Feng Shui: Traditional or Western?

The balance of energy flow; Chi; Wind and Water, Yin and Yang…

Traditional, or ‘Authentic’ (‘Classical’) Feng Shui is based on deep-rooted practices, passed down through the generations from Master to apprentice for thousands of years.

A number of techniques have been added to Feng Shui over the course of many centuries, and today we’re finding many new Feng Shui spin-offs. These schools are targeting our Western culture because they don’t require any specific understandings of the layers of teachings involved in Traditional Feng Shui.

Many years ago when I first became interested in Feng Shui I certainly had no idea that reference books would provide so much conflicting information. My first introductions to Feng Shui were, unbeknownst to me at the time, Western. A lot of these teachings were familiar to me because it complemented my experience as a professional graphic designer: the design principles and color psychology were in sync with what I already knew and understood. Being the curious person I am, I continued my Feng Shui research because now I was interested in becoming a practitioner of this fascinating subject.

Recent years introduced me to Traditional methods, and my Feng Shui education and research continued under this method. A lot of people new to Feng Shui become confused by the differing information out there in the market. Unfortunately, and without realizing it, many people are mixing the two methods and ultimately end up with no results at all, or worse – bad results. Linda Binns is a well-known Western teacher and practitioner, and she believes you must choose between the two Feng Shui approaches. I completely agree! You just can’t mix the two because each Feng Shui method is approached from a different perspective. Traditional Feng Shui is definitely a science: it involves environmental influences such as space, time, and changing magnetism as the key method to analyzing environmental energy. On the other hand, Western Feng Shui leans more toward psychology; using the powers of positive thinking and intentions to create success.

You’ll often find myths, folklore, and sometimes even marketing gimmicks being promoted as Feng Shui, when of course they’re not part of the practice at all. So, whichever method you choose to focus on, you’re still going to find a lot

of misinformation and a mix-match of practices by various authors.

To try and clarify some of this confusion, I have attempted in this article to break down some of the differences and similarities between Traditional and Western Feng Shui.

New Bagua_Fotor Food filterCommonalities of Western and Traditional Feng Shui

Both Western and Traditional Feng Shui methods use the 8 trigrams as the core lesson. The 8 trigrams are symbols, each consisting of 3 lines: they represent the directions Kan (North), Gen (North-East), Qian (North-West), Zhen (East), Dui (West), Kun (South-West), Li (South) and Xun (South-East).

These trigrams also have associations to the elements – wood, water, fire, metal, earth: to body parts – heart, blood, lungs, eyes, and so on: to family members – mother, father, middle son, middle daughter, and son on: and to physical features – lake, mountain, heaven, thunder, and so on.

The trigrams represent the balance of Yin and Yang, as well as the transformation of energy. As early as 2205BC these 8 trigrams were developed and used in traditional Fen Shui practice. Over many centuries these methods have been developed and improved, and today Tradition Feng Shui still uses these interpretations to determine the environmental influences on a building or an occupant.

Western Feng Shui methods interpret the 8 trigrams according to the I-Ching (the ‘Book of Changes’) and human aspirations are the focus of this method. The I-Ching is most commonly used for divination and offers a philosophy for understanding the changes in our world.

In 1027 BC the use of the 8 trigrams was developed as the basics for the I-Ching. So, it’s clear that Traditional Feng Shui practices were in existence a minimum of 1000 years prior to the I-Ching. Stephen Skinner has been a researcher and author of Feng Shui since 1976. Stephen has interviewed and spoken with many Traditional Masters and he absolutely believes that the Aspirational method of Feng Shui was introduced to the United States in the 1980s by Thomas Lin Yun. Thomas Lin Yun believed the Traditional method was too difficult for people to comprehend so he developed his own unique brand of Feng Shui. And so Western Feng Shui was born.

The teachings of the I-Ching provide the underlying philosophies for Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. That’s why Feng Shui is often wrongly thought to be part of these religions. It’s true that Western Feng Shui has its roots in Buddhism but it’s definitely not required to practice Buddhism, and a lot of the teachings are based is design and psychology. Traditional Feng Shui is what we call a sister-science to acupuncture, and obviously many traditional teachers are from Asia: many are also Buddhists or Taoists. However, those teachings do not form part of Traditional Feng Shui, although it’s true that some authors are inclined to mix in their personal beliefs with their teachings.

Besides the strong differences in the analysis approach, there is one approach common to both practices, and that’s the physical analysis of internal and external property environments. This means determining if your property is negatively influencing the occupants and/or if other physical features nearby are negatively influencing the property. Internally, both methods are studying the flow of energy through the home and looking for internal features that could be obstructing the flow of positive energy, or creating a negative influence. This could include door alignments, stairs, beams, poison arrows, furniture locations and uncleanliness. With this approach, practitioners are required to use all their senses in order to locate potential issues with the property.

