Traditional Feng Shui OR Western Feng Shui
Authentic Feng Shui (a.k.a. Traditional Feng Shui, Classical Feng Shui) is based on traditional practices passed down from master to apprentice over thousands of years. Over the course of many centuries Feng Shui has had its share of techniques added, and most recently in last 20 years, there have been a hosts of new Feng Shui spin-offs. Mainly, these schools target the Western culture because they do not require a deep understanding of the layers of teachings that Traditional Feng Shui knowledge requires.
To demonstrate this, several years ago I became interested in Feng Shui, but had no clue that there would be so much conflicting information in books. I attended a 2-hour Feng Shui class (5 sessions) offered at a local school. I learned Western Feng Shui and was very fascinated by what it proposed. Many of the teachings were familiar to me in that it incorporated color psychology and design principles learned during my years experience as a professional graphic designer. I am a very curious person, so I continued to research Feng Shui since I knew I wanted to be a practitioner. It was in my research several years ago I was introduced to the traditional methods, and continued my Feng Shui education and research under the Traditional methods.
Many people new to Feng Shui often become confused by the mix information in the market. Commonly many, without knowing, try to mix these two methods and end up with no or bad results. I can not say it any better then Linda Binns, a locally renowned Western practitioner and teacher..."if you are going to get a Feng Shui Analysis pick one or the other." She is correct because you can not mix the two as these methods approach Feng Shui from totally different angles. Traditional Feng Shui is more of a science, and uses environmental influences, as well as time, space, and the changing magnetism as a a key method to analyzing the energy of an environment. Western leans toward more psychology, using the power of intention and positive thinking to creating success. Folklore, myths and sometimes, marketing gimmicks are promoted as Feng Shui, when they really are not part of the practice. So no matter which you choose, you will get an unfortunate dose of misinformation and mix match of practices by different authors.
In this article, I have tried to break down the similarities and differences between Western and Traditional Feng Shui.
Commonalities of Traditional and Western Feng Shui
Both of these Feng Shui methods uses the 8 trigrams as a core lesson. The 8 trigrams are symbols each made of 3 lines and represent the directions of Kan-North, Gen-Northeast, Qian-Northwest, Zhen-East, Dui-West, Kun-Southwest, Li-South, Xun-Southeast. The trigrams have additional associations to elements (wood, fire, water, metal, earth); body parts (heart, lungs, eyes, blood, etc.) ; family members (middle son, middle daughter, mother, father, etc.) and physical features (mountain, lake, thunder, heaven, etc.) These trigrams represent the transformation of energy, as well as the balances of Yin and Yang. The development of the 8 trigrams in traditional Feng Shui came into existence as early as 2205 B.C. Traditional Feng Shui practices still use these interpretations to understand the influences of the environment on a occupant and the building, and most of the methods were developed over multiple centuries. 1
Western methods interpret the 8 trigrams as defined in the I-Ching ("book of changes") and the focus of this method is human aspirations. The I-Ching is commonly used for divination, and provides a philosophy for understanding change in our world. The use of the 8 trigrams as the basics for the I-Ching was developed as early as 1027 B.C. Traditional Feng Shui practices clearly existed at least 1000 years prior to the I-Ching. I spoke with Stephen Skinner, a researcher and author on the subject of Feng Shui since 1976. Skinner has interviewed many traditional masters, and has conclusively said that the the Aspirational version of Feng Shui was introduced 1980s in the United States by Thomas Lin Yun. He developed his own brand of Feng Shui to because he felt traditional version was too difficult for people to understand, hence Western Feng Shui was born. You could say, that it was Yun who popularized Feng Shui in the United States.
The underlying philosophies for Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism have their roots in teachings of the I-Ching. Hence, this is why so often Feng Shui is mistakenly considered to be part of these religions. Western Feng Shui does have its roots in Buddhism, but it is not a requirement to practice, and many of the teachings are based in psychology and design. Traditional Feng Shui is a sister science to acupuncture, and of course many traditional teachers are from Asia and many are also Taoists or Buddhists. But those teachings are not part of Traditional Feng Shui either, though there are some authors who do mix in their personal beliefs as if they are part of the teachings.
Despite some strong differences in the approach to analysis, there is one approach that is in both practices. This approach is the physical analysis of the external and internal environments of a property. Specifically, it means determining if your property negatively influences the occupants, and if the property is being negatively influenced by other physical features nearby. Internally, both are looking at the flow of energy through the home and for any kind of internal features that may be obstructing flow of beneficial energy or creating negative influences. This includes stairs, door alignments, poison arrows, beams, uncleanliness and furniture location In this approach, practitioners use all of their senses to discover potential problems with the property.
