building knew exactly what he was doing and deliberately designed a structure that sends arrow-like 'killing chi' energy at its competitors. The recourse of the occupants surrounding the building was to erect Feng Shui mirrors in an attempt to reflect the dangerous energy back to its source, and then commence litigation.

Feng Shui is based on the prevailing view of Asians that everything in our environment, living or inanimate, is imbued with energy. This is now no longer considered simply a belief, it's currently a scientific fact that objects and elements are made up of tiny molecules and atoms that vibrate and are constantly in motion. These objects and elements are imbued with an energy that cannot be seen by the naked eye, but they are able to influence our every day life.

The energy (or Chi) of an object, person, or place is very important in Feng Shui. This Chi relates to whatever is in space, and the flow of Chi is unique to every home, business and recreational space. Space is defined as the directional orientation of a structure and is traditionally determined with a Chinese Feng Shui compass. Tools used to evaluate space calculate the Chi field, its Yin and Yang, and the Five Elements.

Chi can be broken into two components: (1) Yin and Yang, representing the opposite forces that are constantly interacting with one another, such as: feminine/masculine; passive/active; destructive/creative; soft/hard; dark/bright. These forces are always moving and always seeking balance. And: (2) The Five Elements, which are water, wood, fire, metal, and earth. These elements are believed to affect everything we do, determining our personalities, our professions, and our degree of success in life.

Learning about Feng Shui isn't a study in "magic," but rather, it's about developing an awareness of the living, natural elements that we interact with daily in our lives.
About the Author
Timothy Green is the co-author of SPEAK E-Z CHINESE In Phonetic English. You can find fun and easy Mandarin lessons, as well as travel and culture tips about China at The Cathay Cafe.
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