The Difference in Consultations

We’ve now established that common practices from both Traditional and Western practitioners in an evaluation focus on the internal and external physical environments. Below you’ll find a summary of the differences –

Traditional Methods

• Analysing a Home’s Energy

A traditional practitioner’s concern is about the impact of the home on the occupants, and a very comprehensive analysis will be conducted. This means that the energy of the property will be mapped using the time-space analysis. There are 216 possible maps. A 9-square grid (the Bagua) is positioned over an accurate floor plan of the home and used to determine the various energy combinations, including where they reside in the home. An accurate compass reading will be taken of the home’s sitting and facing directions. Also required is an accurate date for the year of construction, specifically when the roof was enclosed. Should the occupants not be clear on the year of construction, the traditional practitioner must do some property records research. The home will also be analysed against each individual occupants’ personal energy.

• Recommendations

In the key rooms where occupants spend most of their time, some final recommendations for the imbalanced area could include the placement of one of the five basic Feng Shui elements, such as water, metal, fountains, wood (real live plants), fire, (red/lights), or earth.

Corrections may be required outside the home if there’s no natural influence to balance the map. It’s recommended that one of the five elements be used to enhance position energies and to reduce negative energies.

You don’t want your home to look ‘Feng Shuied’, so Foo Dogs, Chinese coins and various other Asian artefacts are not part of Feng Shui. These are part of the Asian culture, and with Feng Shui being a Chinese Art and Science it’s the reason they’re often seen as recommendations on websites and in books. They quite possibly do suit people of Asian descent, or sit nicely with Asian décor, but for people in the west they have no place in Feng Shui.

The ultimate goal is to enhance or remedy the problem of an area by using elements that naturally blend in with the environment. A traditionalist is only concerned with the energy found in the home based on calculations; not in re-decorating their home.

Western Methods

• Analysing a Home’s Energy

A Western Practitioner is not involved with calculations of the energy map. They analyse a home by applying a Bagua 9-grid square, then assign 9 life aspirations. These aspirations follow the trigram meanings as explained in the I-Ching: Family, Health, Career, Children/Creativity, Fame/Recognition, Prosperity/Wealth, Knowledge, Helpful People, and Relationships/Romance.

This is the Thomas Lin Yun method, developed on his own personal theory of Feng Shui. It was based on Black Sect Tantric Buddhism and became very popular in the United States in the mid-1980s. The Western Version books were developed by Kathryn Terah Collins, an author and student of Thomas Lin Yun, and these books are all very easy to follow. Another popular author, Lillian Too, mixes a lot of the methods and it’s easy for the reader to become confused and conflicted.

With the Yun and Collins teachings they don’t use a compass to physically locate the aspirational trigrams with the home’s actual directions. Instead, the trigram symbols and the aspirational meanings become ‘fixed locations’. For example: the Bagua map of Kan (North-East) is always at the center front of the home, even though the physical location may be West, East, NW, and so on. By using this approach the physical directions are completely ignored and instead become symbolic translations.

• Recommendations

In Western books these are often called ‘cures’ and, as mentioned under Traditional Feng Shui, they’re about balancing the five elements.

But instead of actual elements, symbols can be substituted: for example, a photo of water instead of actual water. In the Western method, interior design also plays a big role. Did you know that Western methods define ‘plaids’ as a wood element, and having a lot of plaid wood panelling and furniture in a room would be considered having too much wood energy.

Other practitioners who follow the Thomas Lin Yun method may perform prayers, chants and space-clearing methods such as incense burning to clear negative energy. Shifting furniture around, and reducing or adding an element based on the trigram element is usually how a practitioner decides on a remedy.

In this approach, time is not considered a factor so the project is considered complete once the element has been placed; however you may find a practitioner who offers periodic monitoring to ensure that change is occurring. In Western methods, crystals and chimes are often used as ‘cures’, however in Traditional methods chimes are considered something that should be kept outside because they’re capable of stirring up negative energy in the home.


It all comes down to your own personal preference, and you get to decide the type of analysis you prefer. Traditional Feng Shui is impressive because of the few thousand years’ experience behind this method, plus it has a great many similarities to modern-day scientific theories. Of course Western methods have their place too, with ease of implementation being perhaps the greatest benefit as well as the “Law of Attraction” principles being an empowering motivator. That being said, they’re like Yin and Yang, which they both represent.

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