An Overview of the Schools of Feng Shui

by Carol C. Wheelock

If you are confused about feng shui, you are not alone. One book may have told you your best direction is east, another book said it was north, while a third book didn't mention directions at all. One book may have had a grid that was called a bagua, while another referred to it as a pakua.

There is actually a simple explanation for these apparent contradictions: there are several schools of feng shui. They do all concern themselves with the flow of chi in a space. They all address different aspects of our lives (through the bagua or pakua). They all look at the balance of yin and yang and the five elements.

A historical perspective may help demystify the different schools. The ancient form school was born out of practicality, common sense, and a need/desire to live in harmony with the environment. People regarded the "forms" of the land and used them to their advantage. They wanted to be protected and embraced by the mountains (and trees) in back of and to the sides of them. Seeing the form of a dragon in the mountains, this was referred to as being "in the belly of the dragon." At the same time, they wanted an openness in front of them, sloping down to water. Since China is in the northern hemisphere, people built houses facing south, with their backs protected from the north winds by the mountains.

Dotting the rural hillsides of China are tombs in these favorable positions. The Chinese believed that their ancestors continued to play a very important role in their lives, even after death. In order to honor and ensure that they would be favorably guided by these ancestors, tombs were built in excellent locations, the same locations one would choose if alive.

Later, but still several thousand years ago, the compass school of feng shui was developed to support those in power and to ensure the continuation of that power and prosperity. This school of feng shui was deliberately made confusing so that it couldn't be used by others wanting more power, etc. As it developed in different regions over time, several branches of the compass school emerged. The compass school was also involved in determining the best sites for tombs.

The compass schools use a compass to orient door directions and make other feng shui decisions . The "best" direction for an individual is determined by a formula using astrological information of the people and/or the building. Each branch of the compass school uses different data and/or formulas to determine an individual's best direction, explaining why there may be confusion regarding this issue. A pakua or grid is used to determine which aspects of one's life correspond to specific areas of the space.

The form and compass schools are used together, although that is not always clear in books published in our country. In China there is a tenet that "form overrides compass." For example, if the best direction for your desk is determined to be east, but by facing east you end up with your back to the door, the feng shui master would move the desk to the position that is compatible with the form school belief that one needs to be protected in back and open in front.

In the 1980's Professor Thomas Lin Yun brought to the United States a school of feng shui that incorporated all the teachings of the form and compass schools, but eliminated the compass directions. That school is referred to as Black Sect Tantric Buddhist (BTB) Feng Shui, Black Hat Sect, or sometimes simply Black Sect. The name is derived from the black clothing worn by those in the Beijing Buddhist monastery where Professor Lin Yun studied.

Although "Buddhist" is in the full name of this school, it can be and is practiced by a wide variety of people from various faiths. There are Buddhist components which may or not be used. In contrast to the more mathematical and formulaic compass school, Black Sect feng shui is very spiritual and intuitive

Black Sect feng shui uses a bagua to determine which areas of a space correspond to which areas of one's life. The bagua is then overlayed on the space, aligned with the door. This is in contrast to the compass school's bagua or pakua that is aligned according to the compass.

I often refer to Black Sect as "western" feng shui because it was intended for use in the west. Since Professor Lin Yun brought his feng shui to our country, many of his students have published books. Many of these practitioners have added their own slant. Several of these have further westernized his approach by leaving out the Buddhist components altogether.

Whether you gravitate toward the compass school or Black Sect/western feng shui is a matter of personal preference. Some people are more comfortable with the more mathematical and astrological base of the compass school. Others prefer the more spiritual and intuitive base of the Black Sect/western approach. Some combine the two.

Carol C. Wheelock, M.Ed. of Feng Shui Vermont is a certified feng shui practitioner who has studied in the United Sates and China. She practices Black Sect or western feng shui. Carol does private consultations for homes, schools, libraries, and businesses; clutter counseling and clearing; spaces clearings; phone consultations; presentations; and teaches workshops throughout the United States. She also does personal clearings.


Copyright 2000-2011 Feng Shui Vermont
Carol C. Wheelock