Difference in Consultations
We have established the common practices from both a traditional and western practitioner in an evaluation focuses on the external and internal environment physically. Here is the summary of differences:
Analyzing the home's energy - Traditional methods
A traditional practitioner is concerned about the impact of the entire home on the occupants, and performs the analysis at the most comprehensive level possible. This means the time-space analysis must be used to map the energy of the property. There are 216 potential maps. The Bagua (9-square grid) is placed over an accurate floor plan to calculate the various energy combinations and where they reside in each area of the home. This analysis requires an accurate compass reading of the home's sitting and facing direction. It also requires an accurate year of construction in which the roof was enclosed. So, the traditional practitioner has some property record research to do in many cases if the occupants are not confident about the year of construction. The home is also analyzed against the individual occupants' personal energy.
Recommendations - Traditional methods
In key rooms where people spend a lot of time, final recommendations may include placing one of the five basic elements of Feng Shui [i.e., metal, water (fountains), wood (real plants), fire (lights/red) or earth] in the area of imbalance. Corrections for outside the home are also necessary if the environment does not have a natural influence to balance the map. One of the five elements is recommended to enhance positive energies or reduce negative energies. A house should not look "Feng Shuied" so Chinese coins, Foo Dogs, and other Asian artifacts you often seen peddled by practitioners are really not part of Feng Shui. These are tied to Asian culture, and since Feng Shui is a Chinese Art and Science, it is why they are often seen in books and web sites as recommendations. They may suit someone of Asian decent, or an interior design featuring Asian decor, but they have no real place in Feng Shui for most people in the West. The goal should always be to remedy or enhance an area by using elements that blend in with the environment. A traditionalist is more concerned about the actual energy present in the home based on the calculations, not changing the homeowners taste in interior decorating. (Unless of course the practitioner happens to be also a professional interior designer or decorator hired specifically to redesign the space.)
Analyzing the home's energy - Western methods
A western practitioner will not include any calculations of the energy map. They will analyze the home by applying the Bagua 9-grid square and assign 9 life aspirations. These aspirations are based on the trigrams meanings as described in the I-Ching. (Career, Health, Family, Children/Creativity, Prosperity/Wealth, Fame/Recognition, Helpful People, Knowledge, Relationships/Romance). This method was created and popularized by Thomas Lin Yun who developed his own theory of Feng Shui based on Black Sect Tantric Buddhism and began heavily promoting in the U.S. in the mid-1980s. Kathryn Terah Collins, author and a student of Thomas Lin Yun developed the Western Version books are easy to follow of all the Western books. Lillian Too a popular author mixes many of the methods, and easily confuses the reader since there is conflict. Yun and Collins teachings, they do not use a compass to physically locate these aspirational trigrams with the actual directions of the home. Instead, all the trigrams symbols and aspirational meanings are interpreted as fixed locations. As an example, the Bagua map of the trigram Kan (North-career) is ALWAYS the center front of the home, even if the physical location is East, West, NW, etc.. In this approach, physical directions are totally ignored and become symbolic translations only.
Recommendations - Western methods
The "cures" as they are often called in Western books, are also about balancing the five elements as mentioned under traditional Feng Shui. However, instead of actual elements, a person can substitute the element with symbols (picture of water instead of actual water). Also, interior design plays a larger role in the Western method. For example, Western defines "plaids" to be of the wood element. Having to much plaid furniture and wood paneling in a room would be considered having overly wood energy. Practitioners that follow the methods of Thomas Lin Yun, may also perform chants, prayers and space clearing methods (like burning incense) to clear negative energy. Moving furniture around, and adding or reducing an element based on the trigram element (e.g. North trigram is water based so adding metal feeds the water) is typically how a practitioner would decide on a remedy. Time is not considered a factor in this approach, so once the element is placed, the project should be considered complete. Some practitioners may offer periodic monitoring to see if change is occurring. Chimes and crystals are often cited as cures in Western methods. In traditional methods, chimes are regarded as something that should be kept outside the home since they can stir up negative energy in the home.
Deciding the kind of analysis you need is your personal preference. I practice mainly traditional because I like the few thousand years of experience behind the approach and it has many similarities to modern scientific theories. Western has its place too, and one of its great benefits is the ease of implementation. It's hard to call both practices Feng Shui since Western is a clear departure from its Traditional ancestor and there are few similarities. But on the other hand, they are like Yin and Yang, from which they both represent.
3 Sources:Feng Shui for Dummies, David Daniel Kennedy, Forward by Thomas Lin Yun
4 Sources:The Western Guide to Feng Shui, Terah Kathryn Collins, Chapter i, My Journey Home