Famous mountains are mostly occupied by monks

– ancient Chinese proverb


In early 1990s, when I was still living in China, I planned to write a book about the relationships between Fengshui, healing, and spiritual cultivation. I had the above Chinese proverb in mind for the title of this book. Even in China, most people do not know how much Fengshui can affect their health, even though many insist on creating good Fengshui for an ancestor’s burial spot or work hard to create a Fengshui living space to improve their potential for accruing wealth and fame.  Only small groups of traditional Qigong and internal alchemy spiritual practitioners understand that good Fengshui channels the universal force, and can dramatically shift all aspects of their lives. Professional spiritual cultivators, like monks, strive to live in a powerful Fengshui spot because they know in doing so, it will accelerate their healing and inner transformation processes. The most famous mountains in China are famous for this very reason – they were built in the best Fengshui areas. In fact, the concept of Shan 山 for mountain is integral to classical Fengshui and is utilized as an essential Daoist art in optimizing karma.

Due to my busy teaching and publication schedules, I never took the opportunity to write this book. Recently however, Qi-journal invited me to contribute an article on the topic and I thought it would be befitting for me to now share a shortened version of my original planned writings regarding Fengshui and healing. Within this article, I will include the defining concept behind classical Fengshui, GanZhi 干支 (Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches), Shan 山 (mountain) and Xiang 向 (direction), WuXing 五行 and BaGua 八卦, Fengshui healing arts, the body Fengshui with its associated cultivation practice.

Please be aware that while the information I will present in this article is based in the energetics and directions of the northern hemisphere, the cultivation methods (presented in part 2) are universal.

Figure 1. LuoPan 羅盤 – a classical Fengshui compass containing the information of YinYang, Five Elements, the Big Dipper, the Eight Trigrams, the Magic Square, Stems and Branches, JieQi 節氣 (seasons), the Twenty-four Mountains (and more)

1.            Fengshui—the Art of the Universal Qi

In order to understand the concept of classical Fengshui, we must first learn more about the Chinese words Feng 風 and Shui 水. In general, Feng means wind and Shui means water. We all know that wind is formless, invisible, and cannot be seized by your hands. When calm, it seems weak, almost non-existent. When in its fury, it is strong enough to destroy everything in its path. I discussed some interesting symbolic meanings of Feng in my book, Chinese Shamanic Tiger Qigong:

In Chinese, Feng 風 is actually a complicated word which means much more than “wind.” It can be used to signify harmony or harm, grace or scandal, gentle or harsh. The pictograph in Oracle Bone style looks a bird riding on clouds and Qi, which we can imagine as the representation of the wind currents that support birds in flight. Many scholars and calligraphers favor the idea that the bird symbolized in this character is the phoenix. 

In fact, there are deep connections between the two characters Feng 風 (wind) and Feng 鳳 (phoenix). In spoken Mandarin, both phoenix and wind have very similar pronunciation: Feng. According to the second-century dictionary ShuoWenJieZi 說文解字 and Chinese mythology, the phoenix lives in a place called FengXue 風穴, which literally means wind cave or wind den.

[1] Wu, Zhongxian. Chinese Shamanic Tiger Qigong. London: Singing Dragon. 2019:36-37
Figure 2. Feng 風 – oracle bone style calligraphy by Master Zhongxian Wu

The Chinese character Xue 穴 mentioned here is the most important concept in Fengshui practice, and I will discuss this later. For now, let’s continue on the topic of Feng. 

Feng is the Yang 陽 or spiritual format of Qi 炁,  which is the vital energy of the universe, and the vital breath of the Dao and all living beings. In traditional cultivation practices, Feng is often referred as breath.  According classical FengShui principles, a good Fengshui site is able to CangFengJuQi 藏風聚炁, or store the wind and gather the Qi. The quality of Feng/Yang Qi is one that is scattering and dispersing. In order to store or gather Yang Qi, it must be that the Yin 陰 Qi 炁 is called into action, for the nature of Yin is stable, condensed,  and Yang-attractant. In DaoDeJing 道德經 chapter 42, LaoZi indicates the universal Yin and Yang principle as:

WanWuFuYinErBaoYang ChongQiYiWeiHe

萬物負陰而抱陽 沖炁以為和

Ten-thousand-things are carrying Yin and embracing Yang, entwining to create harmony.

