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The history of Feng Shui is told to reach back 2500 years so to truly grasp it, one needs to understand its origin and its cultural and sociological context. It began when the ancient Chinese started observing man’s natural surroundings and the effects of the constant changes, transformations and cycles in nature on human beings. As the human’s well-being was deeply connected to nature and it became obvious that there were good and bad dispositions, good times and places and such that were not as beneficial to the human being. In order to live in harmony with one’s surroundings, one had to understand it, and out of this wish to understand it followed, eventually, the desire to predict it. One approach to understanding was to recognize that there was an underlying energy that permeated the world on all levels and generated the ways of nature and in turn life. This energy was called the Qi.
Because it was so multifaceted and included both negative and positive aspects that interacted and were interconnected with each other, the ancients devised a symbolic image of these two sides. The idea of the dualism of Yin and Yang was born; two opposing forces that could not be separated from one anotherand were constantly creating something new. Later the idea was born that just maybe, if one influenced either side, one could alter the course of the Qi– both the good (Sheng Qi) and the bad (Sha Qi)– and create a new outcome of things. The underlying universal rules that guided Qi were more focused on than the changes themselves. Not only the surroundings interacted but humans could also interact with their surroundings and influence them to their benefit. This thought was the basis for one school of Feng Shui, the landscape school that was concerned with the geography and natural surrounding of a given place.
During the Tang Dynasty, the chief of the royal observatory Yang Yun Song who had been studying the effects of natural processes on humans decided to find a tool that could measure the Qi. He devised a special compass, the Luo Pan. At that time, Feng Shui was still focused on the dead rather than the living and used to designate the best place for burying the dead. Showing respect to one’s elders was a social convention that also included respect after death: the way you buried your parents would directly affect the fate of their descendants. If you buried them respectfully– according to the rules of Feng Shui – it would make a positive impact on your life as well as your children’s. If you chose the wrong burial site, it could mean a long streak of bad luck for the family throughout generations.
In the Song Dynasty, a Feng Shui master named Lai Bu Yi began applying the theories for burial to the homes of the living. He made adjustments to the Luo Pan and took Feng Shui to a new level, making it popular and the Luo Pan an indispensable tool for anyone practicing Feng Shui. With the centuries, Feng Shui further developed; masters and students adjusted the teachings or changed them according to their preferences and focus, and various schools (Men Pai) emerged. There were two distinct directions, the San He school which focuses on the appearance of things, and the San Yuan school that also incorporates the aspect of time. However, it is impossible to define a unified theory for Feng Shui, and even the two major schools are divided into various branches and approaches. This is what makes Feng Shui so colorful but also so obscure.
From this concept of Qi as the underlying force for all things, several ancient disciplines developed, such as astrology and astronomy, mathematics, medicine (for example acupuncture), even Chinese cuisine (just think of sweet‘n sour as Yin and Yang), agriculture, the martial arts, philosophyand religion. This interdisciplinary connection has carried over to modern Feng Shui practitioners who often also practice related skills as astrology and fortune telling. Because Feng Shui balances subjective data with personal interpretation and intuition, because body and mind play together in its application, Feng Shui is considered both a science as well as an art.
Alongside mathematical calculations and symbolic references as the elements and their interactions, Feng Shui interpretation employs metaphorical visualization and a vivid imagery: mountains can turn into dragon backs or tortoise shells, rivers into serpents, mountain formations into tigers, and the bend in a road into a drawn bow that sends out arrows. But even smaller items in our home and work place interact with the Qi and can carry deep meaning and significance when approached in the context of Feng Shui.