A Brief History of Feng Shui
From Prehistory To Present
The art and practice of Feng Shui have roots that are 4000 years old, with a sweeping history as intricate as the tradition itself. While we cannot offer here the depth and breadth that would do the subject justice, we want to provide some elements of this amazing history that seem to be the most relevant to practitioners and students in the West today.
One of the world.s most authorities on Feng Shui history, Stephen Skinner, has written a compendium that gives one of the best histories of Feng Shui we have ever seen. The book is titled "Guide to the Feng Shui Compass"
Feng Shui has its beginning in prehistory, long before the advent of writing in China. The first written references to the eight-sided Ba Gua symbol are believed to appear first during the Xia period (around 2100-1600 B.C.). Feng Shui arose out of a scientific and philosophical tradition that also gave birth to the world's oldest book, the I-Ching. In fact, the I-Ching plays a key role in various aspects of traditional Feng Shui practice, which shares the use of the trigrams and hexagrams that are central to I-Ching philosophy.
The Observations Of A Sage
Nobody knows exactly how the formal practice of Feng Shui arose, but it was probably inspired by the keen observation of a sage or sages who could "see" the flow of energy between heaven and earth and within the landscape and perceived how it gives rise to beneficial or detrimental circumstances in and around buildings and spaces. This knowledge was developed into a systematic practice and passed on from Master to student in protected lineages for thousands of years. Initially, it was used primarily to select the most auspicious burial grounds for the elite of society, but gradually it was applied also to the sites chosen for palaces, homes and other buildings. Emperors guarded the Feng Shui secrets of their courts and used Feng Shui to achieve success in their conquests.
At some point, with the increasing use of the magnetic compass (a Chinese discovery attributed by tradition to the revelations of the mythical Lady of the Nine Heavens), Feng Shui practice began to put significant emphasis on the importance of the cardinal directions in analyzing the qualities of a given place. During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220), secular Taoist philosophers became very technical in their studies, adding further mathematical calculations to the Feng Shui lexicon. As Buddhism spread to China, Feng Shui was adapted to the needs of the monks and priests and used in determining the most auspicious location and design for temples and monasteries.
During this period, different Schools and Masters of traditional Chinese Feng Shui oriented themselves to different aspects of this vast study and emphasized theories accordingly. However, the abiding principle common to these schools was an adherence to careful, scientific observation and measurement, which was facilitated by the Feng Shui compass, or Luo Pan.
Since Feng Shui techniques were mostly kept secret within the lineages and reserved for use by and for those in power, independent practitioners eventually arose who created their own approaches, often considered inferior by the keepers of the more formal traditions. Thus Feng Shui wove itself into the popular consciousness and became more available to the common people, but not without some loosening of technique. This gave rise to practitioners who were considered imposters and charlatans, being untrained in the intricate and secret science of Feng Shui as passed down from antiquity.
From The Underground To Popularity
Imperial support for Feng Shui from ancient to modern times waxed and waned according to who was in power. During some periods of Chinese history, it was outlawed and forced underground – or retreated into the mountains – along with many other Taoist practices.
In Maoist China of the 20th century, Feng Shui was characterized as a cult or religion based on superstition, anargument which was then used to justify the outlawing of the public practice of the art. In order to avoid harsh treatment, many Feng Shui Masters were either forced into exile or escaped from the People's Republic of China. It is commonly believed that Mao retained Feng Shui advisors for himself, recognizing and using the power of this ancient practice to help him achieve his goals. The persecution of Feng Shui practitioners by Mao and his regime stimulated the emigration of many of the most accomplished Feng Shui Masters to other parts of the world. Without such oppressive conditions, Feng Shui still might be a little known practice in the West.
Throughout its long and storied history, Feng Shui has been the subject of much debate and evolution. Therefore, it is no surprise that it has continued to morph and adapt, stimulating debate among adherents since it spread beyond the borders of its homeland to Europe and the United States. Today there are many different approaches to how energy affects space and time that all carry the label "Feng Shui." It is up to each individual to decide which approach suits his or her needs best and to take the time to learn about the various Feng Shui Schools. But no matter which approach to Feng Shui you find that you prefer, your life will benefit greatly once you become aware of all the subtle ways your environment can affect your health, wealth and happiness.
What if I want more in-depth information about Feng Shui in my life?
There are many good books and online resources, but we also recommend having a personal consultation with an experienced Feng Shui practitioner as a great way to gain meaningful knowledge. You can find a consultant on our site on the links page and take advantage of all the wonderful resources – books, websites and teachers – available to you today to help with your study and practice of the ancient and intricate science of Feng Shui.