Figure 3. Shui 水  – oracle bone style calligraphy by Master Zhongxian Wu

In nature, Shui 水 demonstrates the physical format of Yin Qi. he Chinese character Shui is most often translated as water. The quality of Shui or water is similar to that of Feng, it is shapeless, cannot be grabbed even when it is visible, and has the appearance of being very gentle yet has great power hiding within it. We have a saying in Chinese to describe the gentle strength of the water: ShuiDiShiChuan 水滴石穿 – mere drops of water can make a hole in stone. The image of the ancient oracle bone style character for Shui looks like a current or flowing water. Shui also other symbolic meanings in my tradition: soft, gentle, wisdom, finance, easy going, giving, and more. 

Together, Feng and Shui are the most influential Yang and Yin energies (Qi) found within nature. They can create peace in the world and they can also create destruction in the world. Accordingly, it makes sense that having some knowledge about how to live with these Yin and Yang forces of the nature may help us improve living condition. This kind of knowledge is called Fengshui, and it has been alive and applied in Chinese culture for thousands of years.  A classical name for Fengshui is KanYu 堪輿. As Feng/Wind, Kan 堪 symbolizes TianDao 天道, or the Heavenly Way, whilst Yu 輿 is equal to Shui/Water and exemplifies DiDao 地道, or the Earthly Way. 

My own definition of Fengshui is that it is an ancient Daoist approach to studying and applying the cosmological and geological Yin and Yang energies in daily life in order for human beings to live in harmony with each other and with nature.  

Traditionally, a Fengshui expert  is addressed as YinYang XianSheng 陰陽先生, or Master of YinYang. A good Fengshui practitioner must have comprehensive knowledge of Yin and Yang and their derivative principles of WuXing 五行 (Five Elements), BaGua 八卦 (the Eight Trigrams), GanZhi 干支 (Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches), Yijing 易經, BaZi 八字 (the principle of karma), Daoist cosmology, and more. In this article, I will not address each of the aforementioned topics, instead focusing on those that are related to healing and spirituality. I will begin with some information about GanZhi and its role in Fengshui art.

2.            GanZhi 干支—the Spirit of Fengshui 

The art of classical Fengshui is not simply teaching you how to arrange your rooms and landscaping, it involves the relationships between and among human beings, buildings, rooms, surrounding environment, and conditions of cosmological Qi. In order to figure out the universal influence of Fengshui in your life, you need to know how to calculate the patterns of the cosmological Qi as well as the qualities of Qi within your living situation. This knowledge is held within the GanZhi, the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches. Below please find citations from my wife and my book, TianGan DiZhi[2]:

TianGan 天干 (Heavenly Stems) and DiZhi 地支 (Earthly Branches) are commonly abbreviated GanZhi 干支. The GanZhi originated in the ancient Chinese cosmological sciences and a complex calendrical system created to codify the patterns of the universe… For thousands of years, it has been held that those who master the knowledge of the GanZhi system hold the keys to the sublime…

TianGan is a traditional Chinese term that represents a specific group of 10 Chinese characters: Jia , Yi 乙, Bing 丙, Ding 丁, Wu 戊, Ji 己, Geng 庚, Xin 辛, Ren 壬, and Gui 癸. These ten symbols embody TianDao 天道 – the way of heaven. TianDao means circular, circle, round, spin, spiral, and continuous movement…

Figure 4. The Heavenly Way of TianGan Diagram by Master Zhongxian Wu

Similar to TianGan, DiZhi is a certain Chinese term that contains a collection of 12 specific Chinese characters: Zi 子, Chou 丑, Yin 寅, Mao 卯, Chen 辰, Si 巳, Wu 午, Wei 未, Shen 申, You 酉, Xu 戌, and Hai 亥. DiZhi represents DiDao 地道, the way of earth. DiDao means square, corner, stable, solid, keeping still and without movement.

