from the ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN PRIMER, 1973
For several thousand years the Chinese have practiced an art of placing and designing their cities, residences, and tombs to harmonize with the local currents of the cosmic breath flowing through their surroundings. 'Feng-shui ', as the practice is called, literally means 'wind and water', but is concerned with quite different things than the topographical and ecological considerations that we think important. Rather than the normal atmospheric winds, it is concerned with the flow of 'chi' or 'prahna' energy of the earth and atmosphere circulating through the veins and vessels of the earth. Foreigners have always found feng-shui to be a puzzling blend of superstition and mythology, and have continued to be perplexed and frustrated by the high regard which the Chinese hold for it and the central place it finds in their sciences.
The application of feng-shui to building location and design was based on a belief that at every place there are special topographical features, either natural or artificial, which indicate or modify the cosmic energies present there. The forms and arrangements of hills, the nature and directions of watercourses, the heights and forms of buildings, the location of forests, roads, and bridges are all important factors. The influence of the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars, are also considered important, and bring into consideration the 'pseudo-sciences' of astrology and the I-Ching.
These considerations have led to a particularly refined appreciation of the topographical features of any locality, and the efforts to achieve favorable balance of forces has brought about a uniquely sensitive environment, with high cliffs setting off thickets of bamboos, towering pagodas offsetting the contours of hills, and dwelling places quietly nestled in the contours of the landscape.
The practice of feng-shui differed considerably in northern and southern China, influenced by the quite different nature of their topography. North China, with a much more uniform and regular landscape, developed a practice emphasizing the influence of astrological and astronomical considerations, involving the use of a complex geomantic compass to consider the relative direction and influence of various forces. In the south, with a complex and irregular topography, the relative importance of the influence of surrounding land and water forms was much greater, and brought about the development and refinement of practices involving dowsing techniques to locate and map the location of various kinds of energy and consideration of the shapes and position of various kinds of landforms which correspond with certain energy flows and concentrations.
The sensitivity to the landscape which developed through feng-shui held important ecological and cultural meaning as well as more esoteric significance. The principles it employed for location of cities were also means of scientifically selecting a location that was functionally and ecologically sound, of ordering the arrangement and placement of the city to the forces and energies of its situation and its cosmos, and of reinforcing and affirming in the minds of the people the nature of their cosmos and their place within it.
The view of the cosmos upon which city location was based spoke symbolically in terms of four Gods - one dwelling in a stream to the east, one in a plain to the south, one in a highway to the west and the fourth in a mountain to the north. A site with these surroundings was felt suitable. A rectangular plan was made in the symbol of the cosmos, reflecting the rhythms of the sun and the seasons which most strongly affected the land. The Emperor was placed in the north, as he always faced the holy south in alignment with the growth-granting forces of the earth. Temples were built in the northeast to a guardian deity, as that direction was felt to be unlucky - devils dwell in the mountains (as well as enemy troops). Buddhist temples often were placed in the west, as it was felt that Buddhism had a tendency to proceed eastward. The entire geometry and detailed layout of the city reflected symbolically their understanding of the cosmos.
Thus sites were selected with mountains to protect the city from winter winds, and monasteries were founded in the mountains so the city could be warned of attack. Fresh water and air were provided for, and the commerce and food supply of the city assured. At the same time, every activity in the making of the city, of living within it, and participating in its life reminded a person of the forces they felt in the world. They became aligned with those forces, and gained nourishment from them.
'In the beginning there was one abstract principle
or monad, called the absolute nothing, which evolved out of itself the great
absolute. When this primordial cause of all existence first moved, its breath
or vital energy congealing, produced the great male principle. When it had
moved to the uttermost, it rested, and in resting produced the female principle.
By this outpouring into formal organization and by its eventual reversion,
the heavens and the earth were created and continually remade, and in the
course of its constant permutations men and animals, vegetables and minerals,
rose into being.'
The same vital energy has continued to act ever
since, through these male and female powers of nature, mutually forming
and subsiding generating ever more diverse and improbable order, and permeating
and giving life to all that exists.
Four different divisions form the system of feng-shui, expressing the different dimensions or levels through which the forces involved can be understood. The energy animating the male and female principles is called in Chinese HI, or the breath of nature. The fixed inscrutable, and immutable laws it followed in moving forth and producing the male and female principles and finally the whole universe was called LI, or the order of nature. The laws of nature and all the workings of its vital breath are in strict accordance with certain mathematical principles, which may be traced and illustrated by diagrams, exhibiting the numerical proportion of the universe called SO, or numbers. All these divisions are not directly cognizable to the senses, and only become manifest through forms and outlines of physical nature. These phenomena of nature, her outward forms of appearance, constitute the fourth branch of the system, called YING, or forms of nature.
