Feng Shui (pronounced "phung schway" and meaning literally " wind water ") is part of an ancient Chinese philosophy of nature. Feng shui is often identified as a form of geomancy , divination by geographic features, but it is mainly concerned with understanding the relationships between nature and ourselves so that we might live in harmony within our environment.
Feng shui is related to the very sensible notion that living with rather than against nature benefits both humans and our environment. It is also related to the equally sensible notion that our lives are deeply affected by our physical and emotional environs. If we surround ourselves with symbols of death, contempt and indifference toward life and nature, with noise and various forms of ugliness, we will corrupt ourselves in the process. If we surround ourselves with beauty, gentleness, kindness, sympathy, music and various expressions of the sweetness of life, we ennoble ourselves as well as our environment.
Alleged masters of feng shui, those who understand the five elements and the two energies such as chi and sha (hard energy, the opposite of chi), are supposed to be able to detect metaphysical energies and give directions for their optimal flow. Feng shui has become a kind of architectural acupuncture: wizards and magi insert themselves into buildings or landscapes and use their metaphysical sensors to detect the flow of good and bad "energy." These masters for hire declare where bathrooms should go, which way doorways should face, where mirrors should hang, which room needs green plants and which one needs red flowers, which direction the head of the bed should face, etc. They decide these things on the basis of their feel for the flow of chi, electromagnetic fields or whatever other form of energy the client will worry about. (If you and your lover are having trouble in the bedroom, call a feng shui master. You probably need to move a few things around to get the bedroom chi flowing properly. Only a person with special metaphysical sensors, however, can tell what really needs to be done.)
In short, feng shui has become an aspect of interior decorating in the Western world and alleged masters of feng shui now hire themselves out for hefty sums to tell people such as Donald Trump which way his doors and other things should hang. Feng shui has also become another New Age "energy" scam with arrays of metaphysical products from paper cutouts of half moons and planets, to octagonal mirrors to wooden flutes, offered for sale to help you improve your health, maximize your potential and guarantee fulfillment of some fortune cookie philosophy.
According to Sutrisno Murtiyoso of Indonesia, in countries where belief in feng shui is still very strong, feng shui has become a hodgepodge of superstitions and unverified notions which are passed off in the university curriculum as scientific principles of architecture or city planning. Mr. Murtiyoso wrote me about a university lecturer who had written an article in Indonesia's biggest newspaper "advocating feng shui as a guiding principle to Indonesia's future architecture." This upset Mr. Murtiyoso: "if it is done by a so-called 'paranormal', I wouldn't be that mad. But a 'colleague', an architect . . . I just can't imagine how my people can face the next millennium still under this ancient spell. How can we progress....through this techno-jungle." If I were Mr. Muriyoso, I wouldn't worry until the architects start advocating ignoring the laws of physics in favor of metaphysical principles. We still bring in our priests to sprinkle holy water and utter incantations at the dedications of skyscrapers. So far, none have collapsed that I know of. And if being superstitious were a hindrance to progress, we'd all still be wandering the savannas with our hirsute ancestors.