Wu, Zhongxian; Taylor Wu, Karin. TianGan DiZhi – the Heart of Chinese Wisdom Traditions. London: 2014
Figure 5.  The Earthly Way of DiZhi Diagram by Master Zhongxian Wu

Although we use the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches separately on certain occasions, it is more common to use the combination of one Stem and one Branch as one complete unit. This is especially true with respect to Chinese cosmology and astrology – both complete fields of study and each based on the Chinese calendar.

The most basic rule one must always follow when pairing a Stem and Branch is that the Yang Stems are only coupled with Yang Branches and Yin Stems will only combine with Yin Stems. …There are five Yang Heavenly Stems and six Yang Earthly Branches, which means that there are 30 possible combinations of Yang Stems and Branches.  Given that the same is true for Yin Stem/Branch combinations, there is a chronological sequence of 60 total possible Stem-Branch pairs.

Table 1:  LiuShiHuaJia 六十花甲- Sexagenary Cycle

The Sexagenary Cycle (the sixty GanZhi combinations) are the basic structure of the Chinese GanZhi calendar. In Fengshui tradition, one Sexagenary Cycle of sixty years is called Yuan 元 (Unit) or DaYun 大運 (Major Transformation), and one Yuan is evenly divided to three XiaoYun 小運 (Minor Transformations), which is applied to figure out the general archetypal pattern influence the cosmological Qi has on each 20 year time period. This system is said to have started in 2697 B.C.E during the time of the Yellow Emperor. We are currently in the 79th DaYun (1984 – 2043). In Fengshui consultation, we also apply GanZhi knowledge to determine detailed energetic patterns for each year, month, and day. We also use the GanZhi to identify an archetype of a geographical environment for a building site or a specific purpose, which involves the Fengshui system of analyzing twenty-four ShanXiang 山向 (mountain and orientation). Let’s continue this topic in the following section.

3.            ShanXiang 山向 – the Soul of Fengshui

In all traditional Fengshui analyzing systems, the first thing to identify is ShanXiang, the backside (Shan 山) and the frontside (Xiang 向) of a building or a burial site. Shan means mountain and it represents the source of life, the ability for a family, a lineage, or the area itself to populate, or to physically prosper. Xiang means water and it represents potential of the area or the family to prosper financially.

We do not simply apply the four cardinal directions to assess the ShanXiang, in fact, we must define each 15 degrees of area as either Shan or Xiang. Thus, there are twenty-four fundamental archetypes of ShanXiang, as shown in Figure 6. We use a symbol of the Heavenly Stems, Earthly Branches, or the Eight Trigrams for each Shan or Xiang. In general, the Heavenly Stems Wu 戊 and Ji 己 stands for the center, Trigrams Qian 乾/Heaven, Kun 坤/Earth, Gen 艮/Mountain, Xun 巽/Wind represents the four corners or diagonal directions, Earthly Branches Zi 子, Wu 午, Mao 卯, You 酉 hold the four cardinal directions, and the remaining sixteen Stems and Branches are associated with a diagonal or a cardinal directions, according to their WuXing 五行and BaGua 八卦 characteristics. 

As you can see, we have to have a solid understanding of the relationships among WuXing, BaGua, and ShanXiang in order to give a sound Fengshui consultation. We will explore this further in the next installment of this article, Fengshui Healing part 2.  

Figure 6.  The Twenty-four ShanXiang Diagram

[1] Wu, Zhongxian. Chinese Shamanic Tiger Qigong. London: Singing Dragon. 2019:36-37

[2] Wu, Zhongxian; Taylor Wu, Karin. TianGan DiZhi – the Heart of Chinese Wisdom Traditions. London: 2014

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