Originally used as a method of "divining" where to build graves, feng shui then developed as a method to discover where to build homes and cities (www.fengshuisociety.org.uk). It is believed that feng shui started around the second century B.C. (Guiley, 201). Buddhism absorbed feng shui after it was introduced into China, and built its temples according to feng shui principles (www.fengshuihelp.com). Guiley gives three roots of feng shui: 1) the religion of Taoism, 2) divination practices "based on patterns in nature," and 3) astrology, numerology, and other methods used to determine the placement of things, a crucial aspect of Chinese beliefs (Ibid). Early feng shui masters were priests and holy men, and feng shui was passed orally from "man to man," (Guiley, 201).
Feng shui is used on a regular basis in China, Tibet, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines (Guiley, 201), and increasingly by those from Asian cultures living in the West. In early 2001, Hong Kong billionaire businessman Eric Hotung decided to sell the house he bought for $6 million from Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1997 because he thought that the house "suffer[ed] from bad feng shui," (Washington Post, 1/13/01, p. C-3).
It seems that feng shui arose from a need for people to relate to the seasons, the weather, the earth and later, to society. It was seen as a study of "the way of heaven and earth in relation to humans" so that one can choose a life and place to live that harmonizes with our ren tao, which is "the way of being human," (Henwood, 8). This relationship between heaven, earth and human is referred to as "the three gifts," (Ibid). The trio of heaven, earth, and human is also seen in the trigrams (series of broken and unbroken lines in sets of three) of the divinatory I-Ching (Ibid, 12; Too, 74), a tool based on the Taoist method of reading patterns of change in the universe (Wong, 126).
The yin-yang cosmology of Taoism demands a balance between the yin and yang energies, an intrinsic component of feng shui. The Tao is the state of stillness from which all things originate; from that comes the constant change (called t'ai-chi) and interchange between the yin and yang energies, creation to dissolution (Wong, 124-5). Yin and yang energies, in a complex pattern, generate the pakua or trigrams, which are illustrations of the movement of the yin-yang energies (Wong, 126). This process became the basis for the I Ching, a divinatory tool based on the belief that seeing the changes in the universe provides us with a way to see what is coming through those patterns (Wong, 126, 133). Feng shui seems to have arisen out of a desire for harmony between the elements, nature, and man, in order to prevent disaster and keep evil at bay in a world full of the unexpected.
There are different forms of Feng Shui and variations on how to apply them. A feng shui consultant must take many things into account: how the chi is flowing in your house; the shape of the land and house; the directions the rooms face; the location of the rooms; where the rooms are placed; the decor of the home; and the landscaping of the yard/garden (Henwood, 5; www.geomanceronline.com). Additionally, these would be factored in with yin and yang, the "two opposing yet complementary energies" which constitute the Tao (Too, 50), and with the five elements of water, earth, fire, metal, and wood (www.geomanceronline.com). Feng shui can include traditional feng shui, modern interpretations of feng shui, geomancy, dowsing, space clearing, and astrology (www.fengshuisociety.org.uk). [Geomancy, dowsing, and astrology are forms of divination; geomancy uses the earth, dowsing uses a rod or stick, and astrology uses the planets].
There are dangers to avoid, such as the destructive cycle of the five elements and the imbalance of yin and yang. The five elements can be in productive or destructive relationships with each other (Too, 70). The productive cycle is fire, earth, metal, water, and wood, while the destructive cycle is wood, earth, water, fire, and metal (Ibid; Wong, 131; www.geomanceronline.com). If you are born in an earth year, for example, it is not good to have many plants since wood (which corresponds to plants) destroys earth, but having bright or red decor (corresponding to fire) is good since fire produces earth (Too, 70). If the yin and yang are unbalanced, "they can become fierce and threatening," creating an "obnoxious and poisonous" chi which will bring "misfortune and ill luck" to the residents, (Ibid, 54).
There are remedies and cures for problematic chi. Mirrors are often used to reflect away negative chi, while wind chimes, plants, and hexagrams are used to bring chi through more beneficial channels (Guiley, 201-202). Convex mirrors will "diffuse" negative qi, while a concave mirror will attract and absorb beneficial qi (Henwood, 60). An exorcism ceremony called the Tun Fu supposedly purges a building of spirits left from previous occupations (Ibid, 202).