The laws of nature on which feng-shui is based comprise three principles. The first two we understand somewhat, but are are still patently ignorant as to the meaning of the third. The first is that heaven rules the earth; the second that both heaven and earth influence all living beings and that it is in your hands to turn this influence to the best account for your advantage; the third that the fortunes of the living depend also upon the goodwill and general influence of the dead. Upon these considerations is based the elaborate and now time-encrusted practices of calculating the specific astrological influences on a place through the aid of a geomantic compass on which is diagramed the action of those forces.
The numerical proportions of nature are expressed in diagrams - the trigrams of the I-Ching where the various possible combinations of the two kinds of vital energy are minutely worked out in relation to different directions and the alignment of the forces of the heavens. The forms of nature, the shapes of hills and watercourses which act to divert, accumulate, or disperse the cosmic energies are classified according to their effect. The study of these, along with the diagrams, the expression of the laws of nature in astrological charts, and a study of the topography as it affects the flow of vital breath of nature through and around different places are all combined in the elaborate considerations necessary in the traditional practice of feng-shui.
For over a century we have been aware of the existence of atmospheric and terrestrial magnetic and electric fields and currents, but have been unaware of the nature of their effects upon living matter. Physicists, in fact, have denied the possibility of any such effects, as the frequency and energy involved are less than that necessary to affect living cellular material other than thermally. Mounting evidence that those currents do affect living matter, and that they affect it significantly, is beginning to bring a reconsideration of the whole question of environmental forces and their action.
The earth's atmosphere contains varying magnetic and electrical fields and currents, induced in it principally from the activity of the sun. They are also influenced by the moon and other planetary and stellar activity. They fluctuate daily with the earth's rotation as well as in longer rhythms connected with the moon and with the earth's movement around the sun. Sunspots and other stellar conditions also produce marked changes in these atmospheric fields.
In turn, the atmospheric fields induce currents into the mantle and crust of the earth which also fluctuate with changes in the earth's magnetic field and variations in the physical nature of the earth's crust. Other terrestrial currents are generated by electrical properties of rock and ore bodies, underground and surface water, topography, and other conditions.
Electromagnetic fields of the intensity and frequency occurring naturally in the earth and its atmosphere have recently been shown to have many and complex effects upon all types of living matter. The practices of feng-shui seem to be in part connected with harmonizing us with these terrestrial electrical and magnetic fields. As e-m fields are far from the only forces in our surroundings that influence living matter, it is probable that feng-shui is concerned also with a great range of other more subtle forces and energies, the actions of which we are not clearly aware.
Several means of detection of these energy fields appear possible. Dowsing is the simplest and traditional means. Influence upon plants or animals can be observed, along with topography often associated with the fields. Proton magnetometers and electrical resistivity surveying can be used in some cases. Concentration or meditation permits some individuals to sense the fields directly. As well, special techniques such as Carlos Castanedas describes in JOURNEY TO IXTLAN may be possible to focus our sensitivity to the forces.
It appears that awareness of these energy fields and their influence upon living matter was common in ancient civilizations, and that careful consideration was made of them in locating and building spiritual places and places concerned with health or nutrition. Studies made in Great Britain, Ireland, and France indicate the careful placing of neolithic sacred centers upon upwellings or 'blind springs' of health-giving energy. Archaeological excavations show that many mounds and temples were constructed in special ways to accumulate and focus these energy fields. Reconstruction of neolithic temples has achieved the same conditions and tends to confirm the archeological evidence.
Christian churches in Britain up through the medieval period show the same siting characteristics, and followed a common practice of taking over earlier sacred places for sites for their churches. The use of geomancers in selecting the location for a church is often recorded. The design of the buildings themselves appears to have been based upon many considerations of the specific and circumstantial pattern of energy fields on their particular site.
Stocks and places of execution were located in places where energy fields were negative and brought about a feeling of repentance. Claims are also made that certain geometries - both simple ones such as pyramids and certain complex ones - can also act as means of concentrating certain energies and focusing their effect upon people. North American Indian sorcerers employed the fields for augmenting and building up their own powers, to assist in survival in difficult conditions and to give protective environments to themselves and their apprentices during dangerous and difficult meditations and exercises.
Numerous effects of e-m fields have been found upon various kinds of living matter. Growth retardation and enhancement has been experienced in many experiments, and has been applied to a process of electromagnetic gardening A thirty percent increase in rate of germination and of growth has been measured along with improved health of plants. Circadian rhythms and the navigation of migrating birds and fish have been strongly tied to the information the organism gains from these fields. Most animals locate their nests or give birth at blind springs, to take advantage of their health-giving properties. Gnats swarm over blind springs. Animals follow 'track lines' over energy 'rivers' from place to place. Moles have been found to navigate underground by means of e-m fields. Healing of wounds has been found to be much faster in the presence of certain e-m fields.
