Monday morning: Starting the week by reading Burton Watson’s translation of Zhunag Zi writing on “Perfect Happiness”:


IS THERE SUCH A THING as perfect happiness in the world or isn’t there? Is there some way to keep yourself alive or isn’t there? What to do, what to rely on, what to avoid, what to stick by, what to follow, what to leave alone, what to find happiness in, what to hate?

This is what the world honors: wealth, eminence, long life, a good name. This is what the world finds happiness in: a life of ease, rich food, fine clothes, beautiful sights, sweet sounds. This is what it looks down on: poverty, meanness, early death, a bad name. This is what it finds bitter: a life that knows no rest, a mouth that gets no rich food, no fine clothes for the body, no beautiful sights for the eye, no sweet sounds for the ear.

People who can’t get these things fret a great deal and are afraid – this is a stupid way to treat the body. People who are rich wear themselves out rushing around on business, piling up more wealth than they could ever use – this is a superficial way to treat the body. People who are eminent spend night and day scheming and wondering if they are doing right – this is a shoddy way to treat the body. Man lives his life in company with worry, and if he lives a long while, till he’s dull and doddering, then he has spent that much time worrying instead of dying, a bitter lot indeed! This is a callous way to treat the body.

Men of ardor are regarded by the world as good, but their goodness doesn’t succeed in keeping them alive. So I don’t know whether their goodness is really good or not. Perhaps I think it’s good – but not good enough to save their lives. Perhaps I think it’s no good – but still good enough to save the lives of others. So I say, if your loyal advice isn’t heeded, give way and do not wrangle. Tzu-hsu wrangled and lost his body. But if he hadn’t wrangled, he wouldn’t have made a name. Is there really such a thing as goodness or isn’t there?

What ordinary people do and what they find happiness in – I don’t know whether such happiness is in the end really happiness or not. I look at what ordinary people find happiness in, what they all make a mad dash for, racing around as though they couldn’t stop – they all say they’re happy with it. I’m not happy with it and I’m not unhappy with it. In the end is there really happiness or isn’t there?

I take inaction to be true happiness, but ordinary people think it is a bitter thing. I say: perfect happiness knows no happiness; perfect praise knows no praise. The world can’t decide what is right and what is wrong. And yet inaction can decide this. Perfect happiness, keeping alive – only inaction gets you close to this!

Let me try putting it this way. The inaction of Heaven is its purity, the inaction of earth is its peace. So the two inactions combine and all things are transformed and brought to birth. Wonderfully, mysteriously, there is no place they come out of. Mysteriously, wonderfully, they have no sign. Each thing minds its business and all grow up out of inaction. So I say, Heaven and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done. Among men, who can get hold of this inaction?


From the way, Guo Pu defined the term Feng Shui in his Zang Shu or the Book of Burial (Translation by Stephen L Fireld):

‘The Classic says: Qi rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when encountering water.  The ancients collected it to prevent its dissipation, and guided it to assure its retention. Thus, it was called fengshui.’

We can see Feng Shui puts a lot of emphasis on the idea of “Zang Feng De Shui” 藏風得水 (to store from the wind and obtain water) to gather the Qi to benefit a tomb or a dwelling and its occupant From this we can see Qi is an important concept in Feng Shui, yet very few people, including many Feng Shui practitioners, have a clear idea what is this Qi in Feng Shui.

With the advent of modern science, many Feng Shui theorists tried to use hard science to explain Qi, some think it is related to electromagnetism, while others to negative and positive ions and so forth, and the term “energy”, as used in science, is often equated to Qi, as though Qi can do work to fulfill our longings and desires, like wealth and happiness, with Feng Shui.

This sentiment is echoed in Dr. Jay Bulloch’s article “What is Qi?” (

“Most people in the West, including many authors, think qi means energy, but this “represents a basic misconception that is not supported by Chinese ancient sources” (Unschuld, 1985, p. 72). This common mistranslation has lead to many erroneous ideas and understandings with regards to Chinese medicine. The term qi is complex, multilayered, and at its core, profound. It is one of the most difficult terms in Chinese language to translate. Not only is there no equivalent word in the English language, there is also no all-encompassing, equivalent concept in Western thought or science.”

From my perspective, after studying and working with Feng Shui as a practicing Feng Shui architect, consultant and teacher for nearly 40 years, I think this is an inappropriate approach, because it is trying to explain a unique Chinese cultural heritage with a western world-view. To me, a better approach would be through a Feng Shui and a Chinese world-view, instead of a western paradigm. Look at Qi in Feng Shui not from a hard science point of view, but from a Chinese cultural and philosophical perspective instead.

Three assumptions are made in a Feng Shui paradigm, the first is everything under the sun, be it organic or inorganic, has Qi, the second is everything that has Qi has Yin and Yang and the third is because of this continuum, everything is interconnected. So right from the beginning the Chinese sees Qi as a continuum and as a component of Yin and Yang.

In p46 of Prof. Zhang Dainian’s “Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy” (translated by Edmund Ryden, Foreign Languages Press 2002), he wrote from the Pre-Qi to the Han, Qi is understood as intimately associated with Yin and Yang and then he quoted an extract from a speech by the Grand Historiographer of Zhou, Boyangfu. Yin and Yang are the two aspects of Qi and when the Qi of Heaven and Earth is out of balance, then an earthquake occurs.

In Prof. Zhang’s 8 pages explaining the concept of Qi (p45 – p63), Edmund Ryden at the beginning of his translation, has summarized the professor’s scholarly work with his understanding of what is Qi and I think it is a very good explanation and it echoes with the practice of Feng Shui:

‘In popular parlance qi is applied to the air we breathe, steam, smoke, and all gaseous substance. The philosophical use of the term underlines the movement of qi. Qi is both what really exists and what has the ability to become. To stress one at the expense of the other would be to misunderstand qi. Qi si the life principle but is also the stuff of inanimate objects. As a philosophical category, qi originally referred to the existence of whatever is of a nature to become. This meaning is then expanded to encompass all phenomena, both physical and spiritual. It is energy that has the capacity to become material object while remaining what it is. It thus combines “potentiality” with “matter”. To understand it solely as “spirituality” would be wrong, just as it cannot be translated as “matter.’

If we can accept as its definition:

‘Qi is both form and formless “matter” and it’s potential to become while remaining what it is, thus Qi combines “potential” with “matter” ‘

then we can see Qi, as a therectical construct, is a mean for the Chinese to link the Yin with the Yang as a continuum that would connect the Heaven above, the Earth below and the Human in us, to look at our relationship with the environment we live in, which is essentially what we do in Feng Shui.

Sheng Qi is a result when Yin and Yang come together in a harmonious and balanced way, while the complementary opposite Sha Qi happens when Yin and Yang are out of balance and the life-enhancing Sheng Qi is prevented from taking place. That is what Gu Pu was referring to when he wrote, “To bury is to take advantage of the Sheng Qi” in the first line of this Zang Shu mentioned earlier.

He was not talking about taking advantage of some geodetic force in the ground, he was referring to finding a balance between Yin and Yang of all sorts in their myriad of correlations, like high and low, mountain and water, front and back, left and right and so forth, all the physical attributes that would make up the Form Feng Shui school. But if there is form and everything has Yin and Yang, then there is also the formless in Feng Shui and to study the formless, we have the Compass, or the Liqi Pai – the formless Qi-pattern school.

In the Liqi Pai, a Luopan compass is used to measure the directions of a house or a tomb. This measurement is then correlated to a Trigram and through the Trigram correlations or associations, the practitioner would “read” the Qi of the Trigrams, which eventually will correlated back down to the Five Phase relationships, and with the Five Phase (Wuxing 五行) – the five “matters” (in this case the 5 Qi correlations) of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal, and their potential to become, the practitioner can determine which relation is auspicious and which is harmful. As a result, we have the Wuxing Qi, or the Qi of the Five Phases to work with. Again, this Qi is not some sort of energy or force, but relationships that are either desirable or not, according to whether the relationship between the Five-Phase Qi is harmonious or out of balanced or otherwise.

Through this definition for Qi, we can also explain some of the unusual expression or mystical demonstrations of Qi we often see in Qigong and Kung Fu, a good example is the so-called Empty Force (Lingkong Jin 凌空勁) – the ability to move another person without touching that person. The so-called Qi (Jin is defined as dynamic Qi) is a continuum of Yin and Yang and a continuum needs a connection, so to demonstrate this Qi, one needs a sender and a receiver. When the student as a receiver, is under the influence of his or her master as the sender, then the Qi of mutual resonance can take place and the student gets pushed over. But if this teacher tries to push a stranger, who is not connected to the sender, or not able to receive his Qi (i.e. no mutual resonance), then if won’t work. Not knowing the true meaning of Qi and the working of Qi, we mistaken it as some sort of super-human power beyond our understanding.

The character for Qi is written with the radical “rice” below the radical for “vapour”. Rice is substantial while vapour is the opposite, when ric is cooked it sinks to the bottom while the vopou rises, so even the written word for Qi is associated with Yin and Yang. The term Feng Shui (wind and water) also expressed the same sentiment, with wind being the active and water being the passive agent in nature. Calligraphy by Wang Xi-Zhi (303-361 AD).

The other day, one of my students asked me about the future of Hong Kong, after 20 years of handover, from a Feng Shui perspective, so I took out a satellite map of the Pearl River Delta Region of which Hong Kong is located at the end of the same Dragon Vein embracing the region and said to him.

It is very obvious to me looking at the map, the greater Mingtang or the ideal Xue (FS Spot) is located to the south of the city of Guangzhou, thus in the long run, the prosperity of the region will shift north-west-ward from Hong Kong. This was not possible before the handover because Mainland politics have cut off the regional connection through Human Qi, but now the political situation has changed and the region is opening up and consequently the Earth Qi will re-exert its influence aided by the human desire to make the region into one big basin.

The shift will start with Shenzhen and it is already happening now, this shift is mirrored with Macao to Zhuhai on the White Tiger side, but Hong Kong will never die out because it is located on the Azure Dragon, the Yang side of the Four Animals model and she will continue to play an active part, but not the only part in the region any more.

That was the answer I gave my student with this map shown below.

The Chinese Luopan Compass with all its esoteric markings like the Yin Yang, the Wuxing, the Bagua, the 12 Life Cycles, the 24 Mountains, the 28 Lunar Mansions and the 64 Hexagrams etc., have always captivated the Chinese, who often felt that this instrument is magical and it has a supernatural quality unlike the ordinary compass. So, when the needle in the Tian Chi, or the Heavenly Pool, moves in an abnormal way, the Chinese would see it as a sign that the site is possessed by some malevolent spirits. Some practitioners would capitalise on this folk belief and promote the idea that they have the supernatural ability to see ghosts and spirits with the Luopan compass.

1) The Unstable Needle. 搪针.
The needle keeps moving, not able to remain still and it does not align with the middle. This indicates that the site has abnormal rocks below and whoever live there will encounter disaster and calamity. If the needle hoovers over the Xun, the Si and the Bing directions then there are antique remains to be found there and the site will attract wanton women, shamanic practitioners and lonely bachelors.

2) The Rising Needle. 兑针.
It is also called the Floating Needle, the head of the needle is tilted upward, this indicates a presence of benevolent Yin Qi and the source comes either from the deceased ancestors or from some protective spirits.

3) The Sinking Needle. 沉针.
The head of the needle is tilted downward, this also indicates that there is a presence of Yin Qi but in this case, it is neither protective nor harmful, instead it indicates the deceased has met with an unusual and an unjust death and felt uncomfortable being buried without a resolution.

4) The Turning Needle. 转针.
The needle cannot stop rotating, it indicates the presence of malevolent Yin Qi, the Qi of hatred and resentment will not dissipate and whoever live there will be physically harmed or emotionally hurt.

5) The Dropped Needle. 投针
The needle is half sinking and half floating, it tilts alternatively upward and downward, neither all the way to the top nor all way to the bottom. It indicates that there is a grave below and and whoever live there will experience sadness, gossip and lawsuits.

6) The Inverse Needle. 逆针.
The needle does not sit on the central line smoothly and the head tilts to one side or the other. This indicates that the place will produce a rebellious person and both the person and the wealth will decline; there is no good feng shui to speak about.

7) The Inclined Needle. 侧针.
The needle has stopped but does not return to the central line. This indicates that the site is suitable only for a temple or a religious alter and not for a residential dwelling.

8) The Proper Needle. 正针.
The needle leans neither to one side nor the other, it sits steadily and it aligns with the central line. This indicates that the site is a normal one and one may consider different aspects with discernment.

PS: Anyone who uses the Luopan compass long enough would know that it is not unusual for the needle to behave in an abnormal way occasionally. Some would prefer to look for a physical cause, while others would believe in a supernatural one. The choice is up to you.
The reference I used on the Qi Zhen Ba Fa comes from a Taiwanese Feng Shui teacher called Yan Shi 顏仕, he is the Principal of Dahan Yijing College. I understand he wrote about the 8 Abnormal Needles after doing his own research from writings of the past on the Luopan compass.

We still have a couple of vacancy left foe a small group tour on a Friday afternoon before the Self-Activated Talisman workshop. The tour will last for three hours with a comprehensive copy of notes given out to the participants free of charge. Come and join us!


Screen shots of a brochure for the First Symposium of the Academy Journal of Feng Shui in Sydney, 13-14 May, 2017






After a house is built, Liqi Pai 理氣派 or Compass School Feng Shui is concerned with how the building is engaging with the environment from a Gua Qi 卦氣 (Qi of the Trigrams) point of view and there are three ways to do this, according to the San Cai 三才 theory of Tian Qi, Di Qi and Ren Qi or the Three Abilities theory of Heaven Qi, Earth Qi and Human Qi:

1) To “ride” (Cheng 乘) the Earth Qi.
2) To “face” (Xiang 向) the Heaven Qi.
3) The “take in” (Na 納) the Human Qi.

For this reason, a compass method, like the Bazhai Mingjing 八宅明鏡 Eight Mansion School, would use the sitting direction, called the Fu Wei, to calculate the locations of the eight Wandering Qi through Yao line changes, the idea is to use the correlations of the compass readings to calculate how the house is “sitting on” or “riding” the Earth Qi.

Another system, like the Xuankong Sanyuan Feixing Pai 玄空三元飛星派 or Space-Time Three-Era Flying Star School, would use the facing direction to calculate the location of the flying stars, with its resultant sitting and facing star influencing health/relationship and wealth/officialdom respectively. The idea is to use the facing direction and its subsequent correlations of the eight Trigrams in the eight directions, to calculate how the house would face the Heaven Qi and whether a particular direction is auspicious or harmful (ji-xiong 吉凶) from a health and wealth perspective.

Still another method, like the Yangzhai Sanyao Bazhai Pai 陽宅三要八宅派 or the Three Essentials of a Yang Dwelling Eight-Mansion School, would use the front door as its Fu Wei, to calculate the locations of the eight Wandering Qi memorized by the Song of the Yearly Cycles (Younian Ge 遊年歌), namely Fu Wei 伏位, Sheng Qi 生氣 , Yan Nian 延年, Tian Yi 天醫, Huo Hai 禍害, Jue Ming 絕命, Liu Sha 六煞 and Wu Gui 五鬼, instead of using the sitting direction mentioned earlier.

When a house is not yet built, Feng Shui is concerned with its location to the landscape, so in systems like the four San He Water Methods, they use the incoming and outgoing water in front of the site, as well as the direction of the Coming Dragon of the mountains behind as their reference point, to set up the 12 Life-Cycle (十二長生訣), to calculate the auspicious and harmfulness of a location.

In Xuankong Dagua, the aim is match the siting of a house with its landscape (Shan Shui or Mountain and Water), so the direction of the “Coming Dragon” and “Going Water” of the land is matched with the Sitting and Facing of the house, according to the correlated numbers or Trigrams so the 4 numbers/trigram are either of the same, adding up to 5, 10 or 15 or they have Hetu pairing relationships to be ritually correct and auspicious.

Thus we can see the Compass Feng Shui Schools have different metrics to reflect the different way a house would engage its environment, and these are used as reference points for calculations, both before and after its construction, also internally and externally.

When this is understood, the compass methods may seem numerous and complicated, but they all have the same objective: how best to engage the Qi of the environment, so it can energize and nourish us in a meaningful and ritually correct way. Obviously, the best way would be for a house to be able to “ride”, to “face” and to “take in” the Qi of the environment in the most appropriate or auspicious way at the same time and this idea should be the core principles of any Compass school of Feng Shui.


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