Many Feng Shui students and practitioners nowadays think the Compass School is more important than Form Feng Shui, very few is aware that before the Song Dynasty, there were no Compass Schools at all because the Luopan compass was not yet invented.

During the Qianlong period of Qing Dynasty, the imperial court was so concerned that Feng Shui has deterioated to a point where the Compass School is beginning to overtake the Form School, that the members of the Imperial Astronomers Department, including the chief officer Gao Dabin 高大賓and his deputy Qi Kechang 齊克昌, banded together to write a book called, “Qin Tian Jian Feng Shui Zhen Lun 欽天監風水正論” – “The Imperial Astronomers’ Sound Arguments on Feng Shui”.

The aim was to point out and to correct the mistakes made by the prevant and fashionable Feng Shui practcices of the time and to make a distinction between the imperial court’s and the layman’s undestanding of Feng Shui. What do these imperial experts have to say about Form and Compass School of Feng Shui, which in Chinese are called Luantpou Pai 巒頭派and Liqi Pai 理氣派respectiveley?

The book repeatedly explained the real purpose to “Cheng Sheng Qi 乘生氣” or to “ride the Sheng Qi (that is to take advantage of the Qi that norishes and give life to things)” as mentioned in the first line of GuO Pu’s Zang Shu 葬書 or The Book of Burial, can be obtained by looking at the physical form of the land and not by calcualtions with a compass rerading.

I have translated the following line from their book to summarise their point of view in essence:

“The Liqi within the Yin and Yang and the Five Phase are to be found inside Luantou and not outside of it. Luantou (Form School) also has Liqi (Compass School) built within It”.

What they meant was the Sheng Qi mentioned by Gua Pu is hidden in the form, it is not in the Luopan compass, when the Dragon (mountain range) rises and falls vigoriusly it has Qi, and when it sinks low all the way and disperses, its Qi disappears; when the landscape floiws and meanders, it has Qi and when it become flat and stiff, its Qi is gone; lush vegetation has Qi and slow dying vegetation has no Qi. The Qi that was talked about by Guo Pu is this kind of environmental Qi with form and not the so-called Gua Qi 卦氣 (the Qi of the Trigrams), or Xing Qi 星氣 (Qi ofthe Qi of the Stars), or Shi Qi 時氣(the Qi of time) and Yun Qi 運氣 (the Qi of Cycle of Luck).

What the imperial astronomers wanted to say is the Form Schools had precedent over the Compass School, working with the tangible that has forms through observation and appearance is more reliable than working with the intangible that is formless by way of calculations. We tend to keep forgetting this and thinks that is the compass calculations that will give us the answers, whereas in practice form feng shui holds the key.


Have you ever wonder why there are two main schools of Feng Shui, namely the Form School and the Compass School, and not just one? Why do we need two of them? What are their main differences that we would need one to support the other? These questions can be partly answered by looking at their Chinese names.

In Chinese, ‘Form School’ is called either ‘Xing Shi Pai’ 形勢派 or ‘Luan Tou Pai’ 巒頭派. ‘Xing Shi’ literally means ‘Form and Configuration’, that is we look at the smaller and visible parts in our environment and see how they would relate to each other to form a larger configuration, that is how they would group together to form a whole, this process is not unlike playing with children’s wooden blocks to form a recognizable construction.

Another name for ‘ Form School’ is called ‘Luan Tou Pai’, which literally means the ‘Mountain-Top School’. Why mountain tops? Because if we look at the mountaintops of a range of mountains, we can see and follow their rise and fall to get an idea of how the landscape would behave from Point A to Point B.

Both these Chinese names implied that we would use observation and analysis to do our ‘Form School’ Feng Shui, and in the process we are dealing with something that are tangible, they have form and are visible. To these things that are manifested, and quantifiable, the Chinese would say they have ‘Form Qi’ or ‘Xing Qi’ 形氣, as compared to the opposite, to things that are intangible, formless and invisible. These things that are un-manifested and not quantifiable, the Chinese would say they have ‘Formless Qi’ or just ‘Qi’. There is even a character for Form Qi 氣 and another for the Formless Qi 炁 even though they sound the same.

This is where the term ‘Li Qi Pai’ 理氣派 for Compass School of Feng Shui comes in. ‘Li Qi’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine has the meaning ‘to regulate the flow of the Vital Qi and remove obstructions to it’. In Feng Shui the aim is similar, but it is not ‘Vital Qi’ (Qi that keeps us alive) that we are concerned with, but the ‘Formless Qi’ or just the ‘Qi’ of the environment. Thus ‘Li Qi Pai’ can be translated literally as ‘Regulating (Formless) Qi School’.