Certain plants, such as mistletoe rarely germinate or grow in absence of blind springs. Some trees, such as willow, apple, hazel, and yew occur naturally only in the vicinity of blind springs or similar energy concentrations. Spiral or twisted growth of some trees and plants that are normally straight has been linked with their location over a spiral secondary phenomena of energy currents in the earth.
The role of e-m fields in informational interconnections between organisms, between organisms and their environments, and in controlling the vital processes within the organism are being discovered to be significant and unpredicted. Completely unknown information systems operating on these energies have been found throughout the bodies of both higher and lower organisms. Electromagnetic interconnections have been found in animal communities which are regarded as self-organizing systems in relation to population and activities of the community. A primary perception has been found in all cells which communicate emotional and other information instantly and unaffected by distance.
Indications of the existence of similar and interdependent energy fields within organisms come from many sources. Cleve Baxter's studies on cellular perception and communication, and A.S. Presman's hypothesis of informational roles of e-m fields within and between organisms suggest different aspects of the possible existence and role of these fields. Harold S. Burr suggests from his neurophysiological studies at Yale the existence of individual e-m fields for all living organisms, which exist before, and organize the development of the physical bodies. Soviet scientists have photographed the energy emissions and bodies of humans and plants, finding both that the energy body remains after portions of a leaf are cut away, and that the nodes of energy emission on the human body correspond directly to both the acupuncture points employed in Chinese medicine and to the channels of subtle energy claimed by the Yogic traditions.
The Yogic sciences of India, in common with the sciences of China, Japan, the Gnostic tradition of Islam and Christianity, the Amerindian traditions and those of numerous other cultures, speak of several other levels of existence than our physical body. Subtle bodies, energy bodies, the chakras or places in the body where these are joined to the physical body are all combined into an integral view of the nature of life and of our universe which pervades their sciences and culture. They speak of numerous levels of subtle energy, and raise the question of how far our mechanized sciences can probe into these other layers of existence. Various western investigators including Wilhelm Reich and Rudolph Steiner have formulated medical, agricultural, spiritual, educational, and other processes based on similar concepts of energy and organism which could well stand reinvestigation today.
The relation between energy, geometry, and consciousness is also beginning to be more fully hinted at as a result of recent studies. Research by Anne Tyng shows the relationship between geometry and energy connecting and bringing about ordering on all levels of physical, biological, and psychic organization. This reinforces the work done many years ago on the geometrical organization of thought images and processes, and the importance placed in most Asian religions on geometric mandalas as tools for expanding consciousness and conscious reintegration of the various levels of our existence. The special nature of Tantric architecture and of the geometrical organization of some of the most important religious monuments of Asia suggest the possibilities of more than a purely artistic or esthetic basis and significance of architecture.
A measurably enlarged understanding of our nature and our relation to our universe may come with our substantiation of feng-shui practices and the role it played in the relation between the Chinese and their surroundings. To discover our entire cosmos and our selves pervaded by and interconnected through energy fields which generate and sustain all life and communicate information on our existence and nature to all reaches of the universe cannot help but change our lives and our interests.
The implications of feng-shui and the forces involved in it are considerable. Verification would indicate major changes in our attitudes towards and use of energy and materials. The starting or stopping of an electrified train blocks the detection of environmental e-m fields in an area ten miles wide and extending the whole length of the electrified system. The massive use of iron, electricity, radio, and TV in our urban areas absolutely overpowers environmental signals and prevents major parts of our population from even being aware of their existence or the effect of their blockage. The interaction between reinforcing steel in concrete buildings and the domestic electrical wiring creates in many cases quite harmful e-m fields. Profound effects on physical, mental, and spiritual health seem indicated by the forces.
Confirmation of feng-shui would give credibility and major impetus to investigation of other subtle energies whose existence is indicated from many sources, but whose investigation has been blocked by the unquestioning attitude of our sciences. It would suggest considerable investigation into all Asian sciences and the nature of the cultures they were a part of, as it would indicate that their sophistication and validity, as well as the processes by which they were gained, were of much greater importance than we have thought. It would also suggest that we begin to reconsider the spiritual nature of our cosmos and the kinds of consciousness and way of life we choose to live. Our materialistic view of the cosmos is not necessarily either a better or higher form than others. We are only more familiar with it.
Maurice Freedman speaks of the difference in the meaning of their surroundings to Europeans and Chinese enjoying a view. The Europeans think of the combination of hills and sea producing splendid vistas. Their pleasure is aesthetic and objective, the landscape is out there, and they enjoy it. The Chinese appreciation is cosmological. For them the viewer and the viewed are interacting, both being part of some greater system. The cosmos is Heaven, Earth, and Us. We are in it and of it. So while the European reaction is to find it beautiful, the Chinese may remark that they feel content or comfortable. Feng-shui is asserting a human response to forces working in the cosmos, and just as landscapes affect us, we may affect them. It appears to be a remarkably sophisticated and meaningful tool, and one which may soon find practical application in the enrichment and elevation of our own lives.
ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN PRIMER
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