Look Before You Lease:
Some Thoughts on Feng-Shui

By George Nava True II


A man’s home is his castle. But one New Age practice can make this collapse. I’m referring to feng-shui or Chinese geomancy.

Feng-shui (pronounced "phong schway") means "wind and water" and is practiced worldwide, especially in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. This ancient art is used to decide the right place to erect houses, buildings or cities that will conform to the shape of the land and help people live in harmony with the environment. Practitioners say topographical formations, which are called "dragons" or "tigers", should not be disturbed and structures should not interfere with the flow of sheng ch’i or the life breath, a force that controls our destiny.

"Feng-shui is related to the very sensible notion that living with rather than against nature benefits both humans and our environment. It is also related to the equally sensible notion that our lives are deeply affected by our physical and emotional environs. If we surround ourselves with symbols of death, contempt and indifference toward life and nature, with noise and various forms of ugliness, we will corrupt ourselves in the process. If we surround ourselves with beauty, gentleness, kindness, sympathy, music and various expressions of the sweetness of life, we ennoble ourselves as well as our environment," according to Robert Todd Carroll, a philosophy teacher at Sacramento City College in California in The Skeptic’s Dictionary.


Vital Force

Ch’i is supposedly found in all things. It is said to be the vital force that breathes life into plants, animals and man, and inflates the earth to form hills and mountains. Since human ch’i is affected by atmospheric ch’i, feng-shui experts make sure both don’t clash to prevent bad luck or misfortune.

"No changes are made to the shape and appearance of the landscape that might disturb locally the harmonious flow of the earth’s vital energy. More than that, (a feng-shui expert) may actually improve the landscape, manifesting its latent powers and making the pattern of its energy field conform more closely to the ideal requirements of its inhabitants. This he does by judicious setting of all buildings, tombs, walls and roads, with the addition of pillars, temples and monuments at the spots designated by nature to receive this," said John Michell, a British antiquarian who has written extensively about feng-shui.


Architectural Acupuncture

"Feng-shui has become a kind of architectural acupuncture: wizards and magi insert themselves into buildings or landscpaes and use their metaphysical sensors to detect the flow of good and bad ‘energy’. These masters for hire declare where bathrooms should go, which way doorways should face, where the mirros should hang, which room needs green plants and which one needs red flowers, which direction the head of the bed should face, etc. They decide on these things on the basis of their feel for the flow of ch’i, electromagnetic fields or whatever other form of energy the client will worry about," Carroll added.

How practical is feng-shui? Some of its rules certainly make sense. For instance, feng-shui tells us that a canal or river at the back of the house is bad (unless you want disease-carrying mosquitoes around or a foul stench to ruin your dinner!). Also considered unlucky is a house beside an overpass. (I wouldn’t live there either. That thing could fall flat on your face in case of an earthquake!) Other no-nos are a house located on the site of a former cemetery or funeral parlor (those zombie flicks have repeatedly shown us how bad that can be!) and one with a floor level lower than the main road. You should definitely follow the latter if you’re living in the Philippines. A low floor level will invite the yearly floods to your home.


Failures of Feng-Shui

The other principles of feng-shui, however, are based on superstition and are very impractical. I was told by a practitioner that it was unlucky to have shelves in the master’s bedroom, a bedroom door that faced the door of another room, and a main door that faced the stairs. All of these "omens of misfortune" were present at my former home in Makati City where my family lived for nine years. Yet is was in that "unlucky" place where I wrote my first bestseller, Health Frontiers Volume I. Imagine the precious pesos I could have thrown away if I followed the feng-shui expert’s advice and remodeled my apartment!

My present home in Cubao, Quezon City, is another example of bad ch’i based on feng-shui principles: The gate is close to the house, the driveway faces the main door, the main door has a lot of designs, and the bedroom door faces the stairs. Surprisingly, this is where I wrote my second bestseller, Health Frontiers Volume II. Again, I managed to save a bundle, no thanks to my feng-shui adviser!

Much more difficult to accept is the belief that sickness results from the way your house is built or arranged. A house that protrudes to the northeast will supposedly cause abdominal problems while one with a northwest protrusion will supposedly attract hepatitis and infertility. By delegating certain ailments to the shape of the house, believers of feng-shui may abandon good hygiene, immunization, and a sensible diet which are far more effective in preventing disease than anything else.


Corrupted Art

But that’s not all. In recent years, feng-shui has become another New Age scam and an excuse for some enterprising businessmen to sell octagonal mirros, wooden flutes, chimes, cat figurines, and other useless paraphernalia said to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. For the right price, some practitioners claim they can detect lucky or unlucky places and may even guarantee success in business or in life if you follow their advice. Such crass commercialism has irked genuine feng-shui practitioners who are concerned mainly with environmental health and well-bring. As William L. Cassidy of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute in India said:

"Feng-shui has become corrupted to contain absurd notions of interior decoration, the use of charms and talismans, the runaway concept of ‘site’ improvement, and by several generations of practitioners who know nothing of its true essence. There are scores of people who cater to popular superstition, offering to decorate homes, ‘improve’ new businesses or resolve neighborhood conflicts, all for a hefty fee. Recent (and popular) English and Chinese language books on the subject have just compounded the problem."


Enormous Costs

For a couple contemplating feng-shui, the cost of converting their home to attract good ch’i can be enormous not to mention the fact that it can be incovenient. This is what happened at the early part of Chinese history where feng-shui almost stopped the modernization of that country. The English missionary E.J. Eitel described the problem in 1873 this way:

"When purchasing a site, when building a house, when pulling down a wall, or raising a flagstaff, residents in the Treaty Ports have encounetered innumerable difficulties and all on account of feng-shui. When it was proposed to erect a few telephone poles, when the construction of a railway was urged upon the Chinese government, when a mere tramway was suggested to utilize the coal mines of the interior, Chinese officials would invariably make a polite bow and declare the thing was impossible on account of feng-shui.

"When the Hong Kong government cut a road, now know as the Gap, to the Happy Valley, the Chinese community was thrown into a state of abject terror and fright, on account of the disturbance which this amputation of the dragon’s limbs would cause to the feng-shui of Hong Kong…. When Senhor Amaral, the governor of Macau, who combined a great passion for constructing roads witn an unlimited contempt for feng-shui interfered with the situation and aspects of Chinese tombs, he was waylaid by the Chinese, his head cut off, and the Chinese called this the revenge of feng-shui," Eitel said.

Fortunately, today’s practitioners don’t resort to murder to preserve good ch’i. But they sure are making a killing in the New Age marketplace.

If you’re planning to improve your home, I sincerely doubt if you’ll benefit from feng-shui. For probably a lot less, you’ll get plenty of good advice from an architect or interior decorator. After all, luck is not confined to a certain place or arrangement: it’s where you find it.