To regulate implies that we have to keep a balance, but the Qi that we are working with is intangible, it has no form, it is invisible and not manifested, so how are we to this? With the compass and with correlative thinking is the Chinese answer.

We start with something that is measurable, like measuring the sitting and facing of a house, or the top of a mountain, or the direction of the coming and going of the water with a compass. This measurement is then correlated to a set of values and numbers to create a pattern language. By interpreting the resultant pattern with a set of rules, we can get an understanding of how the invisible and the intangible are related to each other. With this insight we can ‘read’ the Formless Qi by comparing it with the Form Qi, so the seen and the unseen, the form and the formless, the manifested and the un-manifested can come together, to enable us to find the in-between that is appropriate to the situation.

This is exactly how a Compass School method like Flying Star works in Practice. We start with the time of construction of a house and then correlate it to a 20-years Period with a Trigram and a number, this number then become the Period Number, which can fly through the Nine-Palace with a fixed pattern. Then we do the same with the sitting and facing of a house, the compass measurements are correlated to a set of Trigrams and numbers and with these numbers and the agreed upon flying sequence we can make up a Flying-Star Chart. We then interpret this pattern language with a set of rules, based on the Five-Phase relationships and the concept of timeliness and ‘Host and Guest’, etc.

We then compare our interpretation of the numbers or ‘stars’ with what we can observe in the Form School Feng Shui, and together with the Yin and the Yang of what is visible and observable in the Form School with what is invisible but calculated in the Compass School, we can do our analysis and come up with some efficacious suggestions for our clients to consider.

Correlative thinking in Compass Feng Shui is unlike the analytical thinking we use in Form School Feng Shui. Analytical thinking observes and examines things in detail in order to learn about them, so the process can be repeated and is predictable. It is diagnostic, methodical, logical and systematic. Whereas correlative thinking uses a conceptual framework of correlations to make sense of the same phenomenon, the outcome is not so much in learning about things individually but how they are related to each other, so there is mutual resonance to achieve efficacy. Correlative thinking is more concerned with the original character of a thing under consideration instead of diagnose it. Correlative thinking is more intuitive; it is not methodical or systematic. It tends to be multi-valent and vague in the sense that it relies more on inspiration than on facts.

Precisely because the Chinese believe that everything has Qi and has Yin and Yang, so there are Form Qi and as well as Formless Qi, also correlative thinking as well as analytical thinking to make sense of things holistically, that we need both the Form and Compass School of Feng Shui to do our audit and analysis properly.

However, the pressing issue in modern day Feng Shui is that many practitioners do not understand or know the working of analytical thinking as compare to correlative thinking, these people often take the correlations analytically and literally.

A classic example is the 5 Yellow Earth Star, which is not a real star in the night sky but a correlation for a quality that is sitting in the middle of a situation and has the ability to connect in all directions. It is liken to an emperor sitting on its throne, it can be powerfully good when it is timely and it can be powerfully bad when it is untimely, so when we see a combination like 2,5 where the 2 Black Earth star is correlated to sickness and the mother of the house, these people would say literally that the 2,5 combination will cause the mother to have untimely disaster or even get cancer of the stomach!

This is a gross misunderstanding of correlative thinking, it is like just because you were born in a certain year you are correlated to a Dog or a Pig, it does not mean that you are a dog or a pig literally, these labels are only used as a metaphor to get an understanding of your potential character and tendencies, and we need to observe you in detail to see if that is the case. Somewhere between the observations, the calculations, the analytical and the correlative thinking, we can find the in-between and know a little more about you, so as consultants we can help you make better decisions. That is how Chinese correlative thinking works in practice.

Graphic courtesy

Graphic courtesy

A face in the rock

September 7, 2009

As I am looking through these photos, I realized how in Feng Shui we use different means to get ourselves engaged with the environment through observation, I guess that is why Feng Shui is classified in the classics as a part of Xiang-Shu 相術, or the Art of Observation.

In Xing-Shi Pai (Form School), there is the Five Formulae for the Landscape model (Dili Wujuw 地理五訣), namely the Long 龍 (Dragon), Sha 砂 (Sands), Xue 穴 (The FS Spot), Shui 水 (Water) and Xiang 向 (Facing), to give us a guide line to assess the natural environment and there is also the technique of He-Xiang 喝象 or “calling out the image” to get us connect to what we saw with analogy, and with practice we developed an ability to “read” our landscape with “Ganying” 感應 or “mutual resonance”.

These photos showed how we tend to zero onto something we are familiar with and thus made us connected to what we are observing. Out of this vast and beautiful landscape in the south of France, we saw above all, a face in the rock.










































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