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What Is Feng Shui And What Does It Mean?

Updated on March 5, 2013

Me and my Feng Shui Master

Grandmaster Yap Cheng Hai and I studying Feng Shui in the mountains of North Wales
Grandmaster Yap Cheng Hai and I studying Feng Shui in the mountains of North Wales | Source

What is Feng Shui?

There have been a lot of discussions over what is Feng Shui. Of course these conversations are predominantly held in western countries by westerners - the Chinese have known of Feng Shui for such a long time, that the question what is Feng Shui doesn't really come up so much. In fact Chinese would more likely ask how can I use Feng Shui to get luckier and make more money this year. For westerners however, it's still new so there's lots to understand.

The first thing western experts often pick at is the pronunciation. I so often read that it's "Fung Schway". Oh really? These gurus that state this with such authority simple reveal their shallow knowledge. Chinese has many dialects and Feng Shui pronounced in Mandarin is said as Fung Schway. In others it varies from "Feng Soy" to "Hung Choi". All are right. In fact I like Hung Choi best in many ways because this is the Hokkien way of saying this. The Hokkien dialect comes from Fukkien province. This was where the Shaolin temple was and was a major source of many of great masters of the classical Chinese metaphysical systems. Grand Master Yap Cheng Hai and myself both have ancestry from there! It's also worth noting that there are a lot of Feng Shui masters from Hong Kong; perhaps more than mainland China where it was outlawed. To the Hong Kong Feng Shui community, it's said 'Feng Soy'.

In short, don't worry so much about the pronunciation unless you're trying to converse in Chinese. If you are, you'll know whether you're speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka or so on and can use the pronunciation for that dialect.

What is also important to know about Feng Shui is that the words don't translate well. If you do direct translation, one simply gets the words Wind (Feng) and Water (Shui). At face value that says very little. It's almost as annoying as when you see dishes like "Five Treasures" on a restaurant menu. Lovely name but what is it?!

The thing to do here is take a step back from the literal translation. Whilst there is an element of Yin-Yang to wind (Yang, heavenly and ascending) and water (Yin, earthly and descending), the name isn't so much about the constant cosmic interplay of duality within life on Earth. Westerners are often caught in the literalness of the translation where they think it means the very real natural forces of wind and water. It does but it also means the two types of Qi or invisible energy. Specifically, it comes from an ancient poem about how Qi moves through the environment. That sentence translates roughly as 'the dragon runs till reaching water where he stops to drink', a reference to how to cite a village by spotting the intersection between Dragon vein and water. This insight was abbreviated to Wind and Water and the discipline of Geomancy took it's name from this core tenet.

Whilst this name is a direct reference to a specific formula for auspicious placement, what's more important overall to understand that Feng Shui is made of many, many formulas. There are formulas to find the Dragon vein Qi. There are formulas to diagnose the phase of Qi the water is in. All these formulas come under the term Feng Shui. What connects them all - or rather, what they mean to you - is that they are all ways of looking at the cause and effect of energies in the environment.

This, in essence, is what Feng Shui means. The cause and effect of energy in